Bad Parent: Ambivalent Parenting

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The "Bad Parent" column on the parenting website delves into the unspoken realities of being a parent. Rufus Griscom, founder of, starts his weekly January visits with a taboo-smashing discussion about ambivalent parenting.

Were you ambivalent about becoming a parent? Do you resent your child or spouse because of it? Give us a call or comment below.


Rufus Griscom

Comments [41]

Carolyn from Manhattan

It's interesting to me that the only people who called in last week were men (except the woman who called in saying that she hated being pregnant, but had had no ambivalence since). While a taboo about being indifferent or less-interested dads exists, it is nothing compared to the same taboo for moms. Women may e-mail, but they won't call in and have their voices heard on air - & lose the anonymity and risk censure. A show about ambivalent dads being honest is interesting - but SO much different than one about doubting/ambivalent moms would be.

About MOMS GROUPS: they can be life-savers! Many (most?) moms have conflicted feelings about parenting, their kids, choices to stay home or not, etc. And if you find a good group, you'll have an understanding, non-judgmental circle of people.

Jan. 11 2010 01:48 PM
IMO_ from New York

As a child-free by choice woman over 40; I find it interesting to say the least how some people react to my and other's conscious decision not to have children, while being content/happy/and at peace with that choice. It almost seems as if some parents (particularly those who should have opted out) want to make sure they have company in their misery. I've been called selfish, to which I say "no it's selfish to bring a life into the world to appease someone else." Example: the responders to 41 year old lady who just found out she was pregnant and doesn't want a child. Their replies typify: oh you'll change when he/she is born etc. Well, why gamble...just look in any segment of the prison population and you'll probably find a large percentage of inmates from homes where the parents were not fit to be parents i.e. didn't grow to love their offspring.....

Jan. 08 2010 01:45 PM
Michelle Hernandez from Brooklyn

Kathy hang in there! I know how you feel- I feel so lonely sometimes I want to scream. I constantly remind myself that I wanted this baby and that she is getting the best gift I can give- my attention. But it's very hard, boring and isolating. I wish I had had her in the spring because I would be NOWHERE near the apartment then! A friend of mine suggested joining a mommy group- this is a little too social for me but I am considering it because although hearing other parents compete (My son was drinking 6 ounces in 5 minutes by week four! My daughter rolled over and crawled at week 15!) at least you are around other grown ups! I stopped telling my Mom my feelings when she said only "selfish white women" say things like that. I was like "WHAT? That's how I feel!!" It's not selfish and it's definitely NOT racially selective.

Jan. 08 2010 10:42 AM
Anne Flournoy from NYC

Wish I hadn't missed this show! SUCH a great topic. Being an artist, I never wanted to have kids. They're messy, expensive, and they take over your life. Then all of a sudden, when I hit 30, something shifted and I suddenly just...wanted kids. Once I finally had one and then another, the grinding boredom, isolation, and exhaustion felt like it would never end. The experience of staying at home with them was one of the few experiences of my life that broke me. And in the process, (a long, slow, excruciating process) they broke my heart open and taught me to love. I'm actually making a comedy web series about this very material ( Episodes #5-8 are about being a NYC mother/wife. It helps to laugh!

Jan. 07 2010 09:45 PM
Olivia from Brooklyn/Manhattan

@35 wow, I didn't hear that the same way you did. I didn't hear about the studies of people with kids being less happy. Perhaps kids don't automatically make one happy, but that they make people less happy? No offense, but I think you may have misheard that.

Jan. 07 2010 01:55 PM
Rebecca from NJ

I'm in total agreement with Some Dude, and I double it for when I had my second. I became even less judgmental - with more than one you do what gets you through.

What I find annoying is the celebration in bad parenting websites. There is no glory in making decisions that are "bad parenting." It's one thing to admit and make jokes about mistakes we make - everyone makes them and feels sheepish about things we never would have done as young, relatively carefree, child-less folks. It's disturbing, I think, to be given a pat on the back or encouragement for making the kids suffer for a parent's regret and resentment. It happens, I've been there (yelling, letting them see me truly sad, sticking them in front of the tv while I check email), but I'm not proud of it.

