Let me share a secret with you and it’s one that many who promote hands-on fathering don’t share. Children are really hard work. Frustrating, irritating work that only changes in the manner of challenge over the years. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself responding in ways that might be condemned on Doctor Phil or Supernanny.
Why? Because you’re dealing with growing, changing individuals who are lacking common sense, self-discipline and the understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Your world might, but the larger world largely doesn’t give a rat’s butt whether Junior gets to stay up for fifteen minutes past bedtime. And it’s not really politically correct to show individuals reacting out of frustration when their buttons have been pushed multiple times.
This isn’t excusing bad parental behavior. You can’t go smacking kids, calling them names or behaving like a bigger kid than they are. But don’t spend your time measuring yourself against an idealized image of a father portrayed in the media either. Because their secret is that there really is no ideal father out there. We’re living on a cusp of a new social structure in which fathers are taking more and more of a hands-on role in the family and household, whether due to choice or economic reality, and the old models are no longer operative or relevant.
If you want a better indication of what involved, time-intensive, hands-on parenting is like for the parent, think of Bill Cosby’s routine on giving the kids chocolate cake for breakfast. The wife’s reaction to seeing the kids spend their breakfast noshing on dad-permitted chocolate cake is more typical for any parent responsible for the lion’s share of child-rearing. Either mother or father. So understand that we’re in the process of watching the father’s image move from that of Bill Cosby to that of his wife, who’s thoroughly out of patience with the nonsense that she’s witnessing on the part of the adult and the kids.
That’s what I’ve been thinking about after this morning’s foray into absurdity by two elementary school boys. One won’t make a decision on what pants to wear yet refuses to don what I’ve pulled out. The other first asks what the temperature is going to be and after being told a typical wet and chilly early Spring day, walks out of his room in sockless sneakers, Bermuda shorts and a cotton Polo shirt. As I stand at the top of the steps counting the minutes to departure, bouncing back and forth between the duellling arguments, my voice rises and the one accuses me of taking my anger out on him because of the other. My response is that I wouldn’t be yelling if he’d not argue with what is sheer common sense.
It’s taken years to accept that being a hands-on parent doesn’t entail saint-like patience and that a raised voice isn’t the mark of bad parenting. It’s not how I choose or try to spend my time, but it doesn’t make me bad either.