This is reprinted with permission from an article written in August 2012 for The Social Continuum.
There is no sufficient way to describe the feeling of having your beauty rest interrupted by a screaming child, nor are there words for the joy of having your three-year-old son throw himself against your leg and declare that he loves his "daddy." My wife just redecorated the walls and floor of our bathroom with morning-sickness vomit and I had to clean it up, but she also dragged two feisty boys to our rental agency to pay the bill because I was too busy to do it myself. My children draw with chalk on the sidewalk, then decide it will be cute to walk through it with bare feet. But my older son figured out on his own how to draw a stick figure.
As I write this, both of my sons are sleeping peacefully in the room behind me, looking so adorable that it hurts.
As I said, I can't really express in words just how much I have learnt about life and love through parenting. And of course, I shall be cliche and say that there is always more to learn and that four years as a parent is comparatively small. But I must share with you all a little something that I learned over the past three months, about being a parent but also about being a child. I found it surprising and maybe even a little harsh, but true nonetheless.
My observation is this: of course there are parents who neglect their children and deadbeat dads and some deadbeat mothers. But of the parents who actually give a crap about what happens to their children, I have noticed that many of them take their role way too seriously.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but it seems the more I obsess about my children's future and consciously instilling certain values and habits in my children, the less effect it seems to have. It seems like I have the most effect as a parent when I just sit down on the floor and give a damn about them enough to play with them. Children, I realize more and more, are simply sponges that soak up love as fast as it is squirted at them. And like a sponge, when they are squeezed (and tickled) they tend to leak it back out again.
The real reason I say to not take parenting too seriously, though, is because I now can say I know how it feels to be hated by my child, at least temporarily. I have been hit by both my sons before because they didn't agree with whatever I was doing for them as a parent. They have both yelled at me. And I have done my share of losing my temper back at them. But I found that when I let their temporary hatred roll off my back and let the child cool down, then something special happens. That something is an understanding of sorts, that they don't really hate you, and that you are not really as angry as you thought you were.
Maybe this post is rambling a bit, but I have been suffering from a severe lack of sleep, an overdose of my job, and the looming prospect of an unborn child who was due yesterday. I hope this is an encouragement to those parents out there who give a care about their kids and yet lose sleep over those same kids' development and future. I am beginning to understand both those concerns.
Don't sweat it, you are all probably better parents than you think you are. However, it never hurts to try even harder. The next time it's a choice between washing dishes and playing with the kids, play with the kids. Those moments are when you are building up emotional capital to draw on when the time to discipline comes. You'll probably both be grateful for it later.
Be Aware, and have fun.