Teachable Moments

After illness, family guests and then an out-of-town trip with the eldest and other teens, I’m back.  I regret if anyone has come here looking for new articles and I’ll have to take to heart the mantra of publish, publish, publish.

A large part of being a father is teaching.  Not esoteric stuff, but the daily minutiae that keeps you out of trouble.  And a trip with kids is loaded with opportunities to teach if you pay attention.

  • Why you hold your credit card face down when transacting business.
  • Determining an appropriate level of tipping for a service rendered.
  • Checking the store receipt when using a credit card to assure that the number and termination date isn’t on the slip.
  • Watching how people respond to new and/or frustrating situations.
  • Why an education truly matters – in this instance, walking with your daughter past the Hustler Club on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. 
  • How to hail a cab and how to make small-talk.
  • How to respond to people who are trying to make polite conversation with you.
  • How to register a complaint and have a charge removed for poor service.

The opportunities are there and my kids fully expect that I’ll call them over at any time to show them something.

You teach, it’s what you do.


Putting It Back On The Kids

At what point do the kids learn to do something as requested – without having to have you ride herd on them?

It does happen eventually.  A close friend was impressed when her mid-teen son began replacing the toilet paper rolls when he found them empty.  But what can be done to help the process along without spending all of your time yelling?  Because failing to listen is one of the key factors in causing parents to lose their temper.

It continues to be a struggle in this household, although there are lights at the end of one of the tunnels.  There are several things that I routinely do and something new that’s being tried.

These approaches are routinely done.

  • Have the child turn off and put down any handheld devices, as well as turn away from the television.  Depending on the circumstances, I’ll sometimes stand so that the kid has to fully turn away from the TV and is unable to gain a side-glance.
  • With a smaller child, get directly within about a foot of his face and speak slowly and clearly.  We have a finger-to-nose signal that means focus on me.
  • Have the child repeat the directions so that anything misunderstood can be corrected.  And even then, it can be hit-or-miss.
  • Have the child come to a separate room that is free of games/electronics/toys in order to get the instructions.

This is being tried.

  • I’ve begun putting the burden of carrying out the correct instructions back onto the kid.  This means that when I find that something’s been done totally half-assed, I’ll call the kid in and have them do it again.  When kids get to be older, they resent having you looking over their shoulder; the resulting attitude creates even more issues and there have been moments when I’m so out of patience that I simply correct the situation myself.  Now, the kid will be called back and have the directions reiterated.  I then leave the kid to their job and will return to check it.  The kid should learn that if he wants to be left alone, he had better pay attention and get it right the first time.

 This approach obviously won’t work on brand new chores or situations with which they have no experience, but it should work and cut down on the I’ll just do something close so that I’m done and can move on without the old man nagging. 

So we’ll give it a shot.  And until then, I’ll keep with the other approaches and try not to blow a gasket.

But jeez, it’s hard.

Wish I’d Known Then What I Know Now:  Patience

 With fifteen years of full-time caregiving under my belt, I’ve learned that I’ve had to alter my concept of time and timeliness.  But I also wish that I’d understood that patience really is critically important.  Patience with my kids, my mate and myself. 

I’ve always been categorized as an easy-going person.  Before my marriage, my father-in-law asked his daughter whether I really was this laidback or if was just a display for the family.  Nope, he’s usually like that was her response.  And this continued through years of marriage and moving, despite some occasional lapses.  It even continued through the years with only one child. 

Patience with the kids

But there came a point with the arrival of Middle – Eldest was a toddler – that the patience started to break.  The baby took all of the attention that babies take, especially when they don’t sleep at night.  And there were nights that I swore that I’d never sleep again.  And Eldest the Toddler had her own set of needs as she processed the change in her life.  Middle cried and got the attention, and when Middle napped in the afternoon, Dad grabbed naps in the La-Z-Boy while she watched Disney to a soundtrack of paternal snoring. 

