Growing up as a child, my dad used to always tell me, “You know, you didn’t come with a manual.” It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I really understood the sentiment behind that saying. I remember that first day we brought our first child home from the hospital. My wife was exhausted and I was equal parts excited and terrified. Actually, that’s a lie. It was more like one part excited and nine parts terrified. I had a child, a beautiful perfect little baby girl, and I had no clue what to do next.
I thought it’d get easier, that I’d hit my parental groove and I’d suddenly feel like I knew how to be a dad. But the truth is every time I feel like I’ve got it figured out, my kids show me that I don’t. Not that being a dad isn’t great, it really is. I love those little people more than I ever imagined I could, but I do spend a lot of time at night worried that I’m screwing them up. Being a parent is a great lesson in humility, but I have found a few things that I think I’m doing right, and I wanted to share them in case they might help someone else.
1. Fake Interest In What They Say
Look, let’s be honest here. The 10th time your kid excitedly tells you about the bird they saw out in the backyard, it is hard to muster up the fake enthusiasm. I know it is for me. But I try to remember that that bird is something that my kid thought was important and exciting enough to talk to me about it, and I am interested in my kids. So, I do my best to fake interest. And my kids aren’t old enough yet, but I really hope the payoff here will come down the line, when I actually want my kids to come to talk to me about things that are important like sex and relationships and college and politics and comic books. Hopefully, by then, they’ll have a lifetime of experience knowing that if they come to Dad to tell him something, he is going to be interested in talking to them about it.
2. Discipline is Easier When You Spend More Time with Your Kids
Sometimes I swear my kids are deaf. I’ve tried so many things to get them to listen to me, but the one thing I’ve found most effective is doing more stuff with them. Then, when they are bad, I have something to take away and it makes sense. For example, every night after my sons have gone to bed, I read My Little Pony comic books with my oldest daughter. I started doing it with her as a way to get her excited about reading, and now it is just part of our routine. But when she’s being too whiny or crying too much, now I can say, “Look, you seem tired what with all the whining and crying and what not. We probably need to skip reading comics tonight so you can get some sleep.” And then she either pulls herself together and tries to express her frustration in a more appropriate way and we read comics, or she doesn’t and she goes to bed. It’s really amazing though, because it only works if I spend time with my kids, which is something that I enjoy (and should be) doing anyways.