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Jeff Atwood On Parenthood
October 24, 2011 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Jeff Atwood, co-founder of StackOverflow/StackExchange (previously) is also fairly well known for blogging about programming and human factors. Today he wrote a post about Parenthood.
posted by memebake (83 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
He's a little over two and a half years old. Now, I am the wussiest wuss to ever wuss up the joint, so take everything I'm about to say with a grain of salt – but choosing to become a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done. By far. Everything else pales in comparison.

2.5 is the absolute worst age other than pre-teens and teenagers and for very similar reasons.

Below about 2, the child (usually) isn't mobile enough to do much and is always happy with a snack, a diaper change and/or a nap. After 2 until about 4-4.5, they are very capable and have no morals.

After around 5, they are tiny human beings but believe everything you say and so they follow the rules, etc. Until around age 12 or 13, when they are tiny adults and don't believe anything you say.

In other words, at age 2 is visited by The Serpent, who gives the child Knowledge of Bugging Parents. At age 5, the child is let back into the Garden. But The Serpent returns at age 13 and stays for 6-10 years...
posted by DU at 6:39 AM on October 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


And he's having twins! Mazel tov!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:41 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poor bastard. Spoken as a father of 3 year old twin girls.

But I kid. My experience of having twins is everything he wrote, only more so.
posted by uberfunk at 6:53 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been told several times that you should never be crazy enough to let the children outnumber you. I hope to ultimately win the War of the Lady Babies, but when it comes to children, I think all anyone can ever realistically hope for is a peaceful surrender.

What a depressing essay.

It's scary and it's wonderful in equal measure. So why not have another baby?

I do not understand this decision-making process.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:53 AM on October 24, 2011


Very accurate pie chart.
posted by Premeditated Symmetry Breaking at 6:59 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yay twins! Good for him! The world needs more twins. :)

(If he wants, he can borrow mine on the (frequent) nights they don't sleep. Ease himself into the experience.)
posted by zarq at 6:59 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not understand this decision-making process.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:53 on October 24 [+] [!]


I'm not certain logic figures into it... (/father of three)

Epi-something-or-other.
posted by Harald74 at 7:00 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything is says is true.
posted by MythMaker at 7:00 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]



2.5 is a cakewalk.

When my son turned 14, I learned why some species eat their young.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:01 AM on October 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is a beautiful phrase: "breathing so fast he can barely catch up" (Newborn breathing is terrifying.)

"It is fascinating watching your child claw their way up the developmental ladder from baby to toddler to child. All this stuff we take for granted, but your baby will painstakingly work their way through trial and error: eating, moving, walking, talking. Arms and legs, how the hell do they work? Turns out, we human beings are kind of amazing animals. There's no better way to understand just how amazing humans are than the front row seat a child gives you to observe it all unfold from scratch each and every day, from literal square zero."

Quoted for truth. If you're at all interested in human beings -- philosophically, psychologically, developmentally, educationally -- there is not one damn thing more fascinating than raising one from scratch. (And I say that as someone who just had to interrupt this post and run across the room shouting, "THE POTTY IS NOT FOR STANDING IN!") I've been making extensive use of my library's interlibrary loan policies to get tons of books on brain development and motor skills and language development because I see them doing stuff and I'm like, "Ooooh, I bet there's a book about that so I could learn more ..." But even beyond all the adult nerding I'm doing, everything that fascinates your child fascinates you, so you spend time marvelling at how fingers can go in mouths, or learning the name of every earthmoving truck on the planet, or picking up leaves, because you forgot how interesting these things were the first time you learned them.

You also have to move at such a slower pace to spend time with children, and I'm so Type A that I think I'd forgotten how pleasant it is to mosey and how to enjoy la dolce far niente.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 AM on October 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


[...]I can feel him laughing all the way to his toes. And I realize, my God, I had forgotten, I had completely forgotten how unbelievably, inexplicably wonderful it is that any of us exist at all.
This. Absolutely 100% this. The first time you hear a toddler new to the world rolling on the floor laughing the loudest laugh you've ever heard -- that is when you finally understand the Buddha.

Also, the 51/49% thing, but I think that ratio varies tremendously with the level of sleep you've had.
posted by cavalier at 7:03 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you've read one essay by a geek guy in his late 20s/early 30s about how having children changed his life, you've read them all.
posted by pts at 7:03 AM on October 24, 2011 [20 favorites]


Thanks for this. I'm only up right now because one of our 8 month old twins recently decided that 6:00 AM was when he was getting up for the rest of the day, doggone it. He's gonna have fun with the twins.
posted by zsazsa at 7:08 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That graph should be the new flag we fly over the clubhouse.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:09 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh. If the poor bastard thinks one child is a bit of a hassle he's really in for it with three - two are bad enough for ensuring you get no time off whatsoever and canceling out any chance you would have had to take a breather with one.