Jan. 07 2010 01:04 PM
Joan from Red Bank, NJ

@Olivia: The host did sum up that connection & love are critical, but several times over the 3 episodes spoke about the studies showing that people w/ kids tend to be less happy - it wasn't the street respondents I was referring to. I thought it was a terrific series (for many other issues than kids/no kids), & hope it's shown again.

Jan. 07 2010 12:45 PM
Olivia from Brooklyn/Manhattan

@33 Joan: I did watch that series and that was not the takeaway as I saw it at all. Some people who were asked on the street may have responded that way, but the presenter/host/writer actually summed up over and over that the answer to happiness is connection and love. I don't remember him saying parents were less happy.

Jan. 07 2010 12:32 PM
really? from brooklyn

@ Some Dude, you speak the truth!

Jan. 07 2010 12:25 PM
Joan from Red Bank, NJ

Did anyone watch the "This Emotional Life" series the last 3 nights on Channel 13? One item repeatedly mentioned: studies that show that couples with kids are somewhat LESS happy, on average, than those who don't have children. I never remember wanting kids; got married in my mid-30s after agreement with fiance that we would not have children, and I've never regretted the decision. The oddest thing has always been the comment from people who say "Oh, you'll change your mind AFTER you have them!" - TOO LATE if you don't!

Jan. 07 2010 12:24 PM
really? from brooklyn

@ Marlene from Camden, You can and you will! It's the same for most of us.

Jan. 07 2010 12:22 PM
some dude from NJ

1. A valuable lesson, learned by comparing my parenting ideas prior to having kids, to how I feel now:

Never Judge.

2. A valuable lesson, learned by being around kids:

Always empathize.

These two lessons have been crucial in my professional and spousal realms, every bit as much as my role as a caring, aware parent.

Jan. 07 2010 12:16 PM
Chris from New York

Love this segment!
I think anyone who really, really, wants children should have them, gay or straight. We are a straight couple and have no desire to have children. Personally, I don't want to give up anything.

Unsolicited, crazy-a** church goers have told us that we (like the gays they believe) are going against God's will. It's laughable. They would rather us have unwanted children then be happy.

Jan. 07 2010 12:11 PM
Tricia from Bronx

I am a 43 year old woman who has chosen to not have children because I knew I could not balance work/life challenges.

People often pity me or ask me "quietly" what happened that I couldn't have kids.

I made a wise choice that many parents should of --- I knew that I could not nurture my own children as well as they deserved despite loving children so much I am a teacher!

Yes, taboo...

Jan. 07 2010 12:09 PM
Kim from Brooklyn

Our culture does not prepare us for the sacrifices—the lack of freedom and autonomy that comes with having children. It makes me very uncomfortable to hear these stories of parents who feel bereft because of the inevitable loss of... things they had previously.

This challenge of the transition is exacerbated by the fact that so many of us are isolated; from our extended families, and from structures that support parents and families. For me, becoming a parent has been an exercise in grace, and an opportunity to become more sensitive to the humanity of all of us (the young, old, sick, etc.). I am grateful for these lessons, and wish that I had learned them sooner.

Jan. 07 2010 12:08 PM
Jenna from Brooklyn

Talk about taboo -- it is TOTALLY taboo to tell your friends who are planning to have a baby that you wish they wouldn't, or are dreading the ways it's going to change the nature of your friendship.

Jan. 07 2010 12:08 PM
Olivia from Brooklyn/Manhattan

By the way, I am SO glad we're not talking about the economy EVERY show so far. Last year it was all the BL talked about.


Jan. 07 2010 12:01 PM
w from ny

To the guy who admitted his lesser love for his son, I grew up with the distinct feeling that both my parents valued me much less than my sisters. Even if you never outwardly admit it to you son, he feels it. Trust me. You need to find a way to keep him from feeling this or it will estrange him emotionally from you and do him much damage.

