Practical Dad

The Kid Doesn’t Wanna…

Youngest and I went on a recent hike with a group on a cold mid-November morning, meeting the others in a local parking lot.  When I arrived, one of the kid hikers - in upper elementary school - stood in the parking lot next to his parent's van wearing nylon gym shorts, a t-shirt and thin cotton windbreaker.  The parents weren't going along with the boy, who would be with a group of us.  When I walked over and said hello, he commenced yakking with Youngest and I quietly asked his parent whether that attire would really be sufficient for a long hike in chilly temperatures; the forecast called for gusty winds and as it turned out, brief snow flurries.  The adult looked at me and stated that that's what he always wore in cold weather, he didn't wanna wear long pants and heavier clothing so that's what he was going in. 

The kid didn't wanna.  Seriously?  Seriously?  I mean, seriously? 

Since I was the guy who planned this hike of almost ten miles, it was up to me to decide whether or not I'd make an issue of it.  I commented that the boy was liable to become cold and the guy stated that that's what the boy always wore and that he'd be alright.  My verbal response was okay but the mental response was far more prolific.  I grew up in a "highway household" in which the parental mantra was my way or the highway and I'd frankly fought this particular battle in my household on innumerable occasions until the older kids reached an age that they'd learned to suffer well from their choices.  My own personal decision was that the boy was going to have to suffer from his choice and parent's unwillingness to press the issue.  When we reached a later point in the hike in which the wind was blowing across the open fields and the boy was visibly shivering, my only response was to suggest that he zip up the windbreaker and hustle a little faster.  I wasn't about to play the dutiful parent and offer my own fleece jacket to keep him warm;  in my mind, my obligation was to bring the kid back alive and unharmed and if he'd been attacked by wild dogs, I'd protect him.  But I was damned if I - or anyone else - was going to suffer for his own parent's unwillingness to be the adult for his own kid. 

The reality is that parenting can be unpleasant - damnably so - at times.  Kids naturally push the boundaries as they grow and try to assert their independence and judgment and it can occasionally require Solomon's wisdom to ascertain when they're alright in doing so and when they need to toe your line;  there have frankly been any number of instances when my own choice led to unnecessary frustration on the part of both sides and I can look back and say woulda, shoulda.  What bothered me now was that the kid was going to be out of the parent's presence and any issues would have to be handled by me or another parent. If I'm going to have an Opie along - and that's pretty often - then I don't want to be in the position of having to pick up for the other parent's unwillingness to be the adult.  When my kids are in someone else's care, there's an expectation that the other parent will be responsible for them but that doesn't extend to even meeting their minimal needs simply because I don't want to deal with any unpleasantries. 

If there's ever a time to deal with the tantrums and rancor, it's when they're youngest.  As they grow, they'll learn that while they push the boundaries and learn to actually argue with you on a more mature level - Dad, this is why I think that I should be allowed to wear pants like these... - they'll also become used to the notion that you're actually the parent with a final say. 

I owe my children my adulthood.  This means that I'll have to wrestle with the unpleasant moments because it's ultimately in their own best interests that I do so.  They don't have the experience or the judgment to determine when something is ultimately harmful in the long run, such as wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather.  But thinking of them is only part of the equation since there's also a duty to the other parents who have to deal with my child in my absence and I owe them what I in turn would want for myself when managing their kids in their absence.  It creates discord in their own household as their kids naturally point at the Opies and throw their own behavior back in the parents' faces, and the folks in turn are forced to not only try to explain their own rationale, but explain the reasoning of those other parents.  The simple truth is that I've actually explained the behavior of other parents by remarking they let it occur just because they're idiots, son.

If your own kid doesn't wanna, please be sure that he's old enough to live with the results of his choices.nbsp; If he isn't old enough, make sure that you're around to contend with him because he's liable to not like my own response to the consequences of his (in)actions and kvetching. 

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