Unequivocally Ambiguous

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The Auschwitz Dad Primer for Parenting

by | May 1, 2024 | Parenting | 0 comments

Drawing Parenting Wisdom From the Most Horrific Episode of Modern History

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

A friend texted me a link to the audiobook of Viktor Frankl’s “Man Search for Meaning.

I don’t know if my friend’s message was, “If people found a way to get through Auschwitz, you can get through this,” or if it was, “Parenting is like being in Dachau.

One of the reasons parenting is hard is because it leaves little room for anything else. That’s why the life cycle has only four stages: humans are born, they grow, they reproduce, and they die. There is no part between reproducing and dying; there is no finding your identity, no “I just want to focus on me” journeys; there is no eat-pray-love stage.

Biologists in the 1800s knew it, “This is it, man.” The moment you reproduce, you are done for. It was like that for many people before our time; having a kid was a major risk because you could lose a wife, lose kids at birth, or later on at the hands of disease, war, or the lack of critical thinking.

Of course, while there are similarities, most people choose to have kids, and no one chooses to go to a concentration camp — unless that camp is now a museum and you want to have a very depressing afternoon.

But like the camps, with parenting, there is a high probability you will throw your back, catch an illness, and go sleep and food deprived for days. Those circumstances won’t do anything to prevent you from working. You still need to show up and do it with a smile.

In concentration camps, millions truly lost their freedom and grieved over it. In parenting, you “feel” like you totally “lost” your freedom, but you absolutely grieve over it.

Psychologists say there are five stages of grief, but getting ready to get out of the house feels like there are fifteen. Your kid has fifteen, too, and they never seem to align with yours. They grieve over wanting to do anything that is not in their plan, and you grieve over how little you appreciated what a luxury it was to leave the house in a split second whenever you wanted to.

Those fifteen stages happen before you get to the car. Then the real test begins: a shower of tantrums, your kids demonstrating what a limp tiny human body can weigh and how difficult it is to buckle anyone who pretends to be as stiff as a pirate ship plank.

You drop them off at school, shake your feelings off like a spider that sneakily landed on your back, rejoin adult society, go to work, and get ready to start all over again when you pick them up.

Concentration camps had Kapos, and your kids will behave like them. They are your own blood, they have your genes, they share your customs, but they can be ruthless. They will kick and punch you when you least expect it, and at least once, when they are throwing a tantrum, they will stomp on your tip so hard you just wonder if it’s easier to have all the hardware removed. I mean, I don’t know if I want more kids or not, but the ones I already have are determined to decide for me.

At the beginning of the Holocaust, Jews didn’t even know where they were going. They thought they were going to work camps. Regardless of where they were going, when they were on that train, they didn’t think, “Well, this is going to be great through and through!”

Whereas with parenting, people only tell you about how great it is and nothing about the hard parts of it. It is almost like parents are all in this massive societal joke, and when you come up against the obstacles of parenting, they finally come out of the bushes and, in unison, shout, “Gotcha!

So, is having kids worth the effort?

Yes, a million times, yes.

For those of us excited to have a family, to have kids, to share the upside of parenting, to have your kids call you in the middle of the night because they need a hug, to hear their genuine laughter at your jokes, to tell you their jokes, to watch them unfold and flourish as little human beings in front of your eyes.

Then there is the unexplainable joy of having a second kid and witnessing how they come equipped with their own personality and finally understanding your parents when they used to say, “I love you both the same,” — which I used to think there was no way in hell that was true because my sister was a pain in the butt and a narc.

Also, in the ’40s, when Jews simply had to hope and pray that they would eventually be freed, not knowing what would really happen. Now, parents ahead of the cycle tell us there is light and life beyond the toddler’s years. Or so those assholes say.

All that and the so many little moments that are impossible to keep track of make the journey worth it.

Everyone should choose whether to have kids or not without the societal pressure to have them. But no one remotely interested in embarking on this journey should run away from it because it is hard.

We have become a discomfort-avoidant society, but we must learn to accept and move through the difficulties. Maybe some of that suffering will be minimized if we understand our values, choose our path, and accept it. Also, practicing gratitude that no matter what, it will never be like being in a concentration camp.

Frankl describes a morning in which he and his fellow inmates appreciated a beautiful sunrise breaking through the mountains after a cold night of excruciatingly painful work. It was so empowering to read about these prisoners finding glimmers of hope in even the most horrific conditions of human-to-human cruelty.

If he and many other holocaust survivors were able to survive years of horror and come out at the other end with a positive attitude, then we can do the same through parenting on afternoons when no one has taken a nap.

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