Thoughts about children

by on January 31, 2014 at 9:06 pm in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

“All Joy and No Fun” inspired me to think differently about my own experience as a parent. Over and over again, I find myself bored by what I’m doing with my children: How many times can we read “Angelina Ballerina,” or watch a “Bob the Builder” video? And yet I remind myself that such intimate shared moments, snuggling close, provide the ultimate meaning of life. I have never quite sorted out the conundrum of how I could be distracted into thinking about something as tiresome as email when I was with my beloved kids. If I lost all my emails, I’d manage, and if I lost my children, I’d never recover; yet still I sometimes find it hard to stay in the moment with them. Senior demonstrates that there is no contradiction in this seeming paradox; she understands that tolerating our children is the cornerstone of loving them.

That is from Andrew Solomon.

1 Roy January 31, 2014 at 9:14 pm

We moderns confuse fulfillment with sensual pleasure all the time, but this has been a problem for the idle rich for millenia. This is the real loss of abandoning classical education.

If our educated classes still read Seneca and Lucretius they would not marvel at their emotional dissonance so much.

2 dan in philly February 1, 2014 at 5:26 am


3 Eric Crampton January 31, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Bah. I DM D&D for my 5 and 3 year old while commuting with them and just taught them Settlers of Cataan. They watch Adventure Time, we read illustrated version of The Odyssey.

Parenthood is only a hell of The Wiggles if you choose to make it so.

4 Marie January 31, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Yeah, I cringed at Angelina Ballerina.

5 ricardo January 31, 2014 at 11:28 pm

It also helps if you actually like The Wiggles. Although they were never the same after Greg left.

6 Dan Weber February 1, 2014 at 9:22 am

My 6-year-old didn’t even have the sense to check for traps before opening a chest.

7 bellisaurius February 1, 2014 at 5:15 pm

What do you mean, “your torch flames turned blue”, dad?

8 Tony January 31, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Children are a necessary antidote to our unrelenting self-absorption.

@Eric, check out this audiobook retelling of the Odyssey. It is superbly done, which I didn’t expect from the Magic Treehouse lady.

9 Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton) February 1, 2014 at 1:22 am

Oh wow. Many thanks. Kids will love it.

10 revver January 31, 2014 at 10:57 pm

This is a common problem I keep noticing in my life and others; forcing ourselves to engage in the moment we are in but failing miserably. In so doing we create artificial moments out of a sense of obligation, where we want it to be natural and real. The post reminded me of this perfectly:

The poet-clergyman, John Donne, who lived in the time of James I, has given a beautifully honest picture of the doings of a saint’s mind: “I throw myself down in my chamber and call in and invite God and His angels thither, and when they are there I neglect God and His angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door. I talk on in the same posture of praying, eyes lifted up, knees bowed down, as though I prayed to God, and if God or His angels should ask me when I thought last of God in that prayer I cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I had forgot what I was about, but when I began to forget it I cannot tell. A memory of yesterday’s pleasures, a fear of to-morrow’s dangers, a straw under my knee, a noise in mine ear, a light in mine eye, an anything, a nothing, a fancy, a chimera in my brain troubles me in my prayer.” –Quoted by Robert Lynd, The Art of Letters, pp. 46-47.

11 Marie February 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

Good Donne quote, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about falling asleep during prayer, and about how when praying together with the other sisters she found the rattling of a sister’s rosary really irritating, I believe.

There’s a good deal of writing about contemplative prayer (St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila are the go to’s, you may know already) and it usually addresses this.

I read a brain chemistry article once, wish I could remember the specifics, it said that your visual responses get trained and retrained. The point was that if, for example, you spend a ton of time looking at screens and getting that dopamine burst from the light flashes, if you go outside and look at the most thrilling mountain top scenery it will just not do it for you. I noticed this after moving to a rural area, you think you’re *supposed* to love looking at that pretty tree, but man, it’s dull.

You remember the time when you were a child and you could stare up at the sky for hours and love it. Did you imagine that? Because looking at the sky now, meh.

But it’s true, if you spend a lot of time outside and move your normal frame of reference, you get that love of beauty back. I drive down the road now and we see a herd of elk and the kids and I can stop and stare at them for half an hour, while drivers all around us toodle by, uninterested.

Same same with kids. “You are what you take time to become” (Henry Ford?) Just like you can’t expect to appreciate classical music the first time you hear it, you have to listen enough that the patterns become beautiful to you, same with young kids. It’s not just faking it, it’s fake it ’til you make it.