He'll be fine, I'm sure.
posted by Artw at 7:09 AM on October 24, 2011


Biology, people. This is what your genese want you to think.
posted by cmoj at 7:11 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


"If you've read one essay by a geek guy in his late 20s/early 30s about how having children changed his life, you've read them all."

Yeah, but one of the miracles of parenthood is that every part of it is brand-new, mindblowing, and clearly totally undiscovered by prior generations.

And one of the miracles of grandparenthood is how they manage to laugh about this only in private instead of in their exhausted kids' actual faces.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 AM on October 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I am glad he bolded the important parts like he always does.
posted by mkb at 7:14 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Needs code samples.
posted by Artw at 7:18 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Poor bastard. Spoken as a father of 3 year old twin girls.

Same here!

All of our new kid arrivals had about the same level of difficulty.

We had our first boy, and it was hard because we didn't know what the hell we were doing.

We had our second boy, and it was hard because although we knew what we were doing, there was a 3 year old boy running around while we were doing it.

We hemmed and hawed, but were really on top of our game and both felt comfortable with one more. The third was supposed to be easy. Then we had our twin girls, and it was hard because jesus christ what the hell is going on i don't even.
posted by CaseyB at 7:20 AM on October 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


Man. Twins. And I thought compiling one custom kernal was bad enough.
posted by Samizdata at 7:25 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Biology, people. This is what your genese want you to think.

Word to that cmoj. It's like some dormant Java script that once they're born begins to execute. This is really the way it is. I know it's genetic and it's been an experience of getting in touch with a part of myself I never knew existed.

I am reminded of the comments that Flea (of RHCP) in last week's post "The Other F-Word". I paraphrase, but he said something like. "The usual cliché parents inflict on their kids is I BROUGHT YOU INTO THIS WORLD, but for me, it is my kids that brought ME into this world."

I lived 44 years of a full life having no bloody idea of what life is. My kids changed that for me. They launched that chemistry in my brain and "life" as I knew it was over, replaced by a life I never knew existed. The debt I owe is to THEM and I hope I never forget that. The little fuckers.
posted by three blind mice at 7:25 AM on October 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Artw: "Needs code samples."

TGACTTACCGATTGTTACTAGGTACGTAGACTAG
posted by schmod at 7:26 AM on October 24, 2011 [17 favorites]


Parenthood's "Hello World" is quite a lot more dramatic than Perl, Ruby, or even Erlang.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:26 AM on October 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've had a major amount of project work due as of late. Its kept me from commenting here, and from being "around" my family even when I have been around at home. This weekend my son pooped in my laptop bag in front of me, while I was helping his sister with tummy time. He's officially 3, he's mostly potty trained, but he's had a bug lately so it has caught him slightly off guard lately - this was his solution. It was both infuriating and brilliant on his part. He made a volumous amount of commentary on my priorities. I've also never seen him run so fast while saying: "Oops! Sorry Daddy!"

This was a clear message to me that I need to be there more for him. I haven't laughed so hard and been more grossed out simultaneously so far... In two years, this project will be forgotten, but that memory will live with both him and I forever. (I will remind him of this as he grows up.)

Thank god I'm finishing up the last vestiges of documentation for the project this morning. Also, I am asking my boss for a new laptop bag.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


CaseyB: "Then we had our twin girls, and it was hard because jesus christ what the hell is going on i don't even."

Mine are a boy and a girl, also 3. (Born 2/08.)

The two biggest lessons I learned early on were: (and um... this is not directed at you, CaseyB!) :)

a) Schedule them carefully and get them into a solid, predictable routine or man, they will totally wreck you. Especially if you're either a single parent or temporarily handling them alone. One small infant or child can turn your life into chaos, but is still manageable. Two at once can easily be overwhelming and if you're further outnumbered the situation can turn very difficult.

b) Try to establish a support system. We don't have many family members who live close by. Our friends have been a godsend -- especially during crises.

Also, we try to remember that they're both smarter and more cunning, and far more fearless than we are. I always joke then when we leave our kids with a babysitter I half expect to find her staked to the living room carpet by the twin Lilliputians when I return.

This morning my daughter pushed a chair in the kitchen over to our stove, so she could open the kitchen cabinet above it and retrieve some cookies. When she realized she couldn't reach, I walked in to find her standing on the counter next to the stove, directing her brother to come up, stand next to her and then kneel on his arms and legs, so she could stand on top of his back like a stepstool.
posted by zarq at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, there is a lot you grok differently when you become a parent. Mostly, you see your options disappear until your path is crystal clear.

But, I honestly do not get the hyperbole some use to explain the before/after picture.

I guess I've had a lot of life-changing experiences, or (more likely) I live in a haze of the now, and mostly let the past fade away and the future take care of itself.

Having a child means I mostly react these days, and don't really give a shit about anything else. I might not throw myself under a bus for my kid, but I don't really care if there is a bus at all.

