Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Years of Parenting- From a Fathers Point of View (AKA David)

Although it was two whole years ago, it still seems like only yesterday. The memory remains flash-burned in my mind, vivid now as it was at the moment… Chelsea and I were at the hospital waiting anxiously for our lives to be thrust into some unknown strange new universe… parenting.

And what a universe it is! It’s all very memorable and it passes in what seems like an instant. It’s an incredible adventure and the zenith of the human condition. It’s the reason why we’re all here. It’s a lesson in character and a test of your faith and your abilities. But most of all, it’s wonderful. Every day brings us a new reason to laugh and smile with our son. And many days bring us new tests and trials to overcome, or (hopefully not) be overcome by. Our latest is in the adventures of language and communication. Yay!

The manifestation of linguistics into our son’s skill set has been both a blessing and a big pain in the butt. It’s very rewarding as a parent to see your child smiling, excited about learning and communicating their ideas to others. It’s a blessing to experience the unfolding of a young mind and to watch it grow exponentially with each passing day, and to know that as a parent, you have a direct first-hand impact on the character and values that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. However, with communication also comes rebellion. And tantrums. And much frustration for parent and child alike. It’s during these tribulations that it is most important not to react in a knee-jerk sort of fashion, as I and many other parents can so easily find themselves doing, but to realize that these moments will be gone as quickly as they have come.

When I reflect on the past two years of being a parent I recall most fondly the good times, and the tougher times as a vapor. I remember how foolishly frustrated I became with my family when I didn’t know what to do, when I reacted on selfish instinct before reacting in love and patience. I still have these problems every day where I end up kicking myself over reacting stupidly to something that really doesn’t matter so much at all… and although it’s something that I only have myself to blame for in the end, I can’t help but hazard the thought that our overindulgent media-driven culture has reinforced in our masses self-centered thinking and behavior in no small part at the macro level.

Western culture has become very preoccupied with things that are fleeting and of little significance… but while entertainment is usually harmless on the surface, it can be a great tool in distracting our minds and switching off our souls. As fast-paced as our hyper-ADHD society has become, it is all too apparent that in order to stay human it is paramount to set aside some time for actual human interaction, especially with our families and other loved ones. This seems to be an attractive and romantic idea to flirt with in our minds, especially if you’re a marketing executive creating commercials for cleaning chemicals, but how much are we truly giving back to our fellow man and putting it into practice? Lest your average Target commercial would have you believe, most of us have become quite selfish, which is very tragic and worthy of prayer.

How is it that as Western-world dwellers, we are somehow entitled to the rest of the world playing in to our agenda? I know my hands are red. Most people’s are. We have cast ourselves the leading role in the silly films of our own glorious lives… but sometimes the perfect movie with the happy ending in our head doesn’t quite match what we see on the screen… and when our precious egos are touched inside their cage, it can make us a tad uncomfortable. But who are we? Are we really so valuable among other men? By what authority do we crown ourselves the kings and queens of our own little worlds? Why do we send our food back to the kitchen when entire nations are starving… why do we get angry in traffic when other populations have a maximum life expectancy of 30 years or less… the poorest among us live better than some kings in the world… and even the poorest among our poorest have at least one TV set, cable and high-speed internet to boot. But sadly, these are the greatest “problems” that our fallible society can come up with. Oscar Wilde painted it beautifully even back in 1891’s “A Picture of Dorian Gray” when he penned the superlative cynic as “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”… but I digress.

In the process of becoming humbled, one surely has to butt heads with the egos of other kings and lose. I have found that our children are not only the most selfish little things, but are the greatest teachers and thinkers among us. They are unknowingly and ironically what transform us into strong, loving adults. They are the tiny revealers of our tempers and our true character. They show us who we really are, and sometimes that scares us. Sometimes that pleases us. It should please a parent to know that they are doing the very best that they can, as it should humble them to know that a huge lot in raising a child is also at the mercy of luck and chance. It is our job to do the best with these as we can. Our children’s accomplishments are a great source of their parent’s happiness, but should not induce boastful pride in my opinion. It is a dangerous, destructive and really annoying thing that parents often do, to engage in wanton braggadocio over their child’s most minute accomplishments and fret over so-called “milestones” not being met at exactly the “right times” as outlined by (of course I’m being facetious) or whatever unaccredited child development website you happen to frequent.

One of the greatest things you can do for your child is to patiently let them learn and develop at their own healthy pace, asking them many questions and letting them discover the wonders of their world with your help – not with the hindrance of your clout. One would be a fool to do otherwise. I have many personal faults, but I’m not about to let forceful parenting be one of them. I have no race to win. I have nothing to prove to the Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Phil’s of the world. Some parents tragically force their kids into every possible direction they can in efforts to inflate their own self esteem and deflate others’, AKA elevation of me via depression of you. In living vicariously through your child, you not only alienate yourself from them, but you risk denying them their own healthy childhood, personal development and passionate endeavors. More than once has this created paternal contempt later in life. I’m not saying that a no rules approach is the healthy alternative by any means, the former is just something to think about. I always tell myself that there are no wrong ways to raise a child, but there are plenty of wrong ways. In short, the most successful parent has a happy child. The end. And keep in mind all of you parents of future astronauts, all-star quarterbacks and cancer-curers out there… Albert Einstein didn’t speak in multi-word phrases until after he was four years old – just food for thought. But feel free to track me down, put your finger in my face and say “I told you so” when your child has observed and demystified the quark-confinement and Higgs-boson, ended world hunger and has a few Super Bowl trophies on their mantle. I’ll be more than happy to eat my words. Or maybe I’ll just say “you got lucky”.

Sorry, sometimes I just have to vent. I usually get carried away. Owyn was not watching, I promise. But always, we should carry with us the knowledge that our children are always watching, listening and processing their environment even when it appears to us that they are not. In that respect, it would behoove us to constantly hold dear what is truly important in our lives, and to constantly reflect on what we have been blessed with. I recently made a list for myself to put things in perspective – it doesn’t always work, but it’s better than nothing:

Appreciate always.
Give thanks always.
Treasure every breath.
Pray without ceasing.
Chelsea and I are on same team.
Repeat First Corinthians 13 in your head if you are feeling frustrated. (Here is an interesting exercise: Replace the word “love” with your name in verses 4-8 and see how pleased you are with the results… but don’t be too disappointed… I mean, nobody’s perfect, right? Then replace it with Jesus’ name. It’s kind of corny, but I think it’s cool, and it definitely works.)

In recent weeks Chelsea and I have renewed our faith in Jesus Christ both together and separately. We both realize that as a building with no foundation, a relationship with no foundation will surely crumble swiftly and be swept away by the breeze. There’s nothing like a kick in the butt from the omniscient creator of the universe to humble a person. Which brings me full circle on the importance of reflecting ceaselessly on what truly matters in this life.

Our family has much to be thankful for, and many blessings to count. Not the least of which is our health, the help and support of our wonderful families, and each other. It is vital to reflect daily on the great things we have been blessed with, taking a step back from the tumultuous ephemera that would seek to take our focus away from what is truly important - our family and our partnership together. While the days and years seem to be getting shorter and shorter as time passes, you can bet that I will enjoy the good times while they are here, and try to keep an open heart and mind when times get tough.