Commiseration


It didn’t take me long to draw this parallel. Raising a baby is a lot like working in tech support.

Our job is to be on call at all hours of the day for assistance should it be called for. It doesn’t matter what the request is, the customer is always right. We can ignore requests, but at our peril, because complaints will only get louder with time. At best, the mood of the customer is placid, at worst irate. There’s really no getting showered with compliments.

This is what makes being a parent so tough in the beginning. It’s the most taxing breed of customer support. The only feedback mechanism, at least for now, is negative. If Joshua is unhappy he lets fly with a fairly heart-rending wail. If he’s happy, he just sits there. Or he sleeps. There’s no cooing and smiling and snuggling. Janelle and I have no positive reinforcement outside of our own self-satisfaction and the encouragements of friends and family.

The cry of a newborn has been engineered through many, many years of evolution to cause distress in a parent. If hearing your baby cry seems to sting particularly well, it’s because it’s supposed to. Maybe it frustrates you (as it does me), maybe it calls forth all your fears about parental failure (as it does Janelle). However it affects you, that is the intent. You are meant to sit up, take notice and feel compelled to resolve the scenario.

Making matters worse is that there may not be much you can do to resolve the scenario. It takes practice and exposure to become immune (or at least (inured) to the crying. It was about two weeks before I could listen to his crying with a bit of detachment. At first every time he cried at night and I couldn’t calm him I couldn’t avoid the feeling that all I was doing was failing consistently. I’m not a savant, but I am not accustomed to trying very hard at something for days on end and never being able to improve. Now, though, I can sit and type this blog post while he cries in Janelle’s arm and be okay with the fact that he’s crying because what else can he do?

Our options are limited — we can feed him, rock him, try and put him to sleep, walk with him, and that’s about it. His options are limited — he can cry, he can sleep, he can eat, he can go the bathroom. That’s about it.

This is the period of child-rearing that is conveniently absent from the collective memory. It may be for the best, as if everyone was walking around discussing how hard the first couple months of raising a child can be, perhaps there would be less children. But my motivation behind pushing this issue is less to dissuade anyone and more to head off the very dangerous notion that you are failing as a parent if your child is not content at all times.

You’re in tech support. And tech support is always its own reward. Your satisfaction must be that you’re doing the best you can in the face of a screaming mob. Try and stay tough, because before too long, your screaming mob will soon become an adoring public and then you graduate from tech support into the role of rock star.

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  1. #1 by Badmoodman on June 29, 2010 - 4:42 PM

    Does having children make us less happy or more happy?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/06/the-case-against-happiness/58719/

    Money quote:

    “Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be. And then we might see children not as factors that may or may not be contributing to our happiness, but as opportunities to practice what most of us — perhaps me most of all — need to do more often, which is to put someone else before ourselves.”

  2. #2 by Coby Utter on June 29, 2010 - 4:43 PM

    Nice and insightful breakdown; it makes total sense to me (and in hindsight seems like common sense.) We are expecting in August and hopefully I can keep this post in mind as I wearily struggle those first few weeks. Good luck with the baby 😀

  3. #3 by Júlli on July 5, 2010 - 1:29 AM

    When you think about it though, it breaks your heart to know that on some level you’ve become inured to your baby’s cry don’t you think. At least that’s how it is for me.

  4. #4 by Chelsea on July 18, 2010 - 11:26 PM

    I feel at some point you should put Joshua on the phone to tech support. Just to see.

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