Parent and child reading a book together.


Now That I’m A Dad, I Can’t Handle The Scary Or The Sad

Sep 1, 2017

For decades, parents and psychologists have wondered whether watching violent TV shows or playing video games desensitizes kids to real-world ramifications, making them less empathetic to the pain and suffering of others. I don’t know if this is true, but I’m pretty sure becoming a dad had the exact opposite effect on me.

I used to love lurid true-crime books and emotionally heavy films; angst-ridden cop shows and blood-splattered comics couldn’t faze me. Since entering parenthood, though, I’ve become just so sensitive. About everything.

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I instantly find myself relating in some way to virtually every on-screen parent I come across. When something terrible happens to their families or children, I internalize it and make it about me. I over-empathize. Scenes burn into my brain while I hope my overactive imagination doesn’t do the inevitable and picture fictional trauma happening to me and my loved ones. It’s not fun.

When I was a child-free twentysomething, I could totally appreciate the cinematography behind Sophie’s Choice; now that I have children of my own, I desperately want to forget everything I know about that movie. Do you think I’d enjoy Grave of the Fireflies because it’s a sad-but-beautifully moving piece of art? Too bad, sadist — maybe if you had recommended it before my wife gave birth, but there’s no way I’m going to sit through it now.

Here are the three basic categories of things I can no longer stomach:

1. Anything where a major theme is a child’s death or child endangerment.

On TV, virtually every dramatic series—from the weekly ER traumas of Grey’s Anatomy to the string of losses on daytime soap operas — can be brutal. I made the mistake of watching the “Peekaboo” episode of Breaking Bad over lunch at the office, trying not to bawl in front of coworkers.

That Game of Thrones show you like? Yeah, I don’t think I can do it. Also, someone vividly described to me a scene in the new Twin Peaks with a mom and son, so that’s out, too.

Book-wise, I’ve found myself pretty much ignoring the entire crime genre since becoming a dad. And while I’m not much of a gamer (Tetris), when I asked on social media if there were any less-than-ideal for parents, someone told me about Heavy Rain, and now I wish they hadn’t.

2. Anything where parents protect their children under hopeless odds.

I saw Life is Beautiful in university and liked it — which is good because I won’t ever be able to watch it again. And the trailer alone for Room was enough for me to realize Brie Larson gives a powerful performance that I will never see.

A parent’s love for a child, especially in the face of mortality, strikes a sensitive chord with me. One person recently pointed out to me the seemingly benign Finding Nemo can be gut-wrenching when you watch it as a parent and identify with someone willing to sacrifice everything to find a lost child. U.K. cartoonist Dan Berry posted his Carry Me comic online for free and it’s so devastatingly good that you should go look at it right now. (I won’t, though, because it’s beautiful, but I’ve read it twice and don’t think I can again just yet.)

A screen shot of Carry Me, a comic by Dan Berry.

3. Anything non-fiction involving family tragedy.

It’s become especially difficult when I know the trauma I’m reading about or seeing is something real people are enduring or have gone through. That’s why I’m largely missing out on this golden age of crime podcasts and on-demand documentary series.

This also applies to newspaper articles. Whenever I would see an awful headline on Twitter or Facebook about a family’s bizarre accident or strange illness, something used to compel me to read it. I’d tell myself it was because that way I’d be better informed and then be prepared to prevent something like that from happening to me. But I’d also feel miserable and anxious. In the interest of self-care, I’ve been trying to avoid clicking those specific links (but still reading other bad news on bigger-picture things happening around the world and in the country).

What about you? Did having kids change what you liked to read, watch, or play? Are there any particular books, movies, shows, or video games you can’t bring yourself to revisit or check out for the first time? Share in the comments so we can provide a spoiler-free list of stuff for sensitive parents to avoid (or for masochists to seek out).

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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