01 Feb DADS 101
Fourteen years ago, we were blessed with the birth of our eldest child. Ten fingers, ten toes and…TEN WEEKS PREMATURE!
Just two weeks earlier, we’d enrolled in Lamaze and parenting classes and bought all of the appropriate books. But, due to unexpected events, we never had time for more than a single class and maybe we got around to reading a chapter or two.
Holy crap, our learning schedule went out the window!
With little choice, we winged it.
All things considered, I think that we did (and continue to do) a pretty awesome job!
When I buy a new anything, I rarely have the patience to read the manuals. I take the PLUG-N-PLAY approach. It took me two years to figure out how to get the microwave clock to stop flashing, but as a reasonably intelligent person, I figured out on day one how to make Orville Redenbacher microwaveable popcorn.
Popcorn……parenting……pfft……how hard could it be? Figured that I would wing it again!
Today, as a veteran dad of 14 years, through a bit of trial and error, and with two kids under our roof, I have learned a lot. From the school of life, I am now able to impart a few valuable lessons which I have picked up along the way:
I figured that we had an issue when our daughter, who was a toddler at the time, was walking around the house babbling to the garage door opener. In the eyes of a ten month old, the small black rectangular plastic thing looked like mom and dad’s Blackberries. Monkey see, monkey do. She was pretending to be just like us, who were forever yapping on our devices. It was a rude awakening, but we got the point. From that day on, there were no more Blackberries in front of the kids. As long as you are in the same room as them (even if they “appear” to be zoned out watching T.V.), put the cell phone away. They notice everything. In addition, one must consider the safety issues where one has to be alert. Just like there is no texting while driving, the same should apply to texting while parenting. Lastly, a bit of smart phone restraint instills a little cell phone etiquette. Your kids are less likely to grow up as douche bags texting while at the movies.
My father has a rule when we are out for family dinners: the first person to pick up their cell during mealtime, has to pick up the bill. Although I am often tempted to check my iPhone every so often, I love this rule, as it forces me to go against my natural inclination.
So, Rule #1 is PUT THE CELL PHONE AWAY!
Rule #2 – NO i-THINGS AT DINNER! Realistically, how long does it take the average family to eat dinner? 30 minutes? An hour? Not likely more than that. During that short period, we can all use real people skills, interact as human beings, and express genuine interest in each other’s days. Growing up in the text message generation, today’s youth are accustomed to giving one word or one sentence answers. Having lively dinner conversations teaches kids communication skills. Have you ever seen a group of teens at a restaurant together? It’s as quiet as a morgue. No one talks. Everyone is busy messaging each other. What kind of husbands and wives will they one day be when they can’t actually hold a conversation with those directly in front of them? As a family that is always on the go, we permit iPads/laptops at breakfast and at lunch, but dinner is FAMILY TIME where no screens are allowed at the table. The same rule applies for when we go out to a restaurant. We usually eat at a family resto or at least one that is family friendly, and thus mealtime is roughly the same duration. Everyone can enjoy each other’s company for a single hour. Electronic devices are not welcome.
Rule #3 – SPECIAL TIME– Whether it is reading a book and tucking your child in at bedtime, or a one-on-one walk around the block, every kid occasionally needs alone time with their parents in order to be made to feel special and loved. Sure we’ve done unique things individually with our children like concerts, hockey games, plays and trips, but things don’t have to be costly in order to have an equal impact.
Rule #4 – EXPERIENCES vs. THINGS – I am 43 years old, and if someone asked to name half a dozen birthday gifts that my parents gave me though out my life, I couldn’t. But I could tell you all about my trip with my dad to Disney from when I was 7, or family trips like Virginia Beach, horseback riding or the many family ski trips.
You remember experiences, not things.
In addition, with almost everything being made so cheaply in China these days, I have lost track of how many of my children’s toys have broken within the first couple of months. One’s accumulation of things, does not make them (I try telling that to my wife that about her ever-growing shoe collection, but for some strange reason she disagrees!). I take my kids on “adventures” (as we call them). There is a whole world outside of suburbia, which often costs very little, or nothing. Montreal is a city of a zillion festivals and parades. Hopefully decades from now, my kids will look back and reminisce about the fun times that they had with dad at the Zombie Walk, the Just For Laughs Festival, the Canada Day parade, eating at the countless food trucks, watching Movies in the Park, or seeing the sights and sounds of Grand Prix weekend.
Rule #5 – PATIENCE – When I go to the many school science fairs, it is obvious when a parent did a project for their kid. Teachers are not stupid and can tell the difference. The project is not graded solely on presentation. The grade is often a combination of the originality, the principle, the blue print, and the final execution. Although I can always do the project faster and nicer, the kids need to learn from it. Make the point of being patient while helping with the design and coaching during assembly. One must differentiate between stupidity and experience (or lack there of). Personally I have little or no patience for stupid people. But, kids are far from dumb. It is usually an issue of lack of experience. Don’t expect them to know everything about power tools. At an appropriate age, show them how they work, how to use them safely, and then coach them while they put together their school projects. Learning how things come together also enables them to imagine what is and is not possible when trying to fix or solve a problem. In addition, one day, when they grow up, they will be capable of doing minor repairs in their own homes.
Rule #6 – INTIMACY – every parent and every child are unique, and things change at different ages, but I believe in “sharing the love”. It does not have to be “I love yous” in public in front of their friends, but find your time and place to express your love – OFTEN. With my son there is a daily (sometimes twice a day) “I LOVE YOU” combined with a hug or a cuddle. With my daughter, her PDA is reserved exclusively for her mom, but she is exceptionally happy when I reach behind me while driving to hold her hand. I hope that it conveys similar sentiments. Furthermore, it is important for kids to see some intimacy amongst their parents, whether it’s a kiss goodbye/hello or cuddling in front of the T.V. By seeing, they will learn to be warm and loving to their future mates.
Rule #7 – INSIDE JOKES – we are talking about kids here, so no need for high intellect, witty, Bill Maher humour. They relate most to immature jokes. I don’t do it often, but we all have fun blaming my daughter when someone cuts the cheese. She blushes, gets embarrassed, and most importantly, she laughs. With my son, upon seeing the yellow snow in front of our house, we joke that about why he could not wait until we got inside the house. Yes, these are all very childish, but they work!
They learn not to take life always so seriously, and it teaches them a little humility.
They are able to laugh at themselves. Life is not always easy, but if one learns to chuckle occasionally, when faced with a roadblock, they will know how to laugh it off, relax, and work on getting around it.
One must recognize that being a parent is a privilege. There are many who will never experience it. Stop and smell that dirty diaper, and appreciate how you have been blessed. Consider that everything that you will ever do with your children is a learning experience for them. The people they will become one day is a direct reflection of you. Be an amazing parent, and chances are that they will turn into incredible individuals.