Guest Post by #lightscameradad
As I sat watching my kids splash around and navigate the endless political intrigues that a day at the pool involves, I caught myself thinking about Father’s Day and the things I’ve learned about being a Dad and Stepdad.
I realized I’m actually still discovering daily, that I don’t know what I’m doing. That I really make it all up as I bump along each day and deal with whatever issues arise. And boy, do they arise.
There are four kids in our blended family and a wide swath of ages to help create more drama whenever we need it. We have a 16-year-old who’s in no hurry to get a license (this is completely foreign to me), a 14-year-old who would crash a car to save a squirrel (also in no hurry to drive, thank goodness), an almost 12-year-old who is growing up waaaaaay too fast (and already wants to drive), and a 9-year-old who is thankfully, unabashedly, still a kid.
We’ve been a blended family for almost five years now and just when I think I am getting a handle on how to parent, the kids enter a different developmental stage and the whole process begins all over again. I have, however, learned a few things about being a dad that haven’t changed and may be useful as you navigate the murky depths of fatherhood.
- It’s ok to screw up – Let’s face it. They don’t hand out an instruction book when you get kids (especially when you get ‘em and they are already partially cooked). Who can be completely sure how to do parenting without a mishap every now and again? I make an effort to do something wrong on the daily so the kids don’t get too high an expectation of me being perfect.
- Say you are sorry – When you do screw up (and you will), say you are sorry! The kids are often way off base when it comes to culpability and “not me” is the guiltiest person who lives in our home. But I think it is downright healthy for the kids to hear an “I’m sorry” from me when everybody knows it was my fault that things went south. ‘Cause let’s face it, I’ll bet every one of you reading this can scratch your head and recall an instance in your own childhood when a parent did something and blamed it on you. Yes, I am still angry about it, but my therapist tells me that writing it out will help exercise the demons.
- Make them hug you – Parents have feelings too and I’ll be damned if kids don’t step all over them at any given moment. Whether it is a completely honest assessment of my 50-year-old physique from the 9-year-old, or that look from one of the teens (yes, you know the look) that says “congratulations, you are now dumber than you were yesterday”, kids can really do a number on the emotional apparatus. What I have learned over time is to let them know that a comment (or look) like that is hurtful, and that I do actually have feelings and that I’ll always accept an apology. And in case you didn’t know, apologies always work better with a hug attached. Always.
The kids also need hugs on the regular. Even if your family isn’t that touchy-feely, a hug to a kid who is frustrated or upset about the indignities of the world might help them feel just a little better and let them know that you get it. That yes, the world does suck sometimes. Lastly, and this is a biggie- hugs do not require words. Heck, sometimes words can completely spoil the hug. Oh, one more secret for you dads out there is that a surprise hug from you can disarm a wife better than any lame sub-par argument you might try to make. Even if you’re right.
- Treat them all the same, but different – I know, I know, let me explain. Kids understand inequity in the household better than anyone, but they also don’t have a clue about the bigger picture sometimes. So, my rule is to treat them all the same, until I need to dole out some parental understanding to someone who might need a break. All of our kids have chores and most of the time they do them once I have gone hoarse asking them to. I will bellow from the first floor to any one of them to get down here and do the dishes or vacuum. Occasionally, however I can see that look in their eyes that says something like “if I have to shoulder one more thing today, I just might crack”. I then remember that I too have days like that and I give them the break they need and pull out the vacuum myself; the upside here is that vacuuming can be counted as exercise by the wife. Two birds, one stone!
- Kids need to be embarrassed on the regular – We try to mortify our kids on a quarterly basis. This keeps them on their toes, gives them bragging rights, and really says we care more than any other thing we do. A few examples for you. I regularly sing the “late song” at the top of my lungs if and when we are late to school (if it was the kids’ fault). The “late song” for you newbies, is simply “we’re late” sung repeatedly in an operatic style, while occasionally inserting the guilty child’s name. It does wonders for getting the kids motivated in the morning, brings a nice shade of pink to their little cheeks and, I get appreciating looks from the other late parents. At least, I think they are appreciating looks.
We also try to randomly show up at the kid’s activities or special moments and completely call attention to them. The last day of school for the kids was super worthy of embarrassment. We rolled up to get them with the minivan DECKED OUT in paint, streamers, lights, balloons and that 1970’s song “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper blasting from the speakers. They were completely mortified and made instant rock stars by their classmates and teachers in one fell swoop. They loved it……and hated it….but mostly they loved it.
- Don’t give them everything they want – As a proud card-carrying member of the Fraternity of Frugal Fathers, I have a hard time parting ways with my hard-earned dollars. That, however, is not why I recommend using some restraint when giving the kids everything they want. Even if you can easily afford to give a kid every new gadget they want, maybe you shouldn’t. One of my fondest memories as a kid was wishing for something so hard, for so long, and knowing deep down that I would never get it. I was 13 years old when my Dad got me the Atari 3600. What a magnificent day that was! These days it seems, the kiddos get things and pretty quickly discard it for the next new thing. By not giving the kids everything they want, they appreciate what they do get more.
- Play with them every chance that you get – I don’t mean have them carry your golf clubs. I mean wrestle (until your wife gets that tone in her voice), throw a football, kick a soccer ball, wrestle some more (you know the tone), play that authentic miniatures strategy game that takes way too many hours of your life to play. The truth is, as parents, we are all on borrowed time. It won’t be long till they don’t want us around at all except to drive them to see more interesting people that we most likely won’t approve of.
- Throw them in the deep end – I don’t mean literally. Make sure that kids have to figure things out for themselves. I live in a cul-de-sac and have noticed over the last few years that by and large, all nine families have an unspoken pact. We let the kids figure things out for themselves. They bicker and argue and don’t like one another one day and the next they are besties. Now this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep a watchful eye, and listen when they complain, but unless it’s a major conflict or there is serious bullying going on, I try to let them figure it out for themselves.
- Don’t be afraid to let kids be bored – If you can stand the whining, let them complain about being bored for as long as it takes them to find something to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Dad, I’m bored” only to be followed an hour later by “Dad, I read 100 pages!” or “Dad, look what I made.” For some reason parents today feel like we need to micro-manage our kids’ time. When did that happen? I know times are more complicated than they used to be but, I think planning play dates should be banned. Let them figure things out for themselves. If you don’t you might just have to arrange a real date for your 19-year-old because they don’t have the social skills to do it themselves.
There it is, gents. The things I’ve learned so far as a Dad and Stepdad. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to crack a well-earned cold one and celebrate myself this Father’s Day. Here’s to all the many lessons that are still to be learned!
Happy Father’s Day to All Dads and Stepdads!
Can you relate to any of these tips? Have you learned a few yourself you want to share? Let’s chat in the comments below.