family

Who's Parenting Your Child?

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If the man at the coffee shop asked to replace me as the parent of my children, of course I'd say no. If the people on my row in church offered to relieve me of parenting duties for all eternity, I would swiftly decline. If the person behind me at the grocery store asked to let my children leave with them after their transaction, I'd call for security. Why then am I allowing these people to parent my children? I tell my sons to "behave" in the coffee shop, so the man next to us doesn't get upset. I force stillness upon their bodies that don't have any concept of what still even means, so that fellow congregants aren't annoyed. I try to keep my toddler son's ramblings to an acceptable decibel level, according to the woman behind me in line at the grocery store. In so doing, I'm giving these strangers license to parent my children.

And for what? Where's the payoff? Maybe they'll say, "Oh, you're such a great parent." Or maybe the classic line, "Your children are so well behaved."

Never say that regarding my kids. It's not a compliment and I won't accept it. Not today. Not ever.

How much of what I teach my children is actually for their benefit? If I'm being completely honest, all the no's and don't do's and sit downs and be stills, are to hopefully ensure they act "right" when they're not at home - this is not okay.

Home should be where kids can be free to run, play, be wild, be loud, be wrong, be right. Home should be where they can be children, fully. Afterall, do they really need to be quiet, or is it just that my bad day needs some silence? Do they really need to stop running back and forth through the house, or has my laziness overpowered my desire to engage them? Does the inquiring mind of a child really need to stop asking so many questions, or is my inability to answer the why's of my own life shutting down their curiosity?

When I say I, I mean we, and we cannot continue to parent our children with the hope that they meet the flawed expectations of other people; people who don't even matter. Being seen as a good parent to the rest of the world means nothing if our children see us as the complete opposite. Let's deal with our lack of self-esteem in the therapists office, or community group or in meditation, or any other form of healing that doesn't involve damaging the lives of others, i.e. our children.

Yes, it is our awesome responsibility to guide them on this journey of life, but guiding and controlling are not the same. We spend too much trying to control and prevent the inevitable: they're going to make mistakes and do things we don't agree with - there's no way around it. So, instead of trying to force them into perfection, let's foster a culture that develops their emotional intelligence to deal with life when things go wrong.

Instead of saying: OMG, I can't believe you did so poorly, or what's wrong with you, or I thought you were smarter than that, or some other highly inappropriate phrase that would make any adult or child crawl into a corner, we can say something like: Hey I know you didn't do as well as you hoped on ______, but let's do some extra practice TOGETHER and see what more we can learn."

Sounds easy enough right? Then why is it so difficult? Because this type of parenting requires active engagement and a constant evaluation of self. Why do I feel the need to scream at the top of my lungs at a 5 year old? Am I trying to control my child beyond reason because I'm lacking control in my own life? Am I forcing my child to do something because that's how my family has always done it, even if it's void of any benefit?

The adult world requires perfection, even though no one is able to provide it. When I succumb to this unrealistic expectation, I fail everytime because flawlessness is unattainable. And in this failure, I rarely give myself grace, which often leads to grace not being shown to my children for their mistakes. Mistakes that probably aren't even mistakes. This means I'm withholding grace because someone else's expectation of my child is not being met. Looking at it even deeper, what if the woman behind me at the grocery store is actually thinking: I'm not annoyed at all, I totally understand. Now I'm making my kids act a certain way to satisfy what someone else isn't even thinking!

Bottom line - WE are the parents of our children. Other people's beliefs and thoughts and opinions can't sign our children out of school as parent or guardian. Only we can do that.

If I had a Brother

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Growing up an only child has benefits. The most obvious being, not having to share. However, when there's no other option, not having to share isn’t as glorious as it seems. Perfect example: Toy stores were annoying at times, because manufacturers would insult me time and time again, putting Rocksteady and Bebop together in the same impossible to open package. How dare you? Don’t you know I’m an only child? Don’t you know what it feels like for one kid to control the actions of both figures? My left arms always knows what my right arm is doing. I can only bang these figures together for so long, while trying to come up with different sound effects with each clash. Sure the toys were all mine, but what good was that?

Video games weren’t as fun alone either. Tecmo Bowl lost its luster without any human competition. Talking smack to a CPU who can’t talk trash back to you, is wack. And let’s not talk about Super Mario Bros. Remember, I grew up in a time when saving your place in a game didn’t exist. Video games back then had to be won by dedicating an entire day to it. Embracing such a task was dreadful alone. Thankfully, my friend would come over, but he was an only child as well. On our own, we were both used to being Mario. Naturally, arguing ensued over who would have to be Luigi, which was usually resolved how all matters were back then: Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Not having a brother meant having internal discussions all the time, asking myself is this a good idea, or should I do this or say this; exhausting stuff. Trust me. I wish I had a brother to say, Hey bro, that’s a crazy idea or I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Not having a brother meant peer affirmation and encouragement was often absent. Of course my parents did their part, but they had to. It’s kinda in the parental code of conduct. But I feel like a “good job” from a brother would be more sincere.

If I had a brother, I’d undoubtedly want him to be just like my son.

Watching my oldest son Aaren interact with his younger brother August is heartwarming. There are plenty of times when August annoys him to the ends of the earth, but there are other times, when they are inseparable. “Good job August, Auggie, Augusto” - can be heard multiple times throughout the day. Aaren protects him. He loves him genuinely. He hugs him. He takes him out of his toddler chair. He helps him out of bed. He reads to him and August actually listens - well most times. They play together as if they’re the same age, though they are 4 years apart.

I imagine things would be different if I had an Aaren in my life. But knowing that August does, is reason enough to smile.

Because Fathers do Exist

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If you would've told me, at age 34 I'd have 2 sons, my response would be a swift #LOL. Now that I actually am a father, most of my #LOL's occur off screen, where words and characters lack the substance and effectiveness to capture real uncontrollable laughter. The kind of unprompted, contagious laughter that comes from a toddler - there's no emoji, meme or hashtag for that. It's real. It's magical. And so is this journey of fatherhood - a journey worthy of sharing. That brings us here.

It is impossible to share every waking moment in the blogosphere that I experience as a father, nor do I wish to do so. Some experiences are better kept within the blue accents of our walls, so that when later recalled, we can relive these special moments as a family from a proprietary viewpoint.

There are other experiences that must be shared for my own sanity. Children do things beyond my understanding, and I need to know that I'm not alone when they lift their shirts repeatedly for no reason, or say they like the taste of dirt and sand, or call my name (daddy, daddy, daddy) over and over and over for no real reason at all, or ask for a bandage when they fall even though the slightest trace of a cut or scrape is nowhere to be found. I need to know that somewhere out there, is a parent who can say, me too!

Other times, will simply be to share overwhelming moments of joy and excitement; and in an effort to makes this blog as genuine as possible, even not so joyful and excited moments. Because sometimes - that's life.

And so, this is the beginning of a collection of experiences; real experiences from the lens of an invested Father deeply in love with his sons.