Unless, of course, I need a bus. In which case, you'll hear about it.

Yeah. Parenthood makes you a little selfish. It really is about that whole loss of options, and a pretty clear road ahead. You've made your decision, and please to be getting out of the way if we run into each-other.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2011


Wonderful thoughts. The para beginning "When I am holding Henry ..." is so true.

Having kids is not like your existing life plus kids. It's a new life that kids show you. It also opens up your parents to you in new ways.
posted by carter at 7:50 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really hated the first few months of parenthood, and while I adore my almost 3 year old son, I'm not sure I completely agree with the sentiments of loving him more than my husband, or that he made me appreciate the whole world more.

But sometime in the past month my little guy discovered the joy of the butt joke, and watching the headlong joy he gets ripping his pants off and running around singing "A sack of tushies, a sack of butts... tushy tushy tushy tushy"* -- there are no words.

*to the tune of La Cucaracha. Because his father sings "a sack of potatoes" to that tune when he fireman-hoists him off to bed. So naturally...
posted by Mchelly at 8:04 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having kids is not like your existing life plus kids. It's a new life that kids show you. It also opens up your parents to you in new ways.

Exactly. I don't normally read these essays about what an Awesome Thing having kids is but with #2 on the way any day now, it's been on my mind more lately. But anyway, writing about the Bearing Children Experience is kind of silly, because it's like the I Ching -- those without kids will never understand and those with kids already know.

Nevertheless, because I'm an idiot and a hypocrite, here's my take:

Having kids provided me with a grounding and a direction I didn't know I needed. They fill a hole in my heart that I never knew I had.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:08 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love both my children dearly... but for all who might feel tempted by Jeff's essay to have their own little humans to raise, I offer an observation.
Having children changes not only you, It also changes the world. It adds to it a human being that is not you, yet is dear to you beyond all measure. You will ache when it is hurt. You will dread that it will be hurt. You'll become more vulnerable because of it.
It's always like that when we fall in love, but here you love someone who will be dependent on you for years, and then he or she will leave... and you'll never stop worrying what might become of him or her.
Have that in mind when you choose.
I don't regret our choice. But who knows how we would have chosen had we known how it will be.
posted by hat_eater at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


But sometime in the past month my little guy discovered the joy of the butt joke, and watching the headlong joy he gets ripping his pants off and running around singing "A sack of tushies, a sack of butts... tushy tushy tushy tushy"* -- there are no words.

Somehow, we started singing What What in The Butt during diaper changes. The fact that 2 year olds absorb, retain, and repeat everything is alternately disturbing and hilarious.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:15 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hah. Someone (I won't say who) taught ours to say "Oops, chuckle botty!" when he farts. He thinks it's funny, especially in the bath ...

See - most parent conversations end being about bodily functions ...
posted by carter at 8:20 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


But sometime in the past month my little guy discovered the joy of the butt joke, and watching the headlong joy he gets ripping his pants off and running around singing "A sack of tushies, a sack of butts... tushy tushy tushy tushy"* -- there are no words.

To mama's dismay, the boy and I enjoy offering to show her our assholes. When mama politely declines we tend to bend over and spread 'em anyway, and she is forced to divert her eyes.

The two of us find it hilarious.

"Papa, would you like to see my asshole?"

"OK, why not!"

"Hahahahhahahahhahaaaaaa!"

Just for the record, the boy and I both know we should not show our assholes to grandma or house guests - that would be rude.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:26 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing that fucks you up about parenthood is that it is so maddening (living w/ chaos and DRAMA all the time) but also so sweet, and at every moment that you spend muttering "goddamit you little shit" you simultaneously know that some day, you'll be longing to have that exact moment back again.
posted by emjaybee at 8:52 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread is strongly reminiscent of Erowid's Experience Vaults.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:52 AM on October 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well, it's a trip ...
posted by carter at 9:06 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


...while I adore my almost 3 year old son, I'm not sure I completely agree with the sentiments of loving him more than my husband, or that he made me appreciate the whole world more.

Yeah. There's a certain style of parenting essay -- and this is pretty typical of that style -- that tries to frame parenthood as This Magical Unbelievable Thing That I Now Understand Completely And Must Explain To Everyone.

But it's different for everyone. It's not 51%/49% for everyone -- just ask someone with post-partum depression. Or ask me. For me, for various reasons, the early years of parenting are a long war. I can see a path to victory, but it's a dark, twisty path. I don't do it because it's delightful. I do it because the alternatives are even more difficult to contemplate.

This essay is a nice, lighthearted romp through this guy's particular feelings, but the tone of This Is The Way Parenting Is is pretty navelgazey.
posted by gurple at 9:07 AM on October 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


The bittersweet experience of parenting is more common than the entirely-sweet one, and it's great that we are now airing those feelings in public so that people who don't yet have kids can attempt to begin to attempt to understand (or whatever pseudo-mystical bullshit you want to steep your personal epiphany in) that it's not all sunshine and roses.

