4 Legit Reasons New Parents Are F@cking Annoying
I am a father, but I am not so deep into fatherhood that I've forgotten what it's like to hate new parents. I remember having my entire Facebook feed hijacked by indistinguishable, jelly-eyed newborns all wearing the same hospital hat. I remember the 100-percent-sober ponderings between moms and dads over who the baby sneezes like, and their blatant attempts at radicalizing new members during 4:30 p.m. dinners. Every smug, "I didn't really know what happiness was until I had Boston" or "The things I cared about before seem so inconsequential now that we have Pensacola" is another rip in the seam holding the tenuous relationship together between new parents and their childless friends. I promised myself I'd keep my head up as a new father, that I'd pay close attention and never do any of these things. Then I did all of them anyway.
I've lived on both sides of the medical curtain, and I want to least help explain why this phenomenon happens, hopefully salvaging a few friendships. If you don't have kids, please understand, there are four really good reasons the rest of us are suddenly intolerable.
The Hero Of Our Life Story Suddenly Shifts
Everyone is the hero of their own narrative. This may be the fault of movies but it feels more primitive than that. Most people have a vague idea of a story ending they are working toward (finding mutual love, some semblance of career fulfillment, drunkenly beating open the head of an enemy with a bowling pin, etc.). I am generally a deeply selfish person. When I would treat people poorly, or get fired from jobs in my early 20s, I felt fine about every step because I was just completing the wayward Act Two of a coming-of-age story I'd read a hundred times. What I never anticipated and what I don't think a lot of new parents anticipate is how quickly and completely those goals shift as soon as a child erupts into the world. Something instinctual flips in the brain of a new parent, causing them to willingly demote themselves to ancillary characters who only want to advance the story of this new protagonist.
Ok, in this scene, your baby will be trying pie for the first time.
Unfortunately for your friendships, that means a lot of what you probably liked about your friends vanishes, at least for a while. They aren't up for new adventures or building new memories with you because that's a weird B-plot now that would probably get cut in editing. In those first two years of a child's life, parents will mentally fast forward through anything that isn't directly related to their role as a parent. New moms and dads regularly set aside time for themselves every day to just look at pictures of their kid on their phone. They spend most of their downtime while the beast sleeps, sitting in the silent ruins of what used to be their apartment saying, "I just love him so much" or "She's so great, right? She's so great." Not even fiction is so bold as to build a scene where supporting characters do that about the hero.
Part of that is because parents are habituated to the oxytocin their baby's presence pumps through their brain, but mostly it's because they are terrified that if they aren't always thinking of the baby, they will get distracted and fuck up irrevocably.
New Parents Are Constantly Afraid Of The World (And Themselves)
This is going to get dark so bear with me. While you may look at a baby and think, "Fine, whatever. Another one that's just like the millions of others," you likely don't even realize that you are tacitly acknowledging that this is "another normal healthy one like all the other normal healthy ones you've seen." New parents are not living by the same baseline. They are still privately calculating the probabilities of this tiny thing's non-existence. While someone in love may obsess over all the situations in which the other person might leave them, parents know that the only way the baby stops being their baby is through death.
Don't ask how I know, but this is exactly how mine will happen.
Having a healthy child makes you feel lucky in a sickening way, a way that seems cosmically undeserved, like at any moment the world will take notice and set itself right again. As a result, we think about death a lot. I walk into a new room and I watch my son die a thousand times based on everything that can poke him, fall on him, electrocute him, or lodge itself in his trachea. Then, despite all of it, I have to turn him loose to explore for himself. I wake up in the middle of the night certain he is in our bed and that he's suffocating under the sheets somewhere near our feet. These situations play with such clarity in my mind that it's like I've felt it in some non-linear time, like I'm already practiced in losing him. If you can remember the feeling you'd get as a child watching a scary movie and being unable to emotionally divorce yourself from the fiction, it's the same feeling; the barrier is gone again and you are suddenly vulnerable to your own emotional Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
So if new parents seem like they are never fully present when you're together or like they're just not as fun, understand they are regularly weighing death, regardless of how irrational it is. The fear passes, but it takes time for irrational fears to give way to rational because they all look the same at the start.
Now, if you're thinking, "You're being over dramatic, I've had pets that I love like a child. I can still step outside of that love and live a normal life," then let me just say ...
The Love Is All Consuming
Cards on the table, I can't speak with any authority on the similarity between love for a pet and a child because I've never had a cat. I'm always impressed and bewildered by childless friends who tell my wife and me that, in a lot of ways, having a new puppy is harder than having an infant. While they might be right, I want to tell them that the love for a child doesn't actually feel like love, it feels deeply unhealthy.
Sit down. We're going to talk about my child's first steps.
It's not just that parents love their child more than anything, they love their child more than everything combined. It's an overpowering, throttling love that has to be tempered just to get through the day. Sure, certain moments help douse the flame, like when a child in your lap spontaneously rears back with their head and pushes your incisors up into your skull. Or when babies throw up in your mouth, or throw up in your eye, or pee in their own mouth while throwing up in their eyes. But during the quiet moments with an infant where you allow yourself to indulge -- to bend to the love completely -- hugging your baby is like hugging a lost love you would give anything just to see again, and then you got your wish.
There's just no room for anything else. It's why strong/healthy relationships can teeter on the verge of collapse in the sudden presence of a newborn; you have to intentionally carve out and set aside love for the other person, or the human larva just absorbs everything.
So if you are a friend to a new parent, the reason they lose their social priorities or context for what's interesting is because they've temporarily lost context for everything. They are so singularly obsessed it's easier to think of them as addicts. They may go to the movies with you, or dinner, or sit through meetings at work like a normal person, but they are never entirely there because they always know that this is just a detour to that wondrous, beautiful sack of heroine waiting at home.
And like addicts, you can't just give up on them, because ...
We're Trying Not To Lose You
This may seem completely intuitive but new parents don't want to be this way. They aren't dragging their baby to your birthday at a bar as an excuse to bail early, they aren't spinning every conversation toward parenthood because they are narcissists, and they're not posting 100 photos of the same goddamn trip to the aquarium to be malicious. They do it as a desperate bid to keep you in the loop of their life.
"Dad! I am TRYING to POOP!"
There's a very good reason it's so hard to talk to someone you haven't seen in years and then run into again in a grocery store: you can't possibly fill them in on everything and it's all those unshared moments that separate you. We're scrambling to make sure that never happens. We're holding the door for you to what's most important in our lives right now and hoping you'll follow us in. In the same way someone who starts running regularly, or juice fasting, or reading The Secret won't shut the fuck up about it, parents are so excited about this new thing and they hope that they can say or do the right thing to make you excited about it too. Granted, those attempts are frequently oblivious and clumsy but we just can't help ourselves. You need to love our baby, you need to see what this feels like.
When we invite you to our children's first birthdays or ask if we can bring our babies to your bachelorette party (I do some dancing on the side), we already know these asks are huge inconveniences. We know our presence will make any social situation objectively less fun. The kid aside, we are still secondary characters obsessed with death and dealing with a drug problem.
But we also know this isn't forever.
We're trying to do just enough to maintain our relationships through the hard part until our children become more autonomous and their continuing existence helps calibrate our fears. We're all at least peripherally aware that when we abandon everything in our lives other than parenting, it actually makes us worse parents in the long run. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, come to my kid's birthday. Spend some time around him, smell his head. Smell it. He's great, right? Man, wouldn't it be crazy if you just decided to have one? Have one.
Soren is a senior writer and editor for Cracked. You can follow him on Twitter here. Also, you don't really have to go to his kid's birthday, just say you have a thing.
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