Dear Parents That Were Parents Before Me,
In a follow-up to a much earlier post when Raising Elle was just a small infantile blog that only got five readers a day (my lovely wife, my mother, me, Sarah Richard and someone who linked over from The Root Down and then decided to leave when they found out the new blog was about babies), I spoke of a phenomenon called the “justwaits.”
In short, the just-waits are when an experienced parent waits for a expectant parent or new parent to offer up one of their observations about the aches or pains of new parenthood and then, like a machete-wielding ninja dropping out of the sky, the cooler and more experienced parents says something to the effect of: “You think that’s bad? Just wait.” Or even worse the “just you wait” which seems to better personalize the jab. This comment leaves the new parent feeling hopeless, inexperienced, fearful, confused and ultimately alone. Isolated. Left with nothing but a longer road to resolution and more questions than before. It’s a heartless and just plain mean move that often happens in mere seconds. Sometimes without thinking. It’s a bully move. It builds an irreconcilable wall between the two parties. It’s the experienced parent basically saying to the new parent, “You ain’t seen nothing yet so shaddup, stop complaining and call me when she’s 22 and you’re dancing to ‘Mustang Sally’ at her wedding reception, you nincompoop.” At least, that’s the intent.
I wrote the original post because I started feeling extremely irritated by these comments. I got hit with them wherever I went. Sometimes from my own family. Met with the frustration that no one was on my side and everyone was hoping to watch me fall on my face so they could point and laugh, I was hoping that the Byford File would help put a stop to these little jabs and start to build a culture of cooperation, helpful advisement and inspiration where experienced parents could instead uplift the newest members to the community of parents instead of kicking them in the forehead as they laid on their belly tearfully reaching out for the help of their fellows. Aggravated, I ended the file with the words, “It’s clear I don’t know what I’m doing. I just don’t need you to remind me.” The thought being, if you ain’t gonna say something nice or helpful, don’t say anything at all. If all you’re gonna do is sit back and watch me fail, there’s much better and more mindless entertainment on network television for you. I’d advise you go watch “The Bachelor” if you wanna watch people act like idiots and fail the entire human race.
I’ve learned a few things since that I’d like to offer up my justwaiters. It’d be irresponsible of me not share with you what I’ve found just like you had done to me. Admittedly, when I had originally wrote that piece I was -4 months old as a father. Now that I’m +6 months old as a father, I would like to give you a quick update on my findings. It’s been an enchanting journey thus far.
Firstly, I’d suggest that the justwaits are more an inadvertent and accidental occurrence. Largely, I’d say that many of the justwaits I received before the moment I confronted them and even some of those after, were more reactionary to a stimulus. It was like they simply couldn’t overcome the urge to let the words come vomiting out of their mouth and leaving me coated and standing in a pool of it. It’s a cultural exchange and I think that’s it’s been mainstreamed to the point that the experienced parents don’t even know when it happens. It’s humorous to them because they recognize the naivety of the new parent and they, too, were hit with the justwaits when they were on the come-up. It’s the perpetuance of the “bully on the playground” mentality. If you’re the bullied like the new parent, you essentially can’t wait for the table to turn and be generously afforded a few justwaits to spend yourself. They feel it’s their turn to spend a few. I just have no desire to be their dartboard. Mainly because I don’t have any desire to do it to anyone else. It’s why there would’ve been no way for me to join a social fraternity when I was a freshman at Tech. I don’t easily subscribe to mechanisms or fake customs that break an individual down to make them a lesser portion of a bigger submissive whole. Think for yourself. Independent thought. It’s not really a revolutionary idea. If you can’t beat ’em, ignore them.
In full disclosure, I wouldn’t had made a good fraternity brother not because I was subversive and didn’t play by the rules, but because I came from an honestly middle class family, drove a Buick Century, listened to EPMD and didn’t like crowds. They wouldn’t had wanted me anyway.
Another observation now six months into this gig as a new father is that not once have I delivered a justwait to a new father or father-to-be and, yes, there have been plenty of opportunities. This is proof that it’s avoidable. I have, however, made myself available for advice, encouragement or even humor if that’s what it takes to get through this mess. Busting another dad’s chops to make myself feel better about the job I’ve done isn’t my gig. Community in our failures. Celebrating in our resiliency. That’s what I believe. In a world so hellbent on competition and the bigger pile, we fail to realize that we’re all in this together. Helping your neighbor be a better father improves the world altogether. It gives hope tomorrow. The tomorrow that will outlast us as parents and will be left for our children to deal with. Not only that, I’m starting to be a firm believer in example. My daughter’s watching. She might not know a damn word I’m saying, but she’s watching. Learning.
My last observation is this. Firstly, I must say that my lovely wife has a few criticisms of me. All of them are valid. One is that I hold onto stuff too long. I’m not talking about physical possession. Worse. I’m talking about emotional toil. Grudges. Injustices. I can’t let things roll off my back. That being said (and quite accurate), as aggravated as I was by parents in the early going and their justwaits, I don’t remember any of them. Like, truly, I don’t remember a single specific instance. This would be held as proof of how useless and forgettable those conversations are. They serve no one. To the ears of an eager parent wanting desperately to hear the advice of a mentor, justwaits are processed as they are as packaged: a cheap, thoughtless, useless, disposable mouth fart. We remember that they happened. But don’t remember what exactly happened. And, in turn, we remember who said it, but not what was said. Take this example:
New father: “It’s like she’s never settled. She cries for absolutely no reason and it’s killing me. I’ve got constant headaches and I can’t make it stop. I think I’m losing my freaking mind.”
Me: “Just wait until she’s teething, bro.”
Essentially, this new father is not going to recall specifically what I said but that I’m a total jerkoff. And, if I had actually said this, he’d be absolutely right. Chump move.
I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by a number of hardcore fathers who might not know all the right answers, but they seek to make the fathers around them better. There’s many mysteries, tricks, calculated risks, theories to parenting. There’s no book that’s ever been written that tells you exactly what to do. You rely heavily on the words of experience. You gravitate towards the advice of men who shine with believability. My opinion (and it is only that) is that parents should be eager to share their helpful advice with others, but know when not to. New parents have to figure out things on their own. The advice won’t always be there. Parenting skills have to be developed and honed. You don’t always have a lifeline. The connection with your child should be your connection peppered with the advice of others. And if a new parent has hit their wit’s end and are obviously on the brink of a complete and comprehensive self-destructive meltdown, help them out. Counsel them. If a new parent is celebrating in the success they’ve had with their child, praise them.
That last paragraph is probably the corniest thing I’ve ever written. I apologize for the weird warm I’d-like-to-teach-the-world-to-sing-in-perfect-harmony feeling you might be experiencing right now. Someone brought up the justwaits the other day and I found it was necessary that I ended that chapter with a proper send-off. When I go back and read the original post, it’s laden with an aggravated tone that’s, in the end, is not unlike me. I tend to be that way sometimes. It just seemed a little short and incomplete. Needed a further explanation.
Be good to your new parents. Remember those dark hours of frustration and loneliness. Also remember the first time you saw your kid do a barrel roll. The first time you heard your daughter laugh after months of crying. Embrace your emotional side. Be sensitive. Be a friend. It’ll be time well-spent.
The Raising Elle Staff and Haley Joel Osment