Jan. 07 2010 12:01 PM
Jennifer from Glen Ridge, NJ

My husband and I planned our family and welcomed my pregnancy... until we discovered we were having twins. That discovery sent me into a tailspin that lasted acutely until the twins were 3 years old. They are almost 5 now and I still have days when I am mad at the world for giving me two babies at once. This is NOT how I envisioned feeling about my beautiful family.

Jan. 07 2010 12:01 PM
michael from new york

thank you, God, for making me gay. :)

Jan. 07 2010 12:00 PM
Marlene from Camden, NJ

I'm 41, just found out I'm pregnant. I'm DISTRAUGHT. I cannot do this. I simply cannot do this...

Jan. 07 2010 11:59 AM
Gil Muro from Rockland County

I have 5 children and sure it is not easy being a parent. Why are we here? "To carry on an ever advancing civilization" Children are a reward for a happy, healthy marriage.

Jan. 07 2010 11:59 AM
Olivia from Brooklyn/Manhattan

I wonder if this discussion would be different outside of New York City. People function at such and intense and high level here, career coming first etc., that I wonder if that impacts this conversation.

Jan. 07 2010 11:58 AM
vdn from NJ

Not everyone is ready or knowledgeable enough to have a child. You have to be ready to be selfless. We should be asked to pass a class or get a license before having children. Any heterosexual pair can have kids "naturally" but that does not mean they are ready to do it. It is laughable the opposition to gay adoption or gay people having children.

Jan. 07 2010 11:58 AM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

I love my son and have loved him from the moment I saw him, but as a rambunctious two-year-old, sometimes he drives me up the wall. I even think of him in sometimes less than savory ways. I don't think this makes me a bad parent, and to be perfectly honest, every other member of my family drives me crazy, why would anything be different with my son? At the end of the day no relationship is perfect, especially the ones between children and parents- that doesn't mean he and his mother aren't the best things that ever happened to me. Honesty, once again, is the best policy.

Jan. 07 2010 11:57 AM
JT from Long Island

The worst reactions are from younger people that have never raised a child. One time I commented that sometimes I'd rather go to work because it's like a mini vacation from my son when he was a newborn. Young singles without kids were shocked. It felt like the movie "Up in the Air" where younger people with no experience have ideas that just don't apply in the real world.

Jan. 07 2010 11:55 AM

I am a stay-at-home Mom of a 10 month old, and I find it so hard. I wish daily that I had gone back to work, but I felt like that would have been choosing money or career over family. Now, I feel so alone and braindead. I meet mothers and they all act like it is wonderful, and my friends who work all wish they were home.

I need this column. The other day I googled the phrase, "My baby is making me crazy," and all I found were child abuse prevention web sites. I was like...Wait! He doesnt make me THAT crazy. Only making me feel worse...And of course, I love my son. See, I need to add that in.

Jan. 07 2010 11:55 AM
rathernotsay from nyc

having children sucks! admit it. it doesn't change your life for the better ... many people waxed poetic to me when i was pregnant about the joy their children brought them.

no joy. haven't seen any joy. where's the joy???
i do think though that at some point - don't know when - things will be better. can't wait.
signed: broke, sleep deprived, cranky mother

Jan. 07 2010 11:53 AM
Maria from NJ

Not everyone is supposed to have children! I would support a government issued license to have children. We should be asked to pass a knowledge test with "the basics", we get licenses to drive cars for chrissake! You ought to be selfless to take the job. I laugh when people want to stop gay people from having or adopting children... They have the one necessary requirement: wanting to have them.

Jan. 07 2010 11:53 AM
Alison from Brooklyn

I'm curious what a mother's response to this topic would be. As a woman, I have always felt that my hormones would create an oligatory love for my child, and I always hated the "manipulation" of that emotional response.

