[WiP] Being a Parent
I’ve wanted to write this since the birth of our first child. Now that we have welcomed our third and final child (factory is closed), I think it is time. I’m making it a work in progress page so I can add on as I remember things.
Don’t give uninvited advice to other parents
Since I’m not forcing you to read this article, I’ll argue that I’m not breaking this promise. Early on I realized that I didn’t like being lectured by other parents. It was often done in a talk-don’t-listen manner which was frustrating. Ever since, I’ve been reluctant to give other parents advice even when they ask directly. When forced, I will encourage them to adopt an trial-and-error / experimenting approach. Without replicating the whole context, it will be impossible/difficult to take anyone’s advice directly.
Decide your future
Agree with your partner (or yourself for singles) what kind of family you want and what kind of relationship you want with your children. And what kind of standard of behavior do you want to hold your children to (and by relation, yourself). You need to decide whether manners are important, screen time, etc and hold yourself to those decisions. Otherwise, the situational dynamic will take over. Are you willing to pickup everything and leave if your children aren’t listening/are misbehaving? Discussing and agreeing with yourself/your partner is key in advance and as you learn and adopt your parenting over time.
Early on, my wife and I agreed that more than anything we wanted to help our children become good people who are contributors to society. And that we wanted to have a fun family environment (doing things together, talking and sharing). That choice has influenced how we discipline and what standards we hold ourselves and them to.
Read and consider
These are the books that helped me a lot so far. I’ve found that I will go through period where things work pretty well and then suddenly things will stop working, and that is where looking, considering and reading can help to experiment and find new ways to approach the new dynamics.
- The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be by Armin A. Brott (goodreads.com)
- Raising Lions by Joe Newman (goodreads.com)
- The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam (goodreads.com)
- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker (goodreads.com)
- Cats in the Cradle on Spotify
Find parents that you respect to ask advice
While google is amazing, it can also be horribly confusing. Lots of people use content to promote or sell views/products/services and that dilutes the value of advice on the internet. I have a good relationship with my parents and respect their views on parenting, so when I’m stuck or looking for a different viewpoint, I will raise it during a call with my parents. We also have a few family friends who have good relationships with their children and I will ask their opinions. I don’t agree with everything they share, but it helps me understand different options and consider what makes sense.
It won’t make sense
Get comfortable with the fact that most of the time things won’t make sense when dealing with your children. They are completely different people who will go through various stages of development without warning or instructions. The best solution is to adopt a trial and error process. Try something, see if it works, and keep at it. Most problematic families that we meet are that way because the parents stopped trying.
Expect that you will make incremental, meandering progress towards the future that you want. It won’t be a straight, planned journey.
Your life is different
So many people told me that things will change with kids but nothing really made sense until it happened. I wouldn’t say your life changes but is completely different. I see a lot of people struggle because they try to holdon to parts of their past lives as a parent. It’s stressful enough being a parent and trying to maintain your old life at the same time is impossible. Something will have to give. Instead, start creating a new life each day as your child grows and your family dynamic evolves.
Your individual needs are important, kind of…
You do need to take care of yourself and you need to help your child understand others feelings but you also are living for them, to protect them. It’s a different kind of life.
Frustrating motivation to change
You will be motivated to change and your partner will want you to. It won’t make it easier.
You will get angry and do/say things you regret
You will make mistakes. The important part is what you do after. What you show your children is what they will learn to do.
Your priorities don’t matter any more
When you are single, your own priorities and desires dominate your thinking and choices. When you are married, you are forced to consider the interests of the other person with an ultimatum of sorts: ‘if you want this marriage to last, you must consider my interests as well as your own and make compromises/trade offs’. When you have children, your priorities are no longer your own. You make choices based on what is best for your family (and those items you decided above under ‘Decide your Future’).
This too is a choice. You can choose to continue to focus on your own self-interest when married and with kids. But don’t be surprised when your partner divorces you (or cheats on you) and your children hate you. After all, they are following your example and prioritizing their own self-interest.
