COMMENTARY: The example we set for our kids is long lasting and not without consequence
(Gray News) - What a time to be alive. What a time to be a parent. Am I right?
Each day, each hour, each minute, those of us who are parents are challenged to juggle the stress of life and the responsibility to raise our kids the best we know how. Some days, I just feel overwhelmed. More importantly, the answers I think I have are often the wrong ones. Sometimes I just want to call it a day before the lunchtime.
I can’t though. You see, I am solely responsible for my school-aged kids every other week. That’s not to say their mom isn’t available for consultation and support. She really is quite a great mother, but we do not live together anymore. We are a great team, but we also have different lives now. When my two greatest accomplishments are in my house, I’m the man (so to speak). I feel like I fail more than triumph, but what parent doesn’t?
It is not easy, but it is the most important job I have. Of course, this job that allows me to author this article pays the bills and allows me to keep a roof over their heads is vital. I appreciate the fact that I am gainfully employed during these uncertain times, but my role as a father is the real deal.
I share this because we all have unbelievable challenges--today and every day. I empathize with each and every parent out there. We’re all in different situations, some much tougher, some much easier, but in the end we have a lot in common.
On this National Sons and Daughters Day, I salute you!
Where do I begin? As I sit here in my home office staring at the monitors and looking at my “to do” list for work, I also wonder what’s going through my kids’ minds as we creep toward the start of whatever school will look like this year. They have had so many questions I haven’t been able to easily answer.
There’s so much vitriol out there on social media and otherwise. Quite frankly, I’m sick of seeing all of the fighting. Am I upset about what has happened to my kids’ educational experience? Sure. I’m afraid what they went through in the spring and what’s to come has severely altered their path to becoming smarter people. However, there’s no perfect solution. There may be for us, but that doesn’t mean it is for others. I think it’s important to keep that last point in mind. I surely wouldn’t want to be a school administrator or teacher. And if they’re not parents themselves, they certainly don’t envy the positions we are in.
As the above graphic alludes to, we’re all human. Each person and family’s situation is very likely much different than ours. Over and above the physical practice of teaching and learning, how we handle the bumps in the road here will be very telling to our children. I’m going to try to be understanding and kind as I make my way through this challenging school year. I hope I can use what’s happening to teach my kids to do the same. No doubt it’ll be tough, but I found this quote from Muppets creator Jim Henson and immediately filed it away for those frustrating days when how and what we are as parents transcends what we are trying to tell our kids. “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are,” Henson once said.
What I am is a human who makes mistakes, but loves my kids more than anything. Sometimes that love shines through, other times it remains hidden behind what emotions are taking over my being that day. Of course, the expression “actions speak louder than words,” also comes to mind. I often find my kids learn more about me from my posture, facial expressions and actions than what is coming from my mouth. They’re pretty darn smart sometimes, right?
Discussing the upcoming (or already started) school year with our kids is necessary. How we do so could go a long way in their development as good humans. I have tried to explain to them the “why” without injecting frustration or political stances. Sticking to the facts and various guidance and leaving out too much opinion has seemed to calm them and prepare them to be as safe as they can be and excite them for whatever the “learning” will be for them. They seem more excited than ever to start school this time around. How will we handle the inevitable challenges that await?
Enough about returning to school. Have you been able to get out and enjoy the summer? That answer is likely “no” or “not as much as I had hoped.” Same here, but I have tried to find “socially distanced” ways to get my kids out of the house. I don’t know about you, but their screen time has been far too frequent, as I have tried to do my job or handle my other responsibilities. I have been making a point to find time to just play...
Vacations and shorter trips are certainly a blast for kids, if we can make them happen. The past five months have not allowed the opportunities we have had prior to the pandemic. I have found some of the simpler things, like having a Nerf gun fight, dance parties, playing with our dog, taking silly pictures, going for bike rides, playing sports and just plain messing around have given us some of our best memories this spring and summer. Often the things I don’t think are a big deal or much fun have created the most smiles and hugs.
One of the things quarantine has taught me is that the simple, and sometimes quiet times are just as awesome as the planned and expensive endeavors. I hope you have had that experience!
Moreover, it’s about just being there for them.
