The Newtown effect: As nation grieves, parents everywhere find new patience

Dan Pelle / Today
Parents around the country are feeling renewed gratitude for their children in the wake of Friday's shootings. Here, Alicia Combo hugs her son Morgan Askins tightly as she picks him up Friday from Garfield Elementary School in Spokane, Wash.

Parents all over the world this weekend received a strange gift: The stark reminder that even if your kids are kicking and screaming, sneezing in your face, turning up their noses at broccoli, or shrieking like spider monkeys in the back of the minivan, every moment with them is a gift to be cherished.

Kids can be a pain. I’ve got a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, two growing humans who require constant stimulation from a wake-up time of 6 (if we're lucky) to a bedtime of 8:30 (if we're lucky). When the weekend comes, it generally sweeps in a mixture of excitement and dread. But not this weekend.

It's with no small amount of guilt that we realize that this lifetime of anguish facing the Newtown parents has a byproduct for the rest of us: a temporary immunity to typical kid annoyance. It's an immunity that verges on serenity, and it's just in time for Christmas.

The first sign of the effect: Hugging your child instantly went "Gangnam Style" viral on Friday. "Counting my blessings that I could give my son an extra hug tonight," wrote one Twitter user, echoing tens of thousands of others.

My cousin Carroll Hannon in Indianapolis — who, with five children ranging in age from 7 to 21, has a case full of "mom of the year" trophies — summed up the Newtown effect in a Facebook post:

Lily just spilled a whole box of Lucky Charms and I could not care less!!!! I just hugged her and we laughed. Thankful for my children ♥♥♥♥♥

"And not just a regular box, a large Costco-sized box of cereal," she told me when I called her. "Normally, I would have been pretty angry." 

Same goes for me. I'm typically the "bad cop" dad, meaning my decisive dealing with problems sometimes results in tears. My rationale for the shorter fuse is that I quickly get everyone moving on to something more pleasant, and that I serve as an enforcer when my wife needs back-up. But this weekend I was all "good cop." Instead of laying down the law, I found myself coming up with creative ways to deal with the usual BS.

When my 2-year-old son threw himself on the floor at the public pool, I didn't bark at him to get up, but instead smiled and swept him up in my arms. When he refused to sit down in his car seat, I didn't do my typical "I'm going to count to three!" routine but instead, I asked if he wanted to see a picture of him with his grandpa. He said yes, and graciously sat in the seat in anticipation.

My wife found herself having a little more patience — especially during nighttime disturbances — and being a little more indulgent, too, like when our daughter wanted a snack during the 15-minute drive to brunch. "These little battles that we used to care so much about, they just seem irrelevant now," she said.

Helicopter parenting probably got a sizable bump over the weekend. Parents we know announced on Facebook that their kids could sleep in their beds, while others, like Carroll and her friends, shut down sleepover plans by declaring, "It's family night across the country." My kids are too little to know what's going on, and probably didn't notice the extra hugs and easier tempers; older kids, like Carroll's, understood that something terrible had happened, and didn't complain when she stymied their social plans. But we agreed that the Newtown effect likely doesn't trickle down to the children.

"It's not like it altered their behavior or their way of thinking in any way," she told me, "but as adults and parents, it's like a bullet to your heart. You have to keep that perspective: We're lucky every day that we can see them and can touch them."

How long will the effect last? It’s hard to find any value in a tragedy this terrible. If we rededicate ourselves to the spirit of kindness and charity in our hearts, and to love and patience towards our children, then there is at least some redemption. Still, if the effect wears off Jan. 1, we do a profound disservice to the parents in Newtown, who are paying a terrible price for our newfound parental bliss.

In addition to being a father and a husband, Wilson Rothman is the Technology & Science editor at NBC News Digital. You can catch up with him on Twitter at @wjrothman.