Jan. 07 2010 11:53 AM
Freddy Jenkins

This whole segment verifies my belief that not everyone should have kids.

Jan. 07 2010 11:53 AM
bob from huntington

please discuss how america's obsession with youth leads people to prolong their adolescence well into their adult years. consequently, parenting and it's attendant responsiblities, is a source of extreme avoidance for many.

basically, you have to grow up yourself before you can raise a child.

Jan. 07 2010 11:53 AM
IC from New York, Montreal

My son's father , although already a fatehr of 2 grown daughters, could not come to terms with the jealousy of my son's bond with me and the child being a boy, sued me in the Quebec courts to evade his paternal responsibility. It's about the extreme of any parent unable to come to terms with being a father. I can only feel sadness for my son, who had been dragged through the court process for the last 2 years and is suffering from all the outcome, the worst knowing his father does not want him. Still, we have a close bond and he is a honor student, hard working kid and seemingly a strong happy child who has overcome all of this, at least by all outside sources that know him. I can only go on trying to be the best mother I can be for him.

Jan. 07 2010 11:52 AM
Liz from Bloomfield, nj

Oh please, another forum for anxiety-ridden folks to unload the most pretentious, witty stories possible. I have a child on the autism spectrum, he requires a lot of attention. Most parents don't realize how easy they have it . Yes, it is difficult being a parent these days--no more "go outside and run around until the street lights go on"--but people need to realize that their children are not going to be crushed by not going to the BEST preschool around or being on a travel soccer team by age 7. Get over it, see a therapist, grow up. You chose to have kids, they didn't choose to be born. You have no idea what a true "burden" is.

Jan. 07 2010 11:52 AM
jon from NYC

Hi, as a 33 year old adult I find myself ostracized from not only 20 somethings, but from those who have taken the expected path in their 30s, to have children. My wife and I have chosen not to have kids. Why is it that there is a feeling among adults that your life is not complete unless you have children?

Jan. 07 2010 11:50 AM

Of all my friends who got married and had kids, I correctly predicted which ones would love it and which ones would be overwhelmed and/or resentful.

It is easy to predict: one must give so much of one's self over to parenting, some resent this and some just don't have enough left over to give.

Jan. 07 2010 11:50 AM
Chris from Yonkers

From Bill Murray - Lost in Translation

Your life, as you know it... is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk... and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.

I quote it all the time - so true!

Jan. 07 2010 11:47 AM
sr from NJ

I am a parent with 2 teenage kids. and i can tell you, it is brutal. i am just waiting for them to get into college and out of my hair. i can see the wisdom of the British upper class, who used to send of their kids to boarding schools before they hit their teen years.

Jan. 07 2010 11:46 AM

I know I would be a bad parent, so I have chosen not to be a parent at all.

Jan. 07 2010 11:44 AM
Sarah from Westchester

When I went into labor with my second child, at the first contraction, I thought "Oh #)*#$&, what have I done?"

He was born, and that first night, when he woke up crying, I thought "Oh #)*#$&, what have I done??"

For many, many, many months, "Oh #)*#$&, what have I done??" was my prevalent thought towards my son. I had serious ambivalence...

He's six now. I won't say he is my favorite or that I love him more than my daughter, but there is something different about my love for him. It's deeper. It's freer. And I think it's because I allowed myself to actually dislike him and accept that end of the spectrum of parental love.

Jan. 07 2010 11:41 AM
Sebastian from Manhattan

It took me 6 months to feel bonded with my first son. I felt very guilty about that. I'm an American and we were working in Beijing back then - 1985 - and I shared that news with another business man there and he confessed that it also took him a long time to feel like a father. By the time my second son was born in 1992, back here in NYC, for several months I kept wondering, "There are 3 people in our family, what's this new person still doing her?" I wasn't feeling guilty about that - I knew it would pass and that I'd take him into my heart eventually. Which happened. I'm very close with both of them.

Jan. 07 2010 11:32 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.