Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ten years and counting...

     10 years.  This week my oldest boy, Will, turns 10.  He's almost as big as his mother, uses deodorant, and can beat me at video games. Every parent alive has said this, but I can hardly believe how much  he has changed in so short a time.  I've also been noticing more and more that when I look at him, I catch glimpses of myself at his age.  That's kind of scary and exciting at the same time.

      His tenth birthday has struck me as a pretty big event because it means that I've been at this "dad thing" now for an entire decade.  Ten years is a fairly long time, right?  I hopefully have learned a few things along the way.  I have yet to earn any "Dad of the Year" awards, but I haven't completely ruined anyone's life either (despite what some in the family have claimed).  I'm certainly no expert on parenting.  Most of the time we are just doing our best and praying that it's enough.  I think though that I can say a few things that I are fairly true when it comes to being a dad.  So  to celebrate Will's 10 birthday and  a decade of fatherhood, I though I would put down a list of 10 things I've learned about being a dad.

1.  My kids need me more than anything I can give them

     I know most guys work long, hard hours to put food on the table and clothes in the closet. We don't always get told "thanks" for the hours we put in. Sometimes coming home to the chaos of five kids at night gives me second thoughts about heading back to the quiet, more orderly world of my office. I've seen a lot of guys justify putting in long hours because they say they need to provide for their families. I suspect that more often than not they are avoiding coming home either because they are overwhelmed or I adequately prepared to deal with their kids one on one.   One thing I'm fairly certain of is that given a choice between nicer "things" and more time with their dad, kids would hands down choose to be with their dad.

2. Watching you child sleep is one of the best experiences in life.
  
     I don't know what it is, but from the first day they come home from the hospital, until the day they leave, there is something so amazing about seeing your child curled up in bed with out a worry or care.  Every night before I go to bed, I stop in to look in at them snuggled up cozy in their beds, (or lots of the time mine).  It's the last thing I see each day and I love it.

3.  My kids are worth far more than any thing I own.

     I need to remind myself of this often.  I sometimes think that children and "nice" things are mutually exclusive.  If I get something nice, it usually doesn't take long for one of my kids to break it in if not just break it out right.  When I think about it though, there has never been any possession I've ever had that didn't soon lose my interest or get shoved in the back of a closet.  That will never be the case with my children.  I can't imagine life without a single one of them.

4.  Children need parents more than friends.

     It's very tempting to want to be your son or daughter's friend.  We want them to like us and make us feel accepted.  It's not always so fun to be in the role of the authoritarian or disciplinarian.  I've seen too many parents that have stopped parenting and instead have tried to befriend their kids.  It never works out well.  Kids need concrete rules and limits.  They need boundaries that are well defined and enforced.  Sure, we as moms and dads can be too strict, but I think most of the problems we have as parents stem from trying too hard to be a buddy to our children.  There is plenty of time for that when they are adults.

5.  Every child is unique.

     I have 5 kids.  Every one of them is different.  We have to treat every one of them differently.  We as parents have to adapt out parenting to the individual child.  There is no simple 10 step process to follow.  To be effective parents, we have to know our children.  That means we have to spend time with them, as individuals.  We need to learn what make them tick, what motivates them, and what inspires them.  I recommend taking time out with each child alone once in a while.  It's hard to do that at times and we don't always do as good a job at it as we should, but each person in our family needs to feel important for who they are.  I don't want any of them to get lost in the craziness of a large family.

6.  Family time is critical.

     While focusing on the individual is important, it is also important to spend time together as a family.  Our family is where we learn how to interact with others.  I've noticed as the kids get older, they resist doing things as a family.  The things we do together draw us closer though.  Whether its, going to church, or (ugh) going shopping for school clothes, the time we spend together is important.  My mother would never serve dinner until all 12 of us were sitting down together.  I think that that alone is why my siblings and I have remained close into adulthood.  It's why family gatherings are still important to us.  Your family is the one place where you should always feel welcome.  These are the people who care about you more than anyone else in the world.  We should treat family time as sacred.

7.  Soft words are more effective than screaming.

     With seven people in a house, the noise can get overwhelming.  Sometimes a raised voice might be necessary to get everyone's attention.  (My mom's method was the 2 finger whistle, which she had down to a science.)  Most of the time though I find myself yelling at the kids, I'm just adding to the noise.  It's easy to let my temper flare and escalate a minor issue into a major battle.  I've got a long way to go in this area, but I'm occasionally able to get myself under control and get the person I need to have a discussion with alone and in a few minutes get the situation under control.  I think the tag team parenting approach works well in these situations.  Sometimes I am just not able to calm down enough to talk rationally.  Karlye can step in for me and deal with the situation, because she is not nearly as emotional about it.  I do the same for her.  One thing that amazes me is how we can threaten, scream and yell at our 4 year old daughter to get in bed and all it does is work her up into a tantrum.  If I take the time to go talk with  her and rub her back, she's usually sound asleep in 3 minutes.  Let me just say (because I know my wife will read this and she knows what I'm really like),  I've got a lot of improvement to make in this area.


8.  It's good to play with your kids.

     I walk in the door at night and I am immediately ambushed.  I have little people climbing on me wanting to wrestle with me, wanting me to chase them down and tickle them.  My daughter likes to give me kisses ans I am expected to say, "Ooo gross!" Which for some reason makes her giggle and earns me 10 mire kisses.  My older boys are getting less into the wrestling and more into video games.  Caleb currently asks me every day to go fishing with him in Lord of the Rings Online.  We catch virtual fish and see who can get the best trophies to mount on the walls of our virtual houses.  Will wants me to see his latest creation in Minecraft.  The point is that they need me to play with them and I need to stop being an adult for a while and step into their world.  I'll freely admit, it's not all that hard for me, because I never really grew up.
   

9.  Children need their concerns to be taken seriously.

     There are a lot of concerns that my kids have.  Someone is not being nice, something is not fair, or something important happened to them at school.  It is easy to nod and say "Really?" but not really care.  I need to learn to be a better listener.  Their concerns are important to them, and they need to be important to me.  If they don't learn to trust me with their confidence about the small things, then how can I expect them to come to me when the issues are very serious 10 years from now.  I want my kids and my wife to know that I care about each and every thing that is going on in their life.  It takes effort on my part, because after spending all day listening to people's problems, I tend to shut down when I walk in the door. What I have to remember is that the people that matter most are the ones waiting for me at home.

10.  What they see me do, they will do.

     I have been stunned to see how much my kids copy me.  I've had my kids say use common expressions Karlye and I use around the house.  My kindergartener was sharing his/my political views at school.  Will, whether knowingly or not tries to copy everything I do, and then looks to me to see if I've noticed how much like me he is.  That is scary to me, because I know that they also are learning all of my negative characteristics along with anything positive they might pick up.  When I treat Karlye disrespectfully, they see it and imitate it.  When I lose my temper, they learn that that is appropriate. none of us are perfect and none of us had perfect parents.  We all have to sort through the things out parents taught us figure out what to take with us into life.  I want my children to learn my good qualities, but not my bad.  I think that means I need to be intentional about what I do and say.  When I blow it big time, like I generally seem to do, I have to swallow my pride and tell my kids, "Hey, I messed up.  I was wrong.  It's not okay to act like that.  It's not okay to treat someone like that.  It's not okay to say those things."  I want my kids to learn that we all make mistakes, the imprtant thing is to admit it when you do and then correct it.