The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.
I once heard that Frank Lloyd Wright called television the chewing gum of the eyes. I think that’s true of screens in general. Anyone can be uselessly mesmerized by them for hours: including children. It’s so damn easy to set up my child in front of Netflix (at least it’s educational!) while I go off and do my own thing. Maybe even cook or clean. I can justify alone time when I’m doing something productive.
Even though I try to limit technology, I’m not against it. What I truly want is a son who is well and wisely fixed, and able to contribute to the world. My desire to not invest in my son is my own apathy. Here’s what I do to combat that.
Be The First To Wake Up
This isn’t easy since he wakes up between 5:30–6:30 AM. But even if I wake up a few minutes before him, I’m less likely to set him up with passive entertainment while I go back to sleep. Being awake, with a cup of coffee at hand, is small way of feeling in control.
Make Sure I Get Sleep
To do the first one correctly, I need to make sure I get decent sleep the night before. It’s easy for us parents to blame the child’s energy for our tiredness. But not going to bed at a decent time contributes as well.
Have People Over During His Nap
When you stay at home, your free-time is completely different than that of normal humans. I have free-time from 1–3 PM (nap time) and after 8:45 PM (bedtime). This sucks.
So I’m starting this thing where I’m inviting friends over who have flexible lunches during his nap-time. I make them food, they make me sane. Tomorrow, 4 old colleagues are coming over for beer-can, chicken, potatoes, and coffee. Having people around helps me be a better person.
Be Around Other People When The Kid Wakes Up
I once noticed that the people who were funniest on sitcoms would be completely annoying in real life. Kramer, Barney Stinson, or anyone from arrested development would be a nightmare to be around. This can be true with children. They are super annoying, unless you can laugh at the small tragedies they cause during the day. Having someone else around helps that.
This shouldn’t look like 2 adults standing around laughing as a child has small misfortunes. But having someone around when your kid throws an entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet makes it easier to see how laughable it is rather than lashing out in anger.
Turn My Phone Off
Yeah, the distraction of a phone can be tempting. Even if my son is off playing by himself, I will be a better parent if I’m paying attention to him. When I have my phone off, I’m more likely to be bored. When I’m bored, I’m more likely to engage him.
Plan The Day Ahead Of Time
At my last job I inherited a pretty chaotic office culture. The biggest frustration people who worked for me had was the inability to focus on tasks. I worked hard to provide structure and my attempts were often laughed at (they were laughable) until they started to work. Then others (some who laughed) started making similar changes.
Parenting is really reactive if you are not intentional. And reacting all day can make you feel helpless. It’s exhausting. Making a small list of doable goals, and then working towards them, is mentally necessary. And if you don’t do everything on the list, who cares. Working towards something is better for you than doing nothing.
Parenting is a physical job. You should train like any other physical job. I’m not a gym rat and I’m not in particularly good shape. But make sure I run regularly and ride my bike instead of driving whenever I can.
I‘m hardly consistent with these; and more often than not I suck at this. But when I don’t suck, it’s usually the things mentioned above that helped me.
Jon Jon West is an editor of Dad Islands.