Anyone who tells you that they enjoy parenting a toddler all the time, is either lying to you or doing it wrong. Toddlers are really hard. When all is said and done, the experience is one of deep fulfillment and profound joy. But that joy is forged out of nearly all the other sources of joy your toddler takes from you. Sleep? A peaceful meal? An uninterrupted workout? Some time alone with your partner? Your toddler steals them all, only to amalgamate them into a happy smile, an “I love you,” or a kiss on the cheek — and that’s worth all the other things combined.
My older friends with older children tell me that the teenage years are even harder. Which is why I trust my even older friends who say that the best thing about being a parent is the chance to become a grandparent.
Watching my parents and parents-in-law revel in the joy of grandparenting my toddler seems to confirm that reality. Grandparenting offers all the joy — the smiles and “I love yous” — without the need to worry about how it all turns out because, of course, parents are there to worry about it for them.
The hardest part of parenting is accountability — holding yourself and your child accountable. Sarah and I could say “of course, honey” when our daughter, who’s only poked around her meal, asks for chocolate and ice cream. But then we’d have to deal with her hanger tantrum on the way home … not to mention the long-term consequences of setting a norm around eating junk food for dinner. We could also let it slide when she’s disrespectful to other children or hoards her toys. But what would that teach her about her responsibilities as a person in the world? Most of the time, it’s these small acts of parenting that are the most important. Set boundaries and hold your toddler accountable for the small things, and you’ll rarely have to worry about the big things.
These competing impulses between parenting and grandparenting come to a head when, of course, we have to deal with the fact that grandparents are parents’ parents. The power dynamic is all kinds of misaligned. My father was never known for his indulgences as a parent himself. But as a grandfather, he hangs on my daughter’s every whim. When I attempt to impose any form of accountability, I can see him actively trying to restrain himself from stepping in. On the one hand he knows we’re right. On the other, he can’t bear to see his little angel unhappy — even in her own making. His instinct to put me in my place in favor of his granddaughter usually ends with a glancing comment: “It’s okay, she won’t do it again.” But my job, as a parent, is to make sure she learns from the moment. It’s hard work now, but I hope, like all parents — like my own father did decades ago — it’ll make an adult who is responsible, kind, and self-aware.
Which brings us to Jan. 6.
A mob of violent rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory in a free and fair election. That’s because rather than accept his defeat, incumbent Donald Trump decided to act like a toddler. When you’re the president of the United States and you throw a tantrum, other people will tantrum alongside you. And that tantrum continues to rage on today.
To end the tantrum, the parents have — finally — stepped into the room. And last week, a bipartisan select committee began its investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection and its causes. Make no mistake, the committee is, indeed, bipartisan. It includes two Republicans, one of whom, Rep. Liz Cheney, was the third most powerful House Republican until a few months ago. But because the committee doesn’t include any of the grown toddlers who continue to sulk and scream as they look over their shoulders for the approval of the toddler in chief, this has caused some confusion. Too many in the media have allowed the toddlers to convince them that any attempt to hold them accountable is, by definition, a partisan affair.
Along with the media, there are a host of well-meaning folks who want us to simply move along. “It’s okay, they won’t do it again,” they tell us. Like grandparents, these folks are well-meaning, but may not be thinking about the long-term wellbeing of our democratic republic — rather, what’s easiest right now.
After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government we would have. “A republic … if you can keep it,” he replied. He understood that democracy was hard work, and that each of us had a responsibility to its long-term viability.
Ignoring those who would attack the very heart of our democratic republic — the peaceful transfer of power after a free and fair election — simply invites more and worse. Rather, we must hold these grown toddlers accountable today so we can have our republic tomorrow. That’s why this bipartisan select committee is, perhaps, the most important thing happening in Washington right now. These lawmakers are doing the hard work of accountability today so that we may yet have a system founded in the Rule of Law tomorrow.