Ever since my wife had our first son, and especially for that first year, I began to question the validity of the Theory of Evolution. Please bear with me, because I’m not starting a debate about evolution vs. creationism. No. What I’m talking about is how did humans survive this world throughout the years, while having to take care of babies at the same time? If I were to picture myself in some prehistoric jungle, wearing a loincloth and carrying a spear, and I can’t get this baby to stop crying, then I’m certain I’m getting eaten by a saber toothed tiger tonight! No doubt. A noisy baby should have ended whatever genepool they were born into back then.
And it’s not just the practical issues of carrying around a screaming mess of flesh in a harsh ‘kill or be killed’ world that gives me pause on the whole human plus parenting in the whole evolution thing. It’s also the wear and tear these kids inflict upon us too. I mean, I’ve physically aged more in the last 6 years than at any other time in my life. After taking care of my children’s needs, I rarely have enough energy to do the necessary things that I need to do to continue a healthy life. How does parenting benefit us if we’re dying? Yes, in an evolutionary sense, kids are the necessary continuation of the species, but I almost feel sometimes like I’m more akin to one of those animals where the children are born by bursting out of the parent’s body after having fed off of their dead corpse first. Just think of the movie Alien or something.
I’ve done research, and I found that humans are unique in our parenting imperative on this planet, but let me be clear on what I mean. There are other animals that have the same (or longer) gestational periods as we do, like the elephant who can have a pregnancy that lasts almost 2 years. There’s also other species (including the elephant) who take just as long as humans to reach sexual maturity and/or the completion of the physical growth of their adult bodies. But, there is no other species on this planet that has offspring that are as helpless and demanding of care like we humans. All of the animals that match us or exceed us in the categories I just described are able to swim, walk, or run within hours after birth. Even marsupials and other species, who do give birth to weak and helpless infants, diverge from us because it only takes a few days and not years for their offspring to achieve traits of survivability.
As a parent, I want to know, what is going on? How did humans evolve like this? And how come this isn’t a bigger discussion in our society? Why is it when we describe the uniqueness of our species in comparison to the rest of the animals on this planet, we mostly say we’re the ones with the thumbs who stand on two legs? Why don’t we call ourselves the ‘parenting species’ or ‘homo parente’, because the way we care for our young really does set us apart from other animals. By having kids with extended infancy, adolescence, and youth we are able to teach them language, higher reasoning, and humor. Brains are more malleable before reaching maturity. Just some of the things we celebrate that make us human. If you ever see a story about a child who was raised in the wild without human parenting, they are missing a lot of these traits. Therefore, parenting is extremely significant to our survival and success on this planet.
Maybe we humans don’t define ourselves by our parenting imperative because we really don’t have a clue what we’re doing. I really think we’re missing something. Try to get a parent to describe what it is that we do for our kids and watch how they’ll just keep listing stuff. Of course, back in the day, it was simpler. Parents had to provide kids with food, protection, and some guidance on how to live on their own and that was about it. Then, as human civilization progressed, we added more stuff to our parenting responsibilities. Where now we include things that we think a child deserves like a decent education, unconditional love, or a Wi-Fi password.
Even though we are not defining our species by being a race of parents, we certainly know that parenting plays a vital role in the development of our children, just as much as we know it can do a lot of harm to them too. People take it for granted that strippers must have ‘daddy issues’, stories that go back centuries consistently have an ‘evil stepmother’ as the antagonist, and we have common phrases to describe poorly parented children like ‘he’s a mamma’s boy’.
Parenting is so important to us that we even have arguments about how to parent that span generations. For instance, the GI generation used corporal punishment on the Baby Boomers to such an extent that the Boomers didn’t want to spank their own kids as much or not at all. Now that our country is getting a look at how the later generations are turning out, due to this turnaround in the use of physical discipline, a lot of people want parents to get the belt back out and start laying out some beat downs on children again.
It amazes me that there is so much that we don’t know or are confused about when it comes to parenting. I mean, humans have been around for thousands of years. Plenty of other survival skills are easily taught and understood. This is the way you start a fire. This is how you cook a steak. This is how you build a house or shelter. Easy. Even with something as complicated as filing your taxes, people can get expert advice or, through hard work, understand the process on their own. But parenting is one of those things where everyone gives different or conflicting advice. Sometimes experienced parents will tell new parents that there’s really no way to know what to do. I was disheartened when my mom told me one time, “Well, this is what I did, but I have no idea what it would be like to parent with the way the world is now.”
So, yeah. Something’s missing here. There’s a mystery concerning our species that no one is really talking about. And don’t tell me I should talk with a ‘parenting expert’ about this. Parenting expert? Yeah right! That’s like someone telling me they’re fluent in Klingon, or that they know how to please a woman. Go sell that shit somewhere else because I’m not buying it. The only ‘parenting expert’ that I believe in is that I know that I’m the expert in raising my kids, but not yours. You’re the expert in raising your kids, but not mine. There’s no parenting model that works for all kids, and that’s one more reason this human paradox of parenting is so confusing.
If I try to explain it or try to come to grips with this issue, I can only come to the conclusion that we’re not defining or looking at parenting in the right way. We’re also not analyzing and discussing it with the correct tools or concepts either. Kind of like if we were trying to smell flowers with our ears, or prove the existence of a soul with a telescope. It’s just not going to work. I just feel that this parenting imperative for us humans is infinitely profound, and we are definitely missing a huge piece of the puzzle or a story from our past was just not passed down.
I’m astounded by the conflicting realities of being a dad. There are constant dichotomies in many aspects of parenting: loving it and hating it, being confident and insecure, feeling vast amounts of love and pain. Perhaps we human parents will never have an answer for why we do this thing that other species don’t. Maybe we’ll always wonder how this came to be. I still do. Even though being a parent has caused me to question the idea of evolution, I have no doubt that I have and will continue to evolve by doing it.