I’m not the parent you think I am. I sometimes get nice comments from friends about what a good dad I am. And while I appreciate the comment, I know inside it’s a big fat lie. Because the truth is, we’re not really being great parents to our kids.
We’re just not all that and a box of chocolates. We’ve made some big mistakes and had our stressful moments. And like every other parent, we’ve had to figure it out along the way.
It’s a beautiful, sunny morning and I’m sitting on my favourite writing bench on Saltspring Island. We’re camping at Ruckle Park for 10 days, so I’m having my morning cuppa and watching the boats go by. And sitting here, alone with my random thoughts, has me reflecting on my parental journey.
It’s a bit humbling. So many ways we’ve dropped the parenting ball.
Granted, we’ve never had to face the agony of childhood illness or chronic disease, or the dreaded phone call at night from first responders. Our kids have not been in trouble with the law or gotten involved with drugs and unsavoury people. (Of course there’s still time…)
But we’ve had our fair share of difficult discussions and screaming fights. Yes, sometimes I yell. Hard to believe, I know!
Looking back on almost 18 years of being a parent, I can see how we’ve screwed up countless times. And some of those screwups we’re still paying for.
Chores-How To Avoid
It may seem a small thing to some, given the difficulties some parents face, but getting our kids to do chores is a bit like giving a cat a bath. And it’s pretty much all our fault.
We wanted to teach the habit of getting the day to day household duties done, without grumbling, procrastinating or whining, but we failed. We just weren’t consistent.
And that’s really the crux of the matter. Consistency.
Being Great Parents Means Being Consistent-Forever
An important skill that children learn at a very young age, is the ability to wear down a parent. I don’t know where in our human evolution this started, but it has grown and evolved into a teenage survival mechanism that confounds parents everywhere.
If Mommy or Daddy slip up just once, the game is on. Just one time out of a hundred you let your kid slide on cleaning her room or washing his face, you’re doomed! Your little darling has just learned that they can get away with not doing that thing sometimes, because it happened once.
And therefore they will, every time and without fail, try avoiding doing that thing. Always! Because you slipped up in your parenting. There is no redemption, no way of going back and re-setting.
Every parenting book that deals with this subject says the same thing; never stop being consistent in your messaging and your modelling. But I think it’s pretty much impossible to do, because children are so much better at wearing parents down than vice versa. Kids will go all day, while a parent, eventually, will say, “Whatever” and go hide in their room. Sure, maybe not every parent. But this one will…
How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You?
And so we are doomed to always asking our children to do the dishes, clean their rooms, empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, clean out the litter box, clear the table, etc, etc, etc… Almost always answered with an argument or well thought out stalling tactic.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, woe is you! Your kids don’t do their chores! Cry me a river!”
Jeez man, take it easy! The struggle is real!
Yes, it’s true that our children have grown into a couple of pretty awesome young people who don’t get into trouble (yet. Still time.) And they’re smart and funny and enjoy spending time with us (so far).
Be A Good Human Being
But that’s not from being great parents. No, our children are who they are because we talked to them like intelligent human beings, listened to them with a (mostly) open mind, and gave them encouragement and love. That’s not great parenting, that’s being a good human being. That’s really how we should be treating everyone in our lives.
But as parents we’ve really dropped the ball. Not exactly lazy, but inconsistent, and relying too much on often contradictory advice from parenting “experts”. Seriously, there’s no such thing. No matter what that website thinks.
Nobody is an expert at child rearing. Show me a child psychologist who’s published a peer reviewed paper, and I’ll show you a parent struggling to figure out their kid!
Psychologists are like meteorologists; they only get it right half the time.
Failing To Be Great Parents
But I digress…
Our failure to teach our kids the habit of doing chores is really just the tip. Yes, our failures are myriad. But I take comfort in knowing we are not alone. Every parent I know has worked their way through their own set of failures. Maybe that’s what being great parents means. Failing our way to being great parents!
One thing I’ve learned on this chaotic, rollercoaster ride of parenting, is that kids are remarkably resilient. They have brains that seem to work almost completely on their own! They learn and adapt and grow almost naturally! And they can do all this with sometimes insufficient input from their parents!! Amazing!
Granted, a steady parental hand can make the process run a bit smoother. But mostly, that seems to come down to listening to our kids, speaking to them like human beings rather than little dolls, and being incessantly patient.
For my part, I’m glad I waited to have children. I’ve been able to spend my formative years learning to fail, preparing me for the family to come. Had I become a Dad at an early age, who knows what terrors I might have unleashed on the world?
You Can Do It!
Moreover, I would have failed miserably as a young dad, (not the good kind of failure…) and our children would have paid the price. And then the rest of society, as they grew up to become terrible people. thank goodness I waited!
So take heart, all you parents out there! Heed not the twisted words of charlatan child experts. Go forth and fail! Get up, dust yourself off, and fail anon! But just be sure that, as you’re failing, you’re communicating with your kids.
In the immortal word of Rob Schneider, “You can do it!”