Be a bumper not an airbag
Your kids will do things you never expect. Good things and bad things. That is how they learn. No matter how much we explain to them as parents, many things they will need to experience to understand and to decide for themselves. You can help them by being a bumper so the worst of mistakes are buffered. Yet you don’t want to be an airbag, over reacting for every small bump in the road. Maybe not the best analogy now that I’ve written it…
Experiment constantly and “hold” indefinitely
Sometimes nagging works, its easy. Sometimes threats work, they are tricky as you need to be willing to follow through. And it’s a never ending process, what your child responds to today may not work tomorrow, so holding onto techniques doesn’t work. You need to grow and experiment just as quickly as your child does.
You can make them hate you
Your children are separate people subject to random complexity of their DNA and all kinds of influences from their environment and social groups. Thus, as a parent, you can’t really control what happens. You can try and hope for the best but even your most carefully laid plans are likely to fail. You can’t guarantee that based on how you raise them that your children will love you.
There are many things that you can do that will guarantee that they will hate you. A not exhaustive list:
- Inconsistent and random physical/verbal punishment.
- One sided rules without context.
- Power leverage where you use your superior position as a controlling parent to force your child to do things that they disagree with.
- All work and no play.
- All play and no work.
- Protecting them from everything.
- Protecting them from nothing.
Technology today is meaningless for their tomorrow
Think about how much technology has changed within our lifetimes? Our children will go through an even more accelerated cycle. So ensuring that they are tablet-ready and know how to swipe and pinch is of limited long term value to them. We cannot imagine the kind of tech skills needed in their future. We can imagine that they will need to be willing and able to learn new skills and explore new technology when it comes along. If you give your child a smartphone or tablet do it for a reason that aligns with your objectives not out of fear that they won’t sipe well enough in their future…
Every tech billionaire mindlessly pursues immortality while ignoring their family and the worlds children. Yet true immortality doesn’t require a new drug, cloning or fancy database. It’s our children. They carry on who we are today, learn, grow and adopt to what the world is tomorrow. Just as our personalities evolve over time, react to trauma and change, so too will our children end up different to ourselves. Yet still a part of us carries on.
Invest in helping our children become better versions of ourselves; better people; to eachother. That process over thousands of years has brought us here today. Immortality of our ideals.
Holding a sleeping child
The best thing in the world. As a parent when your child sleeps in your arms, there is something amazing unlocked inside. Watching another person in such comfort and peace is humbling and energizing at the same time.
Fortunately and unfortunately they do eventually wake up and the chaos starts again.
You get the children you get
We often hear people say that you get the children you deserve. That isn’t true, you get the children you get. It’s then up to you.
Even the ‘perfect’ parent has difficult children. Or better said, children are complex people and don’t respond predictably as they grow and become more of who they are. So even the most well intentioned parental actions can fail. Children are human and humans are a combination of DNA, random mutations, experiences and trauma.
Good parent vs Bad parent
A ‘good’ parent keeps trying, experimenting and doesn’t expect their child to be a certain way ‘because I’ve done everything!’. They expect their child to be complex, broken and amazing. Just like all of humanity. A good parent enjoys the process of helping guide a new human into the world; hopes they turn out okay; and understands if they don’t.
A ‘bad’ parent is one that expects consistency and compliance.
So, as with any complex system, being a good parent doesn’t mean you will have ‘great’ kids and being a bad parent doesn’t mean you will have ‘horrible kids’.
I think being a good parent is just more fun and less stressful. Being a bad parent just seems like a lot of work and frustration.
You will become familiar with vomit and poo
It’s hard to accurately describe how much stuff can fit in a small child’s tummy and with the right squeeze, sickness or cough, how it all comes out like a )(broken) fountain. Normally you are in the middle of that flow. This won’t be especially horrifying for you. It’s often funny.
I think we unconsciously accept the reality that this isn’t a choice of the child. Vomit and poo come as part of the package. And when the source doesn’t have choice in the matter, its much easier to accept it and move on.
Double up new hobbies
Children change your life and replace your discretionary time. Often parents cling to their hobbies by eating into their sleep time. That only works so long or for so much. Kids really do break you and form you back stronger or different.
Instead of fighting it, go with the flow. Learn the languages your children learn. Learn to draw when they learn to draw. If you double up the hobbies with them, you won’t spend so much time on your phone waiting for their lessons to finish. You will also have less frustration with all those things ‘you could be doing now!’.