On Parenthood

It’s hard to believe that my older son was born almost eight years ago. Sometimes I remind him that at one point he was only a little longer than my forearm, and that I could hold him in one hand. He’s a little taller than that now.

A duet

I thought about writing about cool things related to evolution and parenting, such as life history theory (Stearns 2000), parental-offspring conflict (Haig 1993), rapid growth velocity in our altricial human infants (Kuzawa 1998), or how it likely took a village, or a band of hunter-gatherers, for our ancestors to raise children (Hrdy 2009). I could have cited Robert Krulwich’s NPR post about octopi moms who literally give their lives for their eggs, or written about the mother-infant bond in primates, or discussed evidence for parenting in dinosaurs such as oviraptors, or even about titi monkeys who adopt unrelated offspring (Eric Johnson, 2010). I could have done all of that, and it would have been pretty fun to write. Maybe some other time. Instead, I’m just thinking about my boys and parenthood.

Primate moms and infants

Just a few tips for any future parents:

1. Your patience will be tested, repeatedly.

2. You will make mistakes. Lots of them.

3. Distraction is a very effective way to shift your child’s focus when they are tired or hurt. “I know your knee is bleeding, but look at that butterfly!”

4. You will be astonished at how much your own parents learned since you were a child (apologies to Mark Twain).

5. Humor is your lifeline.

6. So is coffee.

7. When your child feels bad, show them video of themselves at happier moments.

8. When your infant cries, sometimes seemingly without end, remember that he or she could be trying to tell you that they are worth the effort. Crying infants are using lots of energy that could be put to use elsewhere, such as growth. So why do they do it? One possible reason, as Carl Zimmer put it, is that it’s like an infant is saying “I can afford to waste this energy because I’m such a strong kid.” In other words, don’t give up on me; I’ve got vigor. Try to remember that at 3 AM. (Alright, so I included one thing on evolution).

9.  Don’t let your children starve. They’re on the grid (Louis CK).

10. Savor the good moments. There’s plenty of real stuff to worry about, so “don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things” (George Carlin).

11. You will fight over bed time.

12. If you send them to look for something in another room, like their clothes or a book, you won’t see them again for at least another half hour. Unless it’s their toy, in which case they will ask you to look for it after about two seconds of ‘searching.’

13. You will say ‘because I said so.’ It is inevitable. Submit to this thought.

14. Kids are not as fragile as they look. They’re pretty resilient.

15. Be prepared to answer a lot of ‘why’ questions, so many that you won’t know who you are anymore (Louis CK ).

16. WatchParenthoodat least once.

17. Read to them.

18. Remember that people have been parenting for a long time. They didn’t know what they were doing either, but we all made it here nonetheless.

19.  There’s no single way to be a parent.  Just love your kid.

20. You can name your child whatever you want, but don’t name them after Hitler.

21. It’s all worth it.


Haig D. 1993. Altercation of generations: genetic conflicts of pregnancy. Am J Reprod Immunol. 1996 Mar;35(3):226-32. (Link

Hrdy SB. 2009. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Belknap. (Link)

Kuzawa CW. 1998. Adipose tissue in human infancy and childhood: an evolutionary perspective. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1998;Suppl 27:177-209. (Link)

Stearns SC. 2000. Life history evolution: successes, limitations, and prospects. Naturwissenschaften. Nov;87(11):476-86. (Link

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