That said, there are people (I am not saying whether I am one; I don't think I am) who find the experience much more bitter than sweet. For whom the 'goddammit you little shit' moments far, far outnumber the happier moments. For whom the entire experience is a neverending shitstorm of feeling incompetent and overwhelmed, barely able to cope, while all around you people coo and chuckle about how life-changingly wonderful parenthood is. Basically, I guess I'm asking everyone to back off with the generalities?

(on preview, what gurple said.)
posted by Fraxas at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Actually, I'll go so far as to say this: if this guy thinks that it's 51%/49% for everyone, then he's failing to examine the parenting instinct fully enough to realize that, in all probability, he'd grit his teeth and just be a dad regardless of how that goofy little pie chart looked.

Given that he has twins on the way, this is not exactly a hypothetical.
posted by gurple at 9:19 AM on October 24, 2011


gurple: Yeah. There's a certain style of parenting essay -- and this is pretty typical of that style -- that tries to frame parenthood as This Magical Unbelievable Thing That I Now Understand Completely And Must Explain To Everyone.

er, what about these bits:
... because becoming a parent is an intensely personal experience. Every child is different. Every parent is different. Every culture has their own way of doing things. The experience is fundamentally different for every new parent in the world ...
posted by memebake at 9:21 AM on October 24, 2011


er, what about these bits:

That's what he says up front. That's his cute little nod to humility. Then, though, he just dives right in:

Your children, they ruin everything in the nicest way.

Then you have a child, look up to the sky, and suddenly understand that those bright dots in the sky are whole other galaxies.

You can't possibly know the enormity of the feelings you will have for your children.

[parenting] leaves you feeling like you truly accomplished something for all that effort. (written by the parent of a single 2-year-old, mind you).

when it comes to children, I think all anyone can ever realistically hope for is a peaceful surrender.

Come on, do you think this guy is really capturing the diversity of parenting experience, or even acknowledging it?
posted by gurple at 9:26 AM on October 24, 2011


WHAT IF THE CHILD IS A STARVING CHILD IN AFRICA?
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've read one essay by a geek guy in his late 20s/early 30s about how having children changed his life, you've read them all.

Has anyone written one about how much more personally productive his children have made him?

Before I had kids, I considered taking the garbage down the backstairs and hauling out the bins to be a chore.

Yesterday, I weeded the garden, harvested food, cut the grass, trimmed/edged, took a two-hour nap, did three loads of laundry, made lunch and a fairly involved dinner,

Before I had kids, I would have watched some football, taken the nap, and microwaved a burrito or something.

One of the best things about parenthood is that it's made me a great short-order cook. You want fries with that?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:42 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


gurple: "
Come on, do you think this guy is really capturing the diversity of parenting experience, or even acknowledging it?
"

I don't disagree with your point at all, but he's probably not trying to (nor is he probably interested in trying). He's writing a cute personal essay about his experience of fatherhood so far as a way to announce that he's expecting twins.

I'm glad you (and others) are here making the point that it's not all happies and candy for everyone (even for most?). For me, though, it's just how the man says. I am deeply grateful that my experience is as good as it is because I was terrified before my son came along that it would be otherwise. My heart goes out to everyone whose pie chart looks a lot more blue than mine.
posted by that's candlepin at 9:42 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I honestly do not get the hyperbole some use to explain the before/after picture.

I felt the same way too, until my daughter turned two or so, and started talking a lot more and developing her own personality and humor ... and stubbornness. It's not the lack of sleep, lack of personal time, poop and pee, etc. that is life-changing--it's adding a whole new personality that you've never met before to live in your house with your family for the next ~20 years.

I think that's really what drives a lot of the "you'll see" comments that parents give to prospective parents.

This thread is strongly reminiscent of Erowid's Experience Vaults.

An apt comparison, and one I've made many times. Having kids really is a lot like an acid trip that never ends. And there may be many times you want it to stop.

he's failing to examine the parenting instinct fully enough to realize that, in all probability, he'd grit his teeth and just be a dad regardless of how that goofy little pie chart looked.

Well yeah, that's the thing. It's not like you can return the things (except maybe in Nebraska).

I don't disagree with your point at all, but he's probably not trying to (nor is he probably interested in trying). He's writing a cute personal essay about his experience of fatherhood so far as a way to announce that he's expecting twins.

Also, yeah, more of a personal blog post than a good MetaFilter post. justmy2c.

Parenthood and Meaning
posted by mrgrimm at 9:52 AM on October 24, 2011


I think he got it just right. Especially when he talks about seeing the world in a new way because of his son. Christmas with your kids is like being a kid again and rediscovering that yes, there is magic in the world.

My kids are teens now, and it just keeps getting better.

