From time to time I’ve heard that being a parent is learning to live with your heart running around outside your body, and that’s totally true. I care more about my kid’s welfare than my own, and anything that happens to him happens to me to.
Sort of. I mean, I know every mom is supposed to be empathetic to the point of self-negation, that we’re supposed to feel everything our kid feels, like some sort of psychic umbilical cord that never gets severed. And yeah, that’s true for the big stuff (god help whatever kid ever even thinks about bullying my baby, because I will DESTROY, and salt the earth behind me), but dude, have you met kids? They have a lot of emotions. They’re overflowing with emotions. If emotions were pennies, they’d have more to stuff up their nose than they’d know what to do with.
That shit is exhausting! Why do you think they need naps in the middle of the day, and snacks pretty much constantly? They get so worn out from having emotions that they get overwhelmed by other emotions because being tired makes them emotional. It’s a feedback loop of tantrums, flying snot, and suffering.
One day, I was sitting with my petit oiseau while he was melting down (probably because I wouldn’t let him bang his head into the wall or something), and I realized I was totally calm. I had reached a level of zen that I didn’t realize could exist outside of a monastery. I was just watching him weeping inconsolably, and had no feelings on the subject.
That’s when I realized it: being a parent is learning to be a psychopath.
So I looked it up, and it turns out there’s a checklist of psychopathy, and a surprising number of the qualities could be directly applied to parenting. I won’t bore you with all of them (it’s a pretty long list), but here are a few:
- glib and superficial charm: “Oh honey, that’s great! I love that drawing that looks totally unique and not at all like the thousands of other masterpieces I’ve already plastered our fridge with! Won’t you make me some more?”
- cunning and manipulativeness: We spend all of our time studying our offspring, but it’s really just so we know how to manipulate them into doing what we want.
- grandiose estimation of self: This one is totally the kid’s fault though, and just like the Force, there’s a Light Side and a Dark Side to being the center of a tiny person’s universe.
- lack of remorse or guilt: Nope. None.
- callousness and lack of empathy: I understand that when a grub is weeping inconsolably because he wants to go to Grandma’s house, that child’s heart is genuinely breaking. For him, the emotions are real. For me, it’s just ten minutes that I need to stare into space, planning my next grocery list. God, is he done yet?
- pathological lying: We’re out of cookies. Daddy and I are totally going to sleep too. The TV is broken.
- lack of realistic long-term goals: My heir will be able to read and write by the time she’s four!
- criminal versatility: I’m adept at stealing candy from a baby; smuggling anything from a cookie to an entire Lego set past the border guard playing on the living room floor; “poisoning” his food with hidden vegetables; and jaywalking, because I’ll be damned if I’m walking all the way to the corner.
I used to be full of empathy! I would see a kid having a breakdown in the middle of the grocery store, and I was one of those pushovers whose heart actually went out to the little despairing grub, remembering how hard it was to navigate the world when it doesn’t make any sense to you, you have no concept of impulse control, and you’re literally hungry 100% of the time.
Now? I don’t really give a shit. You do you, kid. You do you.
Parenting is a lot more about survival than I expected, and one of the biggest parts of that is just learning to embrace the inner psychopath that’s apparently lurking deep in everyone’s psyche. If you let all those feelings affect you, you’re a goner, so you start detaching from humanity, pretending to feel delighted or sad or whatever the hell your kid wants out of you while she serves you your tenth imaginary ice cream cone of the day. You feel nothing. You’re dead inside. Which means you’re free.