Before I got married and had a kid, I existed in a near-constant state of shock, appalled by how bad people were at being couples and raising children. Why did spouses constantly natter over who spent money on what and which one was currently leading in a decadeslong contest of emptying the dishwasher?
And why did parents let children eat chicken nuggets at every meal and do shots of honey mustard like sailors knocking back whiskey on shore leave? Why did they allow their offspring to whine and carry on? And what was with the empty threats? If you tell them, "One more syllable out of you and I will tell Santa you died in a wheat-threshing accident," then you have to be willing to end gift-giving forever and to lease your child to a farm during the harvest.
Then I got a marriage. And eight months and eight days after the honeymoon, a daughter. And I found out why folks aren't better at spousing and parenting. Because it's all so @#$%¢&* hard! And really, it's much more difficult than that. @#$%¢&* doesn't even begin to describe how much work it takes to be even a mediocre spouse and parent. And those who know tell me being a good or great spouse and parent is even more draining.
Spouses raise hell about money and chores because they never have enough cash or time. And because they never have enough rest and energy to edit what they say. So "Honey, give me a hand" becomes, "Lane, if I have to empty the Diaper Genie one more time this week I'm going to drive the corner of the Pack 'N Play through your skull."
Realizing this stuff is tough is not a huge mental leap, but thinking about it this holiday season sort of led me to one: Whenever I'm frustrated that others aren't doing things better, it's probably because what they're trying to do is really hard.
It's hard for a child overstimulated by gifts and food and strangers to not whine or cry, and it's hard for that kid's parents to react calmly. It's hard for a grandparent, sitting mostly in front of the TV these days, not to keep telling the same stories from a time when they lived more and watched less. It's hard to be a clerk in a department store during the busiest week of the year, and hard to be a waitress working at a jammed restaurant. It's hard to be a cop directing too much traffic, and the person working the desk at a busy emergency room.
My primary goal this season is to remember that we are all caught up in difficult lives, doing the best we can. Another is to act right so my daughter and wife don't immediately focus on how hard it is to prove a wheat-threshing accident wasn't really an "accident" when I'm an old man who demands constant shots of honey mustard and eats only chicken nuggets.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.