I realized this week, not for the first time, that as a Dad, I’m playing the long game. A very long game. The kids will get annoyed or exasperated with me when I ask how their day was or what happened in school or how so-and-so is doing and I try not to take offense at the huffy answers or the eye rolling replies. I’m playing the long game and hoping that this gentle interest will pay dividends in the future.
They might think they know it all but in reality they don’t have enough experience or perspective to know how they are feeling or if they are actually struggling. And they certainly don’t have enough maturity to open up on their own. At least my kids don’t. They’re probably afraid I’ll bring out the feelings flashcards.
So I play the long game. I try to not just be there but be proactive in the most lightweight way possible. I’m not above using Dad jokes or Dash to get them to smile. That’s the job.
Parenting is not one size fits all and I’m guessing each family has their own rules. Maybe your family embraces hot glue guns and Perler beads. Maybe you don’t. I would also guess that even different families and parenting styles share at least one thing in common: self-discipline. A simple rule that starts in childhood but goes far beyond.
Cecilia had to do extra math this week and she had a theater show. Both events required discipline and self control. Learning and practicing new formulas. Memorizing lines. Dealing with the ups and downs and Dad feedback of learning something new.
But how do you teach discipline? I’m not sure you can. Not like the distributive property. But you can be an example. You can control yourself. Show them how to do it, don’t just tell them. Easy to say but harder to do sometimes, but showing by example is a lot easier than enforcement. Or vacuuming up every last bit of cosmic glitter.
A confession: despite my best efforts, our kids really aren’t into Harry Potter and I’m trying not to freak out too much. I’m trying not to rush it. This is a similar strategy I use to pass on my love of running and vacuuming.
Maybe tonight is just not the night. I’m trying to raise readers and that is a process that is never completed. You’re never finished being a reader. It’s like farming or gardening. There is a constant need for cultivation and the to-do list is never finished.
And like gardening, there is a time and a season for patience. It might be in six months or six years but I think that connection will eventually come. A reader recognizes a good story in their own time.
On to a gray and rainy Saturday, the perfect day really to curl up with a long book like Harry Potter. Hmmm… maybe if there was a musical? Or more dance scenes? No, no, I can wait…
Ally came home one day this week a little under the weather and proceeded to swing back and forth between sweet, sick angel and raving psychopath. The mood swings whipped by so fast they hurt my neck.
One thing you get really good at as a parent is seeing past that type of behavior. You know your kid is not a mean person, they’re just tired because they slept on your floor again last night because they are scared of Voldemort. You know that they’re having a tantrum because they’re hungry after only eating plain white starches all day. You sense that the impudent tone in their voice is because something happened at school or with their friends. You get that they love you, that their family does matter to them even if they said their three favorite things in the world are dancing, putty and their dog.
You see past all this because you are giving them the benefit of the doubt. You’re not jumping to the worst conclusion, you’re not attributing a permanent character defect from some single event. It dawned on me (only took 40 years and two kids!) we cut our kids the kind of slack we rarely give everyone else we meet in this life.
What if I assumed the best instead of the worst? Or if I tried to help instead snapping back? I think I’d feel better. Maybe they would feel better. Certainly my kids would see a better example.
[Note: I reserve the right to disavow any of this during Sunday return drives from the Cape or anytime I have to take Route 93.]