As a kid, it always baffled me how boring and controlling grownups could be. Why did everything have to be so serious? Do people just get less fun as they got older? Not me, I thought. I’m going to be fun even when I’m all grown up.
Fast forward to the nightly ritual in which I find myself currently mired. I chase my three-year-old around with a toothbrush getting increasingly frustrated as time goes on, so that by the time I’m actually brushing her teeth I have to fight to keep from aggressively attacking her mouth and anything else near it with the toothbrush to the detriment of her health and safety.
Once that obstacle has been hurdled I choose the wrong bedtime story, which cues in Unnecessary Argument #47 for the day. Eventually, I’ll have read the proper book, which I have read enough times to despise, and then it’s time for the Bedtime Negotiation. Once the proper number of stuffies has been determined and the bedroom lighting has been brought down to almost-don’t-need-sunglasses level, it’s time to move on to the next kid.
During this, the seven-year-old has been productively running amok doing all the things I won’t let him do under my direct supervision. Or he is on the couch watching a predator disembowel its prey accompanied by the soothing descriptive narration of David Attenborough. Could be worse.
Navigating the obstacles with this one is more litigious than with the youngest, and the negotiating tactics are far more refined. Anything that can be argued will, and to the point of my mental exhaustion. Every minute is discussed on the compromise table, and nothing can be the least bit vague.
At the end of all of this, I find myself thinking about how I always assumed I’d be the fun parent. I love wrestling with them and messing around, when did I have to go from playmate to overbearing patriarch? I feel like all I do is argue with them sometimes.
At some point in our parenting journey, it becomes apparent to us that if we want to get the litany of things done that need doing we are going to need to step up the speed at which our kids operate. I’d love to let them turn over the rocks in the driveway to look for bugs every time they want to, but most of the time we have somewhere to be and we’re often running late. Stress gets the better of me and I end up being the hard-nosed dad I don’t want to be. Every time I disappoint my kids by not allowing them some immediate modicum of childhood it kills me a little inside, but I know it must be done. As my parenting journey continues and I become more adept at managing myself and my offspring I realize more and more that adulthood, and especially parenthood, involves making difficult decisions that those around you might not like but are in their best overall interest.
Having come to this realization does not make it any easier. It still pains me to have to tell them it’s time to stop playing because we need to go get shots or go to the dentist or some other modern day torture. I feel the same way about going to these kinds of things but I can’t express that to my kids without feeling like I’m forsaking my parental duty. This must be done, and even if you don’t like it you will benefit from it. That’s a hard sell for a child, especially when the benefit is not immediately tangible.
I have been working hard to consciously provide myself to my children in a fun way when they are in need of it, and to try to balance that with my need as their parent to get the things done. A major part of that has been avoiding any screen time on my part between the time I get home from work and the time they go to bed. Not an easy task.
The approach I have been attempting recently has been a mindset change toward the tasks I feel I need to accomplish. I mentioned in my post Pause For Sanity the need to, for example, allow the kids to jump in the pile of leaves I just raked up, even if it means I’ll have to rake them again. The leaves can be moved anytime, their childhood is now.
If being an adult means I have to forsake some of the fun so others may be able to enjoy themselves without having to worry about logistics or planning or making it to school on time, so be it. That does not mean, however, I can’t have fun with my kids. It just means I have to be aware of when I need to be an adult, and when I’m able to be a kid.
Tinian Crawford is a writer. You can read more of his work at lifeoutsidethebox.me.