BY DANIEL B. KLINE
As the father of a nearly two-year-old boy, I have learned that while the secrets of good parenting remain elusive, the signs of bad parenting stand out like Dick Cheney at an Amnesty International meeting. This happens because having children takes relatively no effort, but raising them presents a challenge for even the smartest, strongest and most well-intentioned people.
As anyone who has ever watched an episode of "Maury" knows, getting pregnant requires little more than a willing couple or two people who lack the foresight to consider basic biology before they act. Once conception occurs, you're nine months of discomfort for the woman away from a life so radically different from what you knew before that future parents never believe the warnings.
Perhaps we could eliminate many lousy parents if we made a better effort to explain just how hard caring for a child can be. Once the showers, congratulatory slaps on the back and fawning relatives have faded into the background, you, the parents, remain with an adorable, albeit incontinent, lump of humanity. This developing person under your care requires total attention as he or she lacks that ability to feed, clothe or in any way protect him or herself.
Your new child can only express his or her needs through crying, screaming and occasionally, moaning. Surprisingly, this new human cares nothing for your well-being. Babies sleep, eat and do everything else on a schedule that gives new parents a sense of sympathy for the besieged cult members kept awake by government agents piping in repetitive heavy metal.
Even married adults who planned years for the arrival of their baby will dramatically underestimate the difficulties at hand. These about-to-be moms and dads make schedules, line up day care and generally proceed as if they have decided to take on a really inconvenient part-time job.
It's only after the birth that they release that the closest work equivalent would be being on call 24 hours a day for a deaf mute boss who grunted out instructions and beat you when you misinterpreted his incomprehensible bleatings. Parenting taxes the strongest relationships, and for all its rewards, there are times even the most well-adjusted adults have trouble handling it.
A lot of bad parenting appears to happen because the couple having the baby, or one member of that couple, wants a child for reasons other than a desire to be a parent. He or she thinks that this new member of the family will make the couple closer and fix whatever has gone wrong in the relationship.
This makes as much sense as getting a pet elephant to keep your cat company because he was lonely and scratches the couch while you're at work. Babies complicate relationships, cause resentment between even the most understanding of mates and generally wreak havoc on your pre-existing lifestyle. If your boyfriend goes out too much, having a baby won't bring him home, it will just make you resent him going out more.
As my son has gotten a little bit older and has developed a clear personality, it has become clear to me that putting in your best efforts as a parent guarantees nothing. Our kids have our genetics and benefit from our well-intentioned attempts to raise them right, but free will plays a strong part in that mix of nature and nurture.
While doing a good job doesn't guarantee success, being a lousy parent comes awfully close to ensuring failure. If you have a baby for the wrong reasons and give anything less than your full attention to parenthood, there's a pretty good chance that someday you'll be visiting your child in a room with glass partitions.
Having a child offers tremendous rewards, but all the positive things come wrapped in a pretty horrible package. If more people actually considered this before conception - instead of about 10 months after - we'd have a lot more well-raised kids and a lot less lousy parenting.
Daniel B. Kline is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his blog, www.thingseveryguy.com.