Bill Cosby said, “by the time you realize your father was right you’ll have a son who thinks you’re wrong”. The longer I’m a parent, the more I understand that saying and how much my dad loves sitting back and laughing at the poetic justice of “reaping what you sow”. While I was on a business trip a few weeks ago I called to check on the family. I could tell it was one of those days when my wife answered the phone and immediately asked “which one of the boys do you want alive when you get home”. My single friends were appalled at the thought, but my friends with kids laughed and knew all too well.
You’ll never be able to plan and know everything you need to in order to be a parent. I laugh at the people who say “we’ve got a plan for having kids and in three years we’ll be ready”. No you won’t. But I appreciate the naivety. For people who have been parents, there’s nothing more amusing than new parents. They seem to know it all. They read all the books and journals about the newest trends in child rearing as they plan and prepare for their first child. They panic at the first sniffle as it may lead to pneumonia and say things like “grandma you just don’t know how to raise kids”. If grandma didn’t know how to raise kids, how did you get here? I even encountered one person this week who went so far as to say “I don’t have kids, but I know how to raise them because I watched my parents raise me.” Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so dumb in my life. In that case I should open a 5-star restaurant because I’ve eaten food before. I’ve been a parent for 8 years and still surprise myself at my parenting skills (or lack thereof).
This past summer we took a family vacation to Washington DC for Independence Day. I was excited to show my boys all the monuments and the museums and things my parents dragged me around to growing up. What made it all the more special is that my boys are old enough they’ve started learning about all of those things and really wanted to see them. It was hot and crowded and if you’ve ever been to DC know how many miles you put in on foot walking from place to place. My boys amazed me at how well they kept up to see everything. Then the moment came when my oldest hit the wall. I had expected it. It happened the year before at Disney World (see I Hate Being a Dad). But the difference was I had grown up as a parent. We didn’t cut the day short and head back as punishment for not sticking it out. I knew he was tired and overwhelmed and just needed to decompress. We found a corner, a bottle of water, and let him sit by himself and play Angry Birds. Fifteen minutes later we were back on our feet and ready to see the Lincoln Memorial.
The year before I didn’t handle it that kind of situation well. Since I didn’t know, I went with what some idiot psychologist who probably never had kids or had someone else raise them said; “be firm and follow through on what you say or your children won’t respect you”. A year later I knew what the signs meant and was prepared ahead of time. It’s like buying a minivan to haul around all the crap you think you need for your first kid. You’ve got three strollers, changing stations, play pens, a months worth of snacks, and enough sanitizer for a hospital. But by the second kid their bare bottom is crawling off in the grass while you check with your spouse to see if they brought the diaper bag. So much of parenting you have to learn with your kids. There’s no cookie cutter method. Every kid, parent, and situation is different.
I’ve come to decide being parents isn’t joining a club as much as it’s joining a support group. Those who have been there understand and laugh with you. They share stories about how they screwed up to show you it’s okay. You can’t know it all. You can’t be 100% prepared and you’ll never find a book or article from some parenting guru that does either. The best parenting comes from people who admit they survived. I learn something new everyday and even surprise myself sometimes. There’s been more than once where we go for ice cream to celebrate me having good parenting skills that day more so than the boys good behavior. And despite it all we’re all alive, happy, and love each other. There’s nothing more you could ask for really.