Eldest really was – and still is – a wonderful kid, but she had her own set of toddler issues.  Reaches for independence versus the need to feel protected.  Processing the usual new sibling feelings of love and competition.  And the almost universal egocentrism that afflicts all children until they hopefully outgrow it.  Or at least learn how to bring it under control.  And with the arrival of youngest, the circus took on a whole new dimension as Middle experienced the same general feelings for the first time and Eldest experienced them again from a different age with it’s own perspective. 

Change requires adjustment and sometimes adjustment is a bit difficult, even if it’s good.

And in the midst of it, I sometimes forgot that little kids can’t always control these things because they’re kids.  They aren’t "little people" with the implication that they’re just smaller versions of adults.  They are children having to grapple with issues that are far newer to them than to a thirty or forty-something adult, but without the ability to express themselves.  So when they encounter new situations, they respond with what they know.  Children are wonderful and deserve protection, good families and good parents but you have to understand that they are still children.  And that means that when they’re little, they frequently can’t control what they do.  They just do it.

Nike children, with a swoosh.

Patience with my mate

More men are taking a larger role in the family life – by choice or necessity – and this really is a break from previous American generations.  But this is new territory for the mothers as well as the fathers. 

Women now have to work to help support the family as much as the men.  And before this, they were sold the idea that they could successfully manage both a career and motherhood.  But they weren’t shown the cost that comes with such juggling.  Employers that expect loyalty yet frequently don’t return it.  A grudging acquiescence to the demands of parenthood when kids get sick or encounter difficulties.  The need to produce in order to compete with other families trying to support themselves.    My brother-in-law once remarked that women are starting to realize there’s perhaps a reason that American men die years earlier their spouses.  

So women are now finding that they aren’t there for the special moments that their mothers and grandmothers experienced.  Instead, these moments are seen by the fathers or others and they must get the news later.  The arena that they usually learned would be their purview – the home – would instead be managed by the father.  This last is probably most frustrating since the reality is that the really, really large number of guys never grow up learning what it takes to run a household.  She’s left trying to teach the right way and at the same time, un-do the wrong way that something’s been done. 

Let’s be honest.  When my mate was fifteen, she was reaching under the bed to clean.  When I was fifteen, I was reaching under the bed to reach the stash of Playboy magazines.

So this process of ceding the control of the household isn’t easy for the women.  Change and adjustment.

Patience with myself

Most men don’t ever think that they’re going to be spending a huge amount of time with the kids.  And like me, they’re unprepared for what’s coming at them.

Kids are egocentric.  Kids don’t think.  Kids are walking, breathing blank slates that you can never assume actually know how to do anything on their own.  Some can figure things out on their own, but it’s not safe to think that they actually will.  And a child can, in almost an instant, shift from screaming banshee to the child that you once again would die for. 

And an increasing number of children isn’t additive, it’s exponential.  They will react to their surroundings and one another and do so in ways that make perfect sense to a child.  But it’s been at least two decades since I was a child, so forgive me if I forgot the thought process.

The result is that I felt for years as though I was living in a real-life pinball game and because nobody ever really told me about the reality, I didn’t understand that these things were part and parcel of heavy involvement with children.

Be patient with yourself.  You are probably doing more with your kid than your old man did with you and in the great majority of cases, the fact that you’re doing it will mean all of the difference in the world to your kid.  With a divorce rate of about 50% for the past twenty years, a fair number of men have no real experience of hands-on fathers and are doing their damnedest by feel, thought and intuition.

You will get frustrated and you will get angry.  You will probably wonder whether they’re ever going to pull things together or whether you’re a failure as a father.  Kids will pull themselves together and your constant conversations will register with them and crop up later at the most unlikely moments.  And you will find those moments when everything comes together and renews you for the next round of childishness.

But one of the differences between you and your child is what you remember to do with the anger and frustration.  You’re the adult.

Hang in there.