After eleven Father’s Days, my one piece of advice to my fellow Dads is to embrace and accept that you are not in control anymore. It’s not that the kids have all the control, it’s more the fact that you now have other lives to care for beyond your own.
It’s both freeing and humbling. You no longer have to decide the priority of things. It’s not a choice. You ARE driving to dance practice. You ARE making the lunches. You ARE watching another episode of Full House (cut. it. out.)
Embrace it and enjoy it. It’s not changing anytime soon. Or ever. I imagine even after they graduate or move out. You are still on call.
As we prepare to make the transition this week from school to summer, we started talking about a specific superpower. There’s definitely been an uptick in sister-on-sister violence in the last few weeks. I think they are feeling the strain of all the togetherness, but unfortunately we still have a long camp-less summer to go. Everyone is spending unprecedented amounts of time with people whom we may love but still have the ability to make us upset.
But wait? Can they actually make us upset? What if we all had a superpower to stop it?
They can try. They can provoke you, intended or not. But whatever the other person did is on them. Whatever your reaction is, that’s on you. No one can make you angry, only you have that power. Someone can certainly say something offensive or stupid or mean, but no one can make you upset. That’s your choice.
For a more peaceful summer, don’t give away your power over yourself. You can’t blame your sister if that happens.
So, what did you talk about over dinner with your families this week? Another difficult and harrowing week that was tough to put into words. We did not show the kids the video and we made sure they knew they were safe, but we did not shield them from the news, either. We then did our best to talk about what was happening and why it was happening.
I found a lot of these books (many available as e-books) a great way to continue those conversations with the girls.
I don’t know how much of the why really sank in but we felt it was important to try. The girls are learning about citizenship and civil rights now in school, so maybe…? Kids are messy, frustrating and stressful but often kinder and more perceptive than adults. Best to start early and try to keep it that way.
If you have any conversation with friends and family right now, you are likely to hear stress, fear, confusion, maybe anger, definitely fatigue. But it’s mostly fatigue, I think. I had the week off and I’m more tired now than before.
But the kids? One of my main parenting tenets is to do my best to model the behavior I want them to learn. In this case, I might need to learn from them.
The girls are aware of what’s going on but they remain energetic and excited most days. They tolerate the homeschooling but after that it’s all about the green screen, inch worms, unrolling the slip ‘n slide, and the weird egg they found outside. It’s also mostly about when they can have their next snack, but they manage to stay remarkably present. There is something refreshing about their narrow views, ordinary complaints and not being overwhelmed by the relentless negativity and uncertainty of world events.
Maybe I can tap into that. Maybe I can be a little more like a kid. I’m not abandoning ship. I’ll still monitor the cheese stick consumption but I’ll try to also enjoy this strange, surreal experience. Or, at least not let it grind me down.
During a rough patch, that is becoming a bit of a predictable pattern in our quarantine weeks these days, Ally miserably told us she feels like she is ‘living in the shadows.’
How do you respond to that as a parent? Later that same day, Ce had a meltdown over a piano piece that was clearly not about the piano piece.
We are all going to need so much therapy when this is over.
The toughest thing about being a parent many times is that you can’t just throw up your hands at intractable, difficult issues. You need to face them and I didn’t think my usual trick of deflecting the kids by telling them it was really spicy would work. We decided to try empowerment instead.
We all find ourselves struggling in the same mess together. But each of us has agency too, even, or perhaps especially, during adversity. Our job as citizens is to seize our own agency and help others realize their own. In this way, we can help others and ourselves. So if you feel like your living in the shadows find your own way out in whatever way you can.
After this stump speech, she promptly went upstairs and took an hour-long nap and was back to dancing in the kitchen that afternoon so perhaps I overshot the mark? She might have just been tired.
Maybe I should have stuck with the spicy line.
The girls still have so many questions about all this. So many that I can’t really answer. Not in any satisfying way. That’s what I find so strange and disconcerting about this whole situation. There are no simple answers or precedents or plans that we can follow. Any wisdom or experience I have from being older, being the Dad, is tangential at best. It often leaves me feeling a bit adrift. Though that could just be the daily physical and mental exhaustion I constantly feel. It’s totally normal for an adult to need a nap by 10:30 a.m., right?
I know that they don’t really need any exact answers. They are really looking for assurance or some perspective that things are going to work out and get back to some semblance of normal. Or maybe they just want to hear that story about me eating the Nerf ball again. That always seems to help.
I don’t really know how to help them but I know they are watching. I don’t want to teach them anxiety and fear. Or to be selfish. Or reckless. The best I can do is teach them to be courageous. To keep going forward even when they don’t have all the answers. That’s what Mom’s and Dad’s do.
We walked in on Ally playing ‘food bank’ with her Barbies this week and it stirred up about 27 different emotions. Most involved crying either out of happiness or frustration. This is a messed up time.
Our two kids are very different. Cecilia is internalizing all this, like me, and I’m sure it will all come out in three or four years. Probably through an angsty self-penned trombone concerto. Ally is, obviously, more immediate.
Even if we are all trapped in our houses, it’s still a noisy world. Maybe even more so now. We make noise on social media. We talk on the phone. We gather on Zoom. We’re getting more emails than ever.
And the kids…are always listening.
It’s worth remembering the old saying for parents, too. Two ears…one mouth. They are always trying to tell you something.