12 Eric Falkenstein January 31, 2014 at 11:11 pm

From the movie “Up”: “That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.[remarking on calling red and blue cars with his dad]”

Just hanging with my kids enjoying stupid things are among my favorite pleasures. We exist as one, enjoying each other’s happiness, banal as they may be.

13 Turkey Vulture January 31, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Well don’t watch bob the builder with them. As best as I know it’s just a product selling device, not a required part of childhood.

14 Cliff February 1, 2014 at 12:30 am

Yeah why the heck do you have to watch a TV show with them? If they are watching a TV show that’s free time for you… they’re not paying any attention to you anyway

15 Brian Donohue February 1, 2014 at 10:22 am

Yeah, my experience doesn’t mesh with Alan Solomon’s at all. Maybe parenting just isn’t a core competency for him.

16 Turkey Vulture February 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm

My kid is still too young for TV, but my memory of childhood was that my mom put me in front of the TV for a break. She’d only watch it with me if it was a show she actually wanted to watch. Seems like the way to go.

17 JFA February 1, 2014 at 12:35 am

It’s just the difference between total utility and marginal utility. The marginal utility function of spending time with kids seems to have either discontinuities or incredibly sharp drops after the peak.

18 freethinker February 1, 2014 at 12:58 am

“Over and over again, I find myself bored by what I’m doing with my children” Tyler, its obvious you are an economist. Only an economist can wonder if time spent with one’s children worth it !

“If our educated classes still read Seneca and Lucretius they would not marvel at their emotional dissonance so much.” Roy, its obvious you are NOT an economist. or if you are, you are not the real thing!

19 Ray Lopez February 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

Tolerating your own children is the cornerstone of loving them, as Soloman says, but what about tolerating the snotty kid that whines at the top of their voice and periodically swats you in the back of the head in the airplane seat behind you? On a 12 hour flight? All the while the parents are mollycoddling the brat? What we need is more tough love for the brats, I mean kids, today, but doing so will land you in prison or a trip with child protective services. And I can’t imagine these kids being more creative than previous generations (the modern argument for letting them have their way).

20 Marie February 1, 2014 at 9:52 am

So much here!

But I do want to note, I’m not called to tolerate my children when they are whining, either. They are called on to tolerate me when I’m whining. When they complain about the injustice, I call it whining and tell them to stop.

21 Charlie February 1, 2014 at 10:55 am

Is there anything we could call Ray’s post but whining?

22 Brian Donohue February 1, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Of course it’s none of my business, but do you have kids?

23 Thor February 1, 2014 at 1:43 am

For a minute there, I thought it said “Andrew Sullivan” rather than “Andrew Solomon”… Whew.

24 Careless February 1, 2014 at 6:19 pm


25 Pete February 1, 2014 at 2:05 am

Children are fine, it’s just difficult to cook them properly

26 Ronald Brak February 1, 2014 at 5:05 am

As someone who used to be a child I feel that I should point out that sometimes we’d prefer it if you’d just leave us alone. I realise this may not hold true for many children, but where it does it can result in a definite increase in welfare for both parties.

27 RPLong February 3, 2014 at 9:57 am

haha, great comment.

28 YSK February 1, 2014 at 5:24 am

“Over and over again, I find myself bored by what I’m doing with my children”

Is this really common?

My experience was very different. I really used to enjoy most of the stuff that I did with my children when they were that age. I guess you have to figure out activities that are mutually enjoyable – playing with Lego blocks, watching Pixar movies (great for repeating viewing), watching Animal Planet, playing with balls. One thing that helped was to get down to their level physically i.e., get on to the floor. And it also helps if you like to “play”, very loosely defined.

29 YSK February 1, 2014 at 5:36 am

The title of the book should have been: “A lot of fun and a lot of agony”

30 Charlie February 1, 2014 at 10:57 am

Is it possible that your remembering self is revising the experience of your experiencing self?

31 Robbo February 1, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I loved playing with my kids, the building blocks, the lego, the snowmen, even Ocarina of Time. Kids give parents the license to be childish – how good is that !

32 chuck martel February 1, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Before radio and television children and their antics were the major source of entertainment. They’re naturally funny. This is still the case in so-called “primitive” societies that have had a problem focusing on the electronic media and entertainment options.

33 Marie February 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Was Pepin really cute?

34 mk February 1, 2014 at 3:36 pm

As usual, there is a relevant Louis CK bit here:

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