This guest post was written by Joe Paradise, father of two and a fourth-grade teacher who lives in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.
Does this sound familiar? There's a movie that you sit down to watch with a friend who's already seen it. But as the film gets to the good parts, she keeps leaning over and whispering, "Watch this." You find yourself distracted, and frustrated. (What are you supposed to be watching for?) There's a real-life parental equivalent of such movie spoilers, and that's the phrase, "Just wait!"
"Mom and Dad, don't let the naysayers bring negative to our door."
As a father of two toddlers, ages 2 and 1, and a teacher in an elementary school, I'm in fertile territory for parenting advice. For example, I'll be in the faculty room unwrapping my turkey sandwich, yawning. A colleague comments that I look tired. I explain that I was up three times the night before with my little guy, Charlie, who's teething. "Just wait till the back molars come in," she says. "Those are the real painful ones."
My friend might have told me some of the joys that come with new teeth, like making YouTube videos for Nanny, crunching goldfish crackers, and toothy grins in photos. Instead, I'm dreading the sleepless nights six months from now when his back teeth come in.
In another such instance, my wife Jill and I are at a dinner party. In conversation, she confesses that now that both boys are mobile, it's hard to keep them out of everything. "Just wait until they're both walking," another guest says. "You'll never sit down again." My wife's smile fades, along with the pleasant anticipation we'd shared of Ben and Charlie side by side exploring their Elmo Workbench together. Instead, we drove home envisioning the dogged pursuit of two toddler Godzillas as they trash our house.
But the worst happened recently when our friends, Scott and Nicole, invited my wife and I to their house to welcome their new baby girl. Nicole seemed happy, telling us everything about being a new mom. Then she said, "I guess the hardest part is the lack of sleep." That's when I quipped, "Just wait till you have your second one..." I clasped my hand over my mouth and looked at my wife and her disapproving eyes that said, "Et tu, Daddy?"
I couldn't believe that in a moment, I became "that" parent. I suddenly realized: We're all guilty of some version of "Just wait...." Whatever parental stage you're in, there are loving family, friends, strangers (and sometimes, even us) who will toss advice grenades, like these:
"Just wait till they start eating real food. The diapers really get interesting."
"Wait until school starts. Then the years roll by so fast."
"Think money is tight now? Just wait until college!"
It's not that our more seasoned parenting peers are trying to be snarky (unless a sinister grin and gleeful tone gives them away). So why do any of us force more anxiety onto already anxious parents about the next stage of life before they can even enjoy this stage, especially when in the next breath, we tell them to "treasure every moment" and "savor these memories because they go by in the blink of an eye?"
Maybe what parents need is a little more recognition, say a merit badge on our puke-stained T shirts for staying up all night with a sick child, or for committing an entire weekend to potty-training a toddler, or for forgoing a vacation to cover preschool tuition for twins. Imagine if parents could stand on the blocks and be awarded a gold medal for successfully hearing our 9-year-old tell us that we are actually kind of cool. Then maybe we wouldn't feel compelled to torture newbie moms and dads with our own parenting war stories.
Perhaps it's time we switch up our approach to help our fellow rookie parents succeed: to drop the "just waits" and simply be there to listen, and give our two cents only when asked.
So the next time you see a weary-eyed mom or an exhausted dad, hold your tongue for a moment. You might end up getting an invitation to the next new movie they see.
We will get to see a movie again someday. Right?
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