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The self-centered parent

Published on: January 01, 2010

Whining, obnoxious, overly tired, constantly hungry, distracted, self-centered snots. And those are the parents.

Before I had kids of my own, a friend came over and trashed my house
with her red-headed demon child. As she watched with bemused
detachment, her 5-year-old tossed each and every one of my alphabetized
CDs on the floor, then slammed wooden blocks onto my glass coffee table
until I stopped the madness with a firm hand.
Clearly, Mommy's Valium-induced stupor had relaxed the hell out of her (and her mommy manners),
and it's the reason I didn't feel bad leading them to the door five
minutes after their arrival, and toward their next Ground Zero
destination. Incoming!

Though not of the mind that children should be seen and not heard (it's
simply not practical), I do understand that they're not the center of
the universe, or the company of choice for many adults who don't have
to be (or want to be) around them. I never had an interest in spending
a majority of my time around youngins either -- they're loud, expensive
and exhausting -- but happen to fall in love with a woman who has
twins. Now, I'm figuring out how to enjoy the little buggers -- and
protect the rest of the world from being crushed by them.

The biggest fights Vanessa and I have involve being with Rachel and
Riley when we go to other people's homes, especially when we're guests
in a non-kid zone. If it's a sleep-over situation or family play date,
and ours can raise hell with other children, let the War of the Worlds
begin: We can group-parent and blame their kids for the bulk of the
damage. But when we're somewhere that involves attempting to have adult
time while simultaneously parenting, then we're headed for trouble --
and time on the shrink's couch.

We were recently invited to my aunt's house to visit her new puppy.
Things were going well, until they weren't -- which happens a lot with
the twin dynamic. While my aunt took Vanessa aside to try on a vintage
outfit she thought might look fabulous in (it did), the kids got into a
tug-of-war with the pooch while trying to dress the little guy in the
baseball uniform my aunt had bought for him. The puppy yelped, my aunt
came running, the twins engaged in fight mode, and I just wanted to go

Leaving the crime scene, I lectured Vanessa about leaving her kids
unattended (ignoring my presence and rules on positive communication),
griped about how much of a burden it was to solo parent (as if she
didn't know this), and became angry that simple visits could turn so

"Well, then we just won't go anywhere!" my wife yelled, feeling that
she'd been blamed for bad mothering (an accusation akin in her mind to
murder or molestation). And I explained -- again -- that when we're at
someone else's house, she needs to be particularly alert to what the
kids happen to be doing. So immersing herself in conversation -- no
matter how fascinating -- or participating in fashion shows is not
allowed. If I'm going to be distracted and anxious at a party, she's
going to be anxious and distracted with me. Good times.
Much of the problem comes from being too sensitive to the situation --
I'm overly aware that the kids are being watched like bulls in a china
shop, and that I'm being observed in terms of parenting skills, stress
level and the odd, jittery twitches I've acquired since the wedding.
I can't fix or control everything (or so my wife tells me). Just as my
father is going to have to learn to say "no" when his new grandkids ask
for shoulder-rides, to fill the hot tub with Jell-O or drive 'em to ice
cream, I need to make the best of each situation and know (most) adults
can fend for themselves. All the same, I feel a certain responsibility
to protect everyone from what we brought with us -- lovely, energetic,
attention-requiring youngsters (and usually a nice bottle of wine to
ease the pain).

Latch-key, Schmatz-key: Vanessa takes the twins everywhere; they've
been attached to her hip (and other body parts) for a decade now, and
she doesn't know any better (or have the resources to hire a nanny or
purchase a secure enclosure with electric fencing). It's like bringing
along your seeing-eye dog, rain jacket or American Express card -- ya
don't leave home without them. I'm the opposite, having spent 20-plus
years departing the house without accessories or living creatures of
any kind -- no checking for snacks, warm clothes, wet naps or iPods --
just flying out to meet friends for coffee and whatever comes up next.
Rachel and Riley really are quite polite and well-behaved, considering.
Better than most, and in no way malicious, they're simply not
maintenance-free. I can't fully relax, drink heavily, swear like a
sailor, drive golf balls into the neighbor's yard or pass out in a
spare bedroom when we're on watch. (Not a pretty picture, I know, but
old habits are hard to break.)

Life has changed, and often for the better with the hug-fests, giggles,
grand smiles and the fresh, innocent outlook that kids bring to my
world; nonetheless, it's important to keep a non-parental perspective
when dragging the youngsters to new environments. What we parents need
to realize is that, sometimes, it's better without them.

The Accidental Parent is a column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser, who recently married Vanessa, the mother of 10-year-old twins -- Rachel and Riley.


Originally published in the January, 2006 print edition of ParentMap.

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