For some, “being present” is much easier than for others. I get that. I am so darn lucky to have the time and means to be present, but that doesn’t mean I wish I had more time with them. There have been times I have just sat by myself, drowning in my sorrows, as my kids have played on their own, often on their electronic devices.
As an adult and a busy parent, I deserve that “time away.” It doesn’t mean that I am a bad parent, does it? I don’t think so. I sometimes need to recharge so I can be the best I can be for them and for myself. It’s not greedy, it’s a fact. I suppose I wrote that last line to make myself feel better. It does, but I still feel like I can do better. I suppose that’s a fact of life as well. We never really reach the pinnacle of being the perfect person we sometimes picture. Same goes for our kids, but as parents there’s certain responsibility to guide them. As Nelson Mandela said, history will judge us.
I want to be on the positive end of that judgement, known as a kind, compassionate and loving person. Heck, I can say that all I want, but I know what I do, how I act and react and how honest I am with myself and especially others will cement my standing with my kids. I haven’t been perfect or even close to perfect, especially lately. My kids know that. I know that. There’s not much I can do but continue to try to be a better father and a better person. A pandemic has certainly put a damper on many things, but I continue to hope things will get better, mostly for my kids. They are old enough to never forget the year 2020. It’s up to us as parents to help effect those memories and how they react to challenges in the future.
Speaking of the future and our children, Whitney Houston’s hit “The Greatest Love of All” has some powerful lyrics, which were actually not penned by her, but written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed.
While Ms. Houston may have had her challenges in life, she also performed many beautiful songs. In my opinion, this is one of them.
“...teach them well and let them lead the way,” is good advice. Teaching them “well” is up to us and it not a walk in the park. And, by the way, there are “teachers” and there are parents. “Teachers” are paid (in many cases, not very well) to instruct our children while in school. This career path they have chosen is becoming more challenging and dangerous by the day. I salute them, but know it’s also my job to teach them every day. What they learn at home is certainly a major part of our kids’ growth. We cannot solely rely on the educational system to mold them into fine people.
Houston continues with, “...Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.” Pride is a difficult thing to teach, but well worth the effort. Mostly, I want to be proud of my efforts as a dad. With that, hopefully, pride will rub off on my kids.
This song also points out that people sometimes don’t find what they are looking for in their elders. “I never found anyone who fulfill my needs. A lonely place to be. And so I learned to depend on me...The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” As I learn about myself as a parent and try to decide who I want to be, I often realize loving myself is one of the foundations of being a good, happy person. That can certainly rub off on my kids. I hope it does.
Just the other day, after a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call, I was driving my truck to my daughter’s sporting event and thinking about life as they slept quietly in their seats. I thought about my responsibility to stay awake and drive very carefully to keep them safe. For a short moment that duty overwhelmed me. It’s not just about driving safely or making sure they get where they need to be on time, there’s so much more. They won’t understand the duty that lies on my shoulders these days, and I wouldn’t want them to think about the complexity of such things now. They will, however, realize the sacrifices their parents made when they were little and beyond. The memories of my parents doing the same for me and the position I was in on the highway before the sun came up gave me reason to smile and embrace one of the most purposes in life I have today.
Please allow me to share some advice I have found to be valuable as I continue to navigate through the waters of parenthood:
- Treat others only as you'd like to be treated.
- Love unconditionally and big.
- Be kind.
- Stick to your values.
- During a disagreement, be open to others’ opinions.
- Say you're sorry and mean it. Then adjust your behavior.
- If you need help or advice, do not be embarrassed to seek it out. You will never know everything.
- Take care of yourself.
- Exercise and eat well.
- Do your very best in school and for your employer.
- Trade material things for experiences when you can.
- Live life like today is your last day on earth.
I’m just one guy living a life that I am trying to have some control over. I know it’s tough. I know you sometimes don’t have all the answers. I know your kids may drive you crazy. They look up to you. They need guidance. I know you’re doing your best, but what does that look like? I’m not here to tell you what that is, but I wanted to offer some inspiration and let you know that it’s going to be okay.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for allowing me to share my thoughts. I hope you’re sitting next to your kids or will be with them soon! Celebrate them and cherish this time with them on National Sons and Daughters Day and any day.
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