One of the things I noticed before becoming a parent, is that almost everybody has an opinion on how to parent properly. From parenting books to early childhood development gurus, there are a lot of experts in the field of parenting that all seem to give their 2 cents on what makes for a perfect child.
I started to go down the rabbit hole of following these gurus, buying the books and practicing a variety of parenting methods before getting one piece of advice from a friend that really made a difference for me:
”Kids? They won’t break.” – Michael Jackson
No, not the dead pedophile – the ‘real’ Michael Jackson that I’ve had the privilege of knowing for nearly a decade, right here in Dallas, TX.
Mike’s advice wasn’t meant to say that kids can’t get hurt, but rather that kids are going to have their share of trips, stumbles and falls as they grow up, and there’s not much you can do about it as a parent. In an age where it seems like everything has to be sanitized, prayed over and touched by an angel before it comes into the hands or mouth of a child, I think it’s important to remember that a lot of kids used to play in dirty sandboxes…and they all turned out fine.
This afternoon, I took Atlas to one of our favorite playgrounds and we had the time of our lives exploring the playground(s), walking through nature trails, chasing birds as he tried to introduce himself to them; “I’m Atlas!” As he extends his hand and tries to shake hands with them…
The birds quickly fly away before he has the opportunity to reach them, but it never seems to curb his enthusiasm, or repeated attempts to ‘meet’ all of the birds he sees.
While I was pushing Atlas in a swing, I noticed a little blonde boy, who couldn’t have been more than a year and a half old, run over to one of the swings and try to climb into the swing. The boy made every effort to call out to his mom, who made every effort to get him to give up on the swing and come back to her; too busy in a conversation with a friend that spanned the entire time we were at the park.
When we arrived, the same Mom was asking other kids if they had seen her little boy…too engrossed in her conversation to even notice where he went. Some parents seem shocked when their children turn up missing, or are victims of abuse…well, this sort of parenting is how it happens – but that’s another blog for another time…
Myself and another Mom both looked at the child, and the Mom offered to help the boy into the swing. At that point, the seated mom got up from the bench in a furious huff, and stormed over to the swing to pick up her son.
”You’re really something.” She said, as she picked him up and put him into the swing.
That interaction infuriated me.
Yes, that boy is something…and its your job as a parent to show him that he’s worth spending time with…I thought to myself.
Her conversation partner followed her over to the swing and I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation – which sounded very similar…
”I don’t get enough me time….”
She didn’t even look at her child as she begrudgingly pushed him in the swing.
Meanwhile, I looked over and saw a Dad chasing his two kids throughout the playground, loudly laughing and playing hide and seek. The Dad was having the time of his life, and so were his kids.
Atlas had enough of the swing, and we both went off to explore the rest of the playground. While we played, I stopped by to chat with the Dad, extending a fist and telling him:
”Man, you are one bad dad.”
He greeted me with a smile as he saw my big “BADASS DAD” letters on my jacket and hat, hit the ‘rock’ and told me:
”Thanks, man. It all goes so fast and I try to treasure every moment I get.”
What he and I had in common was the absence of a wedding ring on our hands. Both single Dads. If he’s anything like me, I’m wagering this man had to pay thousands of dollars to the legal system for the ‘right’ to be a parent to his own children.
Two people can be in the same scenario and see the world around them entirely differently. He and I both wanted to be there with our kids, and understood the cost, value and fleeting nature of the moments we have with our offspring.
What’s the secret to being a great parent? Well, being a parent.
There’s a big difference between somebody that wears a pair of basketball shoes and a professional athlete; one makes it their external statement, while the other makes it their lifestyle, on and off the court.
Just like I no longer whine and cry that I’ve graduated from diapers, longing for the days where I soiled myself, I think it’s important to fully embrace the chapter of life that parenthood is. Being a parent means that you have a responsibility to put your children first.
The days of partying and play are over, and they’re supposed to be. Even when I’m away from Atlas, I try to remember that the way I spend my moments can and will impact him when I’m parenting him, and I can tell you that a parent who parties and goes out the night before they pick up their child doesn’t have a whole lot of themselves to offer their kids the day after…
Try being patient with a child when you’ve been out until 2am the night before…the child is the recipient of your choices, and they’re getting ‘what’s left’ instead of what has been invested with the way you spend your time.
As a parent, you have the role and responsibility to train up and discipline your child. Atlas isn’t obedient because he’s afraid that I’ll lose my cool if he acts up, he’s obedient because I proactively parent him and lead him in the way he should go.
There’s a really big difference between being a strict dictator, versus learning how to ‘steer’ your child into doing the right thing.
For example, Atlas used to fight getting