Patient. Present. Proactive.
This is my mantra. I’m not sure there’s a single problem that can’t be solved, or at least made better, by being patient, present, and proactive.
When I was working at a restaurant in college, there was a guy that used to come in with his family. The guy was big and bald and had a goatee. Looked like a badass biker type. He was a regular. Always sat in the same booth at the same time. He had a son who could have been anywhere from 12 to 30 and who had a physical condition of some sort that affected his motor skills. I’m no doctor and I don’t want to offend anyone, so I’ll leave it at that. Anyway, what I remember so vividly is how he used to hold his fully grown kid, in his lap, every time they came in. He would just gently cradle him and feed him and help him with whatever he needed, which was no easy chore because the kid seemed to have a hard time sitting still. I remember thinking about what kind of man it took to be a dad like that. Anyone can be a parent. But it takes a special person to be a great parent. That guy was a great parent.
You must be patient. You must be present. You must be proactive. Or you’ll end up a statistic like a large percentage of America. Many men are passive husbands and fathers and get along just fine. But to live up to the standard that our children need, we must raise the bar.
Spend more time on the floor
If I’m sitting on the floor, one of my kids is within arms length. Every time. Children crave our attention and our love with such fervor that they want to be by our side at what seems like every waking moment. So let them. Maybe, for just a moment, you’ll see the world through their eyes.
The volume of their voice will rise and fall as yours does
We all know that kids mirror us and learn from our actions. And we all know the negative effect that can have. I can’t think of a better example of this than when I lose my cool. If I yell at my kids, they yell back. And, every single time it happens, I feel like total crap. Like an absolutely worthless loser of a parent. That’s not the person I want to be. It’s not the person my children need me to be.
I always smile at the confidence my children show when they help me with a project around the house. Changing the batteries in a toy might seem like a tedious part of parenthood to you, but to them, to them you’re a magician. A wizard with the power to revitalize their beloved Talking Mother Goose. So, busy or not, let them give the screwdriver a couple turns and allow them to feel the magic for themselves.
If I tell my kids to clean their playroom, there is roughly a 7% chance that they will actually do it. More often than not they’ll come up with an excuse so outlandish that I can’t help but laugh. And, alas, I’ll wind up cleaning anyway. But if I just start cleaning, engaging them in the process, I can almost guarantee at least one of them will join in and help.
Your kids don’t have a tech/screen problem, you do
I’m no anti-screen zealot. In fact, if you saw my screen-time numbers, you’d say I have no business writing this article. Which is the precise reason I’m writing it. A reminder to, as Ryan Holiday often points out, enjoy the stillness. The other morning I found myself sitting at my desk reading, while the kids played. After a few minutes, I looked down to find my youngest paging through one of his books and my oldest working away on a craft. It was a rare moment of serenity that I was lucky enough to relish.
When your toddler looks at you and tells you to put your phone away, you know it’s time for a change.
Develop in your kids a hunger for reading
Like Hemingway said, “there is no friend as loyal as a book.” As we strive, as parents, to develop long attention spans in our children, we must turn to books as a vital tool. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t spend at least some time reading and writing, a characteristic not lost on my children. They too do their ‘writing’ most every day and I think I can count on one hand the days we’ve missed reading to our four year old. It’s a ritual as sacred as any in our home.
Time as it relates to parenting is a numbers game
“I’m a believer in the ordinary and the mundane. These guys that talk about ‘quality time’ — I always find that a little sad when they say, ‘we have quality time.’ I don’t want quality time. I want the garbage time. That’s what I like. You just see them in their room reading a comic book and you get to kind of watch that for a minute, or having a bowl of Cheerios at 11 o’clock at night when they’re not even supposed to be up. The garbage, that’s what I love.” — Jerry Seinfeld
Children learn by play
Bonus points if they’re playing with you, building things and solving interesting problems.
An hour outdoors is worth two hours indoors
Have you ever heard someone say “we spent too much time outside as kids and I hate my parents for it.” Me neither.
One day you’d give it all to have the time back
I can’t remember who said this but it’s always stuck with me. Here’s the gist. When you’re 40, 50, 60 years old, you’ll be willing to trade everything you have just to have one more moment with your little baby. To smell their little head and kiss their chubby cheeks and make them smile and laugh. Maybe they woke up four times during the night (like mine did last night) or maybe they’re screaming and crying about something you don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to care about. But when they’re older and off doing their own thing, turning into fully-grown citizens of the world, you’ll think back on those times and realize that they were the good old days.
And, finally, give yourself a break. You’re doing great.