Also went through some pretty serious postpartum depression when I weaned each of my boys, and had to go back on my depression meds, so I get where gurple is coming from, too. Not everyone new parent is able to focus so clearly through the lens of their lives on the amazing part. Some of us have to figure out how to take the lens cap off first.

But from one who is now in a position to look back over the years and weigh it all, on balance I'd say the overall experience is pretty damn close to what Atwood describes.
posted by misha at 10:17 AM on October 24, 2011


This is the Jeff that thinks that "design patterns" are a useless waste of time and the "hacking shit together until it works" method is right way to do things. I'm going to skip the essay and assume he is just as full of shit when it comes to parenting as his is when it comes to programming.
posted by sideshow at 10:23 AM on October 24, 2011


I can't reconcile articles and threads like this with the empirical studies that show that people are less happy after having had children. I guess the people who regret their kids don't tend to blog or comment about it.
posted by desjardins at 10:25 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, desjardins, children bring overall lower levels of unhappiness, yes. But they don't bring any particular clarity of observation of one's own level of happiness. A father may be quantifiably less happy than they were before having kids, but he doesn't necessarily know that about himself.

Society expects parents to be happy about being parents. Parents want to be happy about, and content with, their choice to be parents. Thus, happy parent articles.
posted by gurple at 10:36 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I can't reconcile articles and threads like this with the empirical studies that show that people are less happy after having had children. "

I think it's sort-of the wrong question. There's a difference between happy and joyful. Happy is a nice football game and a beer on a Saturday afternoon, which I can't really remember the last time I enjoyed. Joyful is loving a tiny person who spent most of the morning trying to stand in the toilet (why? WHY??). I spend a lot more time aggravated than I used to, which I suppose means happy less often, but it's a hell of a lot more joyful. I think I first heard the distinction between happy and joyful in a talk by Sister Helen "Dead Man Walking" Prejean -- joy takes work, joy has obstacles, joy sometimes involves slogging through serious shit, but in the end it's deeper and more powerful and more lasting than "merely" happy.

I also think this applies to work and other things in life, not just parenting; you may have a job that's difficult and demanding, and you don't walk around feeling all sunshine and roses all the time, but you feel deeply fulfilled and joyful because of the work you do. Or the art you create. Or whatever. I think of a funeral director I knew -- he did hard, emotional, often wrenching work, but it was GOOD work that helped people, and he felt good about his life because of it, even though he sometimes dreaded the day-to-day. I think any way that we give voice and exercise to our most human and humane impulses -- teaching, caring, creating, building, reforming, fighting the good fight -- is a part of this kind of deep joy. Parenting is one way, and it's an important way for a lot of people, but it's clearly not the only way.

Teddy Roosevelt said, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." To me, that's the difference between people trying to live a "merely" happy life and people trying to live a GOOD and meaty and fulfilling life, and there's joy in living a good life, whether that's in parenting or in meaningful work or in creating art or whatever it is. (And Wynton Marsalis has it right, too: "Invest yourself in everything you do. There's fun in being serious.")

Anyway, that's why I'm never sure if those "happy" studies are getting at the right thing. I can't really tell you if I'm happier (and my oldest is only two), but I can tell you only a few other things in my life have brought me such deep and abiding joy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:40 AM on October 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


This is the Jeff that thinks that "design patterns" are a useless waste of time

Smart guy then.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on October 24, 2011


If you write articles prescribing ways to code, you don't have a leg to stand on to say that design patterns are useless.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:48 AM on October 24, 2011


There's a certain style of coding that was in vogue about two years ago and may still exist in some places that holds that design patterns are the be all and end all of coding and that the most important thing when approaching any coding problem is to map it to something in the Big Book of Design Patterns, say, aha! this is a Setter Getter Replicator pattern or what have you and then bend everything to fit that pattern or freak out if anything occurs that does not match it. That is where patterns become a waste of time and worse than useless.
posted by Artw at 10:51 AM on October 24, 2011


That's a far cry from "useless waste of time".
posted by LogicalDash at 11:02 AM on October 24, 2011


Well, anything good about design patterns you can pretty much come up with without the bad parts, so yeah, kind of a waste of time.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on October 24, 2011


desjardins: "I can't reconcile articles and threads like this with the empirical studies that show that people are less happy after having had children. I guess the people who regret their kids don't tend to blog or comment about it."

Happiness is a relative term. I suspect that becoming a parent affects everyone differently. But one thing is certain: it is a complicated and evolving process, which can be very stressful. Add to that the fact that some parents (myself included) get so wrapped up in the experience that they romanticize it, it's difficult to quantify how everyone is affected.

Speaking only for myself here: I'm far happier overall now that I have kids. I am also exponentially more stressed and nervous, and far more fatigued. So there's good and bad, which is to be expected. But if you asked me where the balance tips, it tips to "happier." As much as I might complain about them keeping me up at night in social media, my kids bring me a great deal of joy. They cause stress and worry, but they also calm and ground me. They've given my life more of a purpose than it had before. And I laugh a lot more than I used to.

I'm sure I'm not representative of parenthood as a whole. But the "happiness quotient" of the experience of being a parent is probably not all that easily quantified.
posted by zarq at 11:23 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's my question -

One my ex-wife and I hashed over for a very, very, very long time.

What if you honestly feel that you would be unable to share your world with a little one? I mean, I love my cat to pieces, but there are days, through no fault of his own, I feel the world would be a little better if he died quickily and painlessly.

Should I introduce what could very well be another broken person into the world, just so I can feel better about myself?

And, yes, it was me asking the question about myself. I am a child of a badly failed marriage and nasty divorce and did not want to put a (hopefully) intact child through that.
posted by Samizdata at 11:23 AM on October 24, 2011


sideshow: This is the Jeff that thinks that "design patterns" are a useless waste of time and the "hacking shit together until it works" method is right way to do things.

Citation needed. He headed up the team that put together StackOverflow, and thats definitely not hacking shit together. He's against complexity for complexities sake, but he's not against design patterns per se. In general, I'd describe him as a kind of realist coder who encourages other coders to read up on whats happening and explore new techniques and advice, but also to beware of fads and dogmas.
posted by memebake at 12:14 PM on October 24, 2011


but zarq, your kids are ridiculously adorable.
posted by desjardins at 12:18 PM on October 24, 2011


Samizdata, parenting in 2011 is an inherently selfish act. No reasonable person thinks bringing a child into the world these days is a good idea for the child.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:32 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


No reasonable person thinks bringing a child into the world these days is a good idea for the child.

Neither do any Scotsmen, for that matter.
posted by Errant at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, anything good about design patterns you can pretty much come up with without the bad parts, so yeah, kind of a waste of time.

Congratulations! By studying the design patterns of your predecessors, you have created a new design pattern better suited for your project. Use it well!
posted by LogicalDash at 12:49 PM on October 24, 2011


No reasonable person thinks bringing a child into the world these days is a good idea for the child.

*raises hand*

Parenting is by nature a very selfish (for your genes) and selfless (for your actual person) act. There are plenty of people I suppose who would argue that human non-existence is better than existence, but that seems like a fringe belief.

Should I introduce what could very well be another broken person into the world, just so I can feel better about myself?

I don't know you, but as a guess, I would say no. I've had this conversation with a good friend (who later killed himself) and he was pretty insistent about not bringing another human life into this fucked-up world.

Then there are those of us who love this world, "broken people" and all, and our hearts burst with love for our friends. Having a child is like making a great friend, even if, yeah, he grows up and stomps your heart to pieces.

One my ex-wife and I hashed over for a very, very, very long time.

What if you honestly feel that you would be unable to share your world with a little one? I mean, I love my cat to pieces, but there are days, through no fault of his own, I feel the world would be a little better if he died quickily and painlessly.


I can't really fathom what you are going on about here, but I am curious. It seems a bit dark.

Happiness is not what we are here for, imo. Do you want the bad guys (e.g. the New Puritans, the climate-change deniers, and the corporate fascists) to win the future? Then start procreating. ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:02 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I can't reconcile articles and threads like this with the empirical studies that show that people are less happy after having had children."

I think the happy vs joyful explanation above expresses well the way I feel about it, but the really curious thing that I can't quite make sense of is how I, as a parent, really want others to know the experience too. I don't go around with a placard or strongly promoting parenthood to my friends but I feel a twinge of sadness when I hear couples say they don't want to have children.

Why do I -- and many parents -- feel like this? It is bizarre but the passage of parenthood is so transformative that I think you feel the urge to be in like company. Its like wanting your straight friend try acid too.

What I like about the essay is how clear he makes it that his life is divided utterly between the life he had before parenthood and the one he has now. Something that cleaves your existence so deeply and creates so many peak emotional experiences makes you something of a nut, I think. I hardly remember what it was like before, so I find I'm happy when I know of friends making the plunge. I'm not sure if we'll be happier for it, but I'm pretty sure we are taking part in one of life's great acts.
posted by dgran at 1:17 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would certainly like to hear or read a talk by Sister Helen "Dead Man Walking" Prejean about the difference between happy and joyful. That sounds like a very interesting train of thought to follow on parenting. Any links, EM?
posted by wenestvedt at 1:18 PM on October 24, 2011


I personally would hope that any parent would have kids for completely selfish reasons. I couldn't imagine being a child of someone who was my parent simply because they thought it would be good for me. The selfishness is what makes it all work - the child realizes that they are an integral part of you and that there is no possibility that you could ever have it any other way. Then what starts as selfishness becomes selflessness because in trying to please yourself and be a good parent you sacrifice many other things in your life.
posted by spaceviking at 1:40 PM on October 24, 2011


Eyebrows McGee, you totally completely nailed it. That is exactly how I feel about it.

I'll bet the Whether It Was Worth it question is heavily influenced by the age at which one becomes a parent. I simply wasn't this reflective, patient, or this in need of meaning when I was 25 and I can see myself holding regrets at that age. Hell, I was seriously reluctant at 39, and a product of a kind of fucked up family to boot, which is why I am so thoroughly delighted by all of the unexpected benefits of being a parent.

Should I introduce what could very well be another broken person into the world, just so I can feel better about myself?

Oh my god, no. You should do it because you think you could bring someone into the world and do a better job than the people who delivered all the hurt to you, because you know that in the final analysis, love wins out, and there's no better way to deliver that message than to create a new human being and to raise them with all of the hope, wisdom, humor, and compassion you've accumulated in your life. You should do it because yes, life is a pain in the ass and it's full of hassle and hurt, but those are just hurdles to overcome and not really central to the question of why we go on living. You should have a kid because you've carefully considered the question and you've decided you really believe in the things you believe in and instead of just talking about it at bars and coffee shops, you want to go all in.

God I am such a bore.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:45 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Our planet is doomed, isn't it? I mean, I kind of like kids, and I like all my friends who are parents, but if everyone is having three or more kids, we're at 20 billion people within two generations. 20 billion top predators pretty much means everything else is gone, eh?
posted by maxwelton at 2:05 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


My wife & I are expecting twins (1b/1g) in about 4 weeks. I'm terrified, enthralled, excited, and worried all at the same time. Man, I can't wait...
posted by jbelshaw at 2:27 PM on October 24, 2011


The problem with the planet is not quantity of people so much as quality. At least this is the perspective of a newly successful breeding pair.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:29 PM on October 24, 2011


From my observations, it seems like there are two kinds of parenting couples: the kind that love their kids more than anything and feel comfortable saying they'd throw their spouse under a train to save the kid; and the kind that love each other more than anything, and the kids are delightful proof of what awesome people they, the couple, are.

I'm really grateful to have had the former as my parents. If I ever have kids, I'd really like to be the latter. (This may be selfishness speaking...or my ignorance, as a childless person.)
posted by artemisia at 4:08 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a theological conundrum that asks to what extent God can be perfectly just and gracious at the same time, or vengeful and loving. It's a complicated and interesting problem to work through, for those who take the question seriously.

All I know is that when my daughter arrived, and she wouldn't sit still for that particularly bad diaper change, I didn't know it was possible to be so irritated and loving of her at exactly the same time. Sometimes those weird attributes can coexist in ways that you don't anticipate. So, I liked the graph this article quite a bit.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2011


I, too, was going to chime in on the "throw my spouse" under the train angle. You put that very well, artemesia, though I don't think the delineation is so binary.

My parents were of the first kind ... but they came pretty close to being the second, I think. I like to think I'm the second too, but who knows. Things change over the years, so I can't say.

I wouldn't just throw myself under a bus for my baby, I'd happily throw my wife under that bus too – without the slightest hesitation. What the hell just happened to me?

I just know that I could never throw my wife under a train to save my children. Trolleyism or not, my wife the only person in my family whom I chose to love completely out of my own free will. We've only been together 10 years, but I would never, ever sacrifice her for anything or anyone. She and I are partners until we die.

Speaking in hypotheticals, the reverse is a much scarier question: could I throw my kids under a train to save my wife? Luckily, such scenarios are almost purely theoretical.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:25 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking in hypotheticals, the reverse is a much scarier question: could I throw my kids under a train to save my wife? Luckily, such scenarios are almost purely theoretical.

I think part of what he might be trying to get at is that the texture of love is sometimes different between the two. Perhaps not for all people, but it rings true in my situation. Perhaps it's because of what you said, that one is freely chosen; but the other seems to come unbidden from somewhere deep. I do know that I expected the second to be more like the first, but it was simply a different thing, a love that seems to be more about compulsion than choice and commitment. I choose to love my wife, I choose to put myself in front of the bullet for her, and I hope that it would be instinctive, because I do love her deeply, as well. For my child, though, somehow I just know it would be instinctive. Not sure what the qualitative difference is, but it's a pretty interesting phenomena.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:34 PM on October 24, 2011


He headed up the team that put together StackOverflow, and thats definitely not hacking shit together.

I dunno; a lot of the ongoing gamification development there does seem fairly hacky to an outsider like me. The Stack Overflow blog often reads to me like "we have social problem X, so here's (a) yet another badge you can grind towards to combat it, or (b) yet another site meta-process".

And I still don't really have any idea what Stack Overflow actually is. It's a QA site but also like a wiki so people can edit stuff and then there are reputations and badges and...

Although it I have increasingly noticed it providing useful results in programming-related Google searches, which I think was always Jeff-and-Joel's goal.

On the article itself, though, I 100% agree that this is fodder for other parents. As a non-parent it comes across as the usual "you're not in the club so you COULDN'T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND THE JOY" stuff; which to be honest is more alienating than it is inviting.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:39 PM on October 24, 2011


Still applies.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:19 PM on October 24, 2011


Re the "overall unhappiness" measurement that comes with parenthood, I can't help wondering if that's because we still expect everyone to raise kids alone, in a house, just two people and the offspring. It's incredibly isolating and stressful. Takes a village, yada yada, hardly anyone gets a goddamn village. So much of the unhappiness parenting has brought me has not been because my kid's done anything irritating or whatever but because I often feel so alone with my spouse in bearing this responsibility. It's so huge, and overwhelming, and having other people around day to day would do a lot to help.

But starting a commune, or moving to one, both of which we seriously looked into, seemed like the wrong thing to do for the kid in terms of losing our jobs and healthcare. We can't afford to find a goddamn village. And all of our friend circle is made up of people who don't want to, and probably shouldn't, reproduce (much as we love them). So we stumble along doing our best, but wishing we could do it in a better setup.
posted by emjaybee at 6:53 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


"I would certainly like to hear or read a talk by Sister Helen "Dead Man Walking" Prejean about the difference between happy and joyful. That sounds like a very interesting train of thought to follow on parenting. Any links, EM?"

I have googled robustly and come up with nothing. I saw it on a VHS tape in 2000, and I think it was a little old even then, looked like she was speaking at a high school or college? The video was high-school-cable-station quality and the tape seemed fairly well-loved. Anyway, I saw it as part of a "senior transitions" thing for college seniors where we got together in groups of 8 with a professor & his or her spouse/partner and had some directed discussions about how to build for ourselves a meaningful life in line with our values and how to do that once leaving the womb of college (a Catholic college, even; it was easy there). I will try to dig up my actual notes from that time and see if I have anything written down about it.

And if any of you are college administrators you should institute such a program as it was one of the best things I did in college to prepare me for real life, even though all we talked about was Life, not anything "practical." (And, obviously, it was one of the things I mentally referenced in thinking about having kids. Also in thinking about work. In thinking about volunteer commitments. In thinking about buying a house. Etc.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:11 PM on October 24, 2011


I can't reconcile articles and threads like this with the empirical studies that show that people are less happy after having had children. I guess the people who regret their kids don't tend to blog or comment about it.

Considering in the last year we've sighted a study published in a peer-reviewed journal that purported to prove the non-existence of the g-spot, I'll want to take a closer look at those studies. Especially since the one that hit the papers locally, while boasted reputable looking credentials, turned out to be presented at and funded by a religio-philosophical group who are into the depopulation-would-make-the-world-better.

(Also, of those studies that I have bothered to look at, the majority discount self-reported levels of happiness. I understand the concerns with relying on self-reporting, but if I *feel* happier, then it seems a little odd to say, "No, but really you aren't. My methodology proves it!")
posted by rodgerd at 1:02 AM on October 25, 2011


I have actually thrown my kids at my spouse to make a train.

Also, having kids has made me a much better cook. PROTIP: Do not boil the baby.
posted by erniepan at 3:52 AM on October 25, 2011


This essay is a nice, lighthearted romp through this guy's particular feelings, but the tone of This Is The Way Parenting Is is pretty navelgazey.

I can tell you don't listen to the StackExchange podcast. Last week it took half an hour for Atwood to stop talking about his own theories long enough for the episode guest to get a sentence in.

Much as he irritates me from time to time (his assertions about NP-Completeness and password salting are yell-at-the-monitor classics even for a non-coder like me), I rather liked this piece - his writing is fun when you don't have to check it for factual errors.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:42 AM on October 25, 2011


Regarding the children make you less happy research: I attended a talk by Dan Gilbert, who headed the team that did much of it, and he delved into the methodology a bit. They basically used an iphone app, that would periodically ping you to ask you what you were doing and to rate your mood while doing it. They found that being in the presence of children ranked only slightly higher than vacuuming and lower than grocery shopping with respect to how happy people were while doing these things.

On the other hand, he gave a great analogy during the talk to explain why people with kids always seem to say that they're happy when asked about their decision to have kids. Suppose you're at a baseball match and it's been a boring uneventful game and it's the bottom of the ninth. You've been sitting there bored out of your skull for a looooooong time. But now the bases are loaded and your favorite batter hits a home run and your team wins. You're out of your mind with joy and jump from your seat screaming. When you get home and someone asks you how the game was, are you going to talk about how incredibly boring it was or how amazing the finale was? In your head too, the memories of that day are going to be of that joyful moment, not all the misery before it.

Kids, he felt, were similar. You take them out for the day. They whine about everything, bug you for ice cream, get it all over themselves, throw a tantrum etc., but at the end of the day if they look at you with a sweet smile and say Mummy (or Daddy) I love you! what are you going to remember?
posted by peacheater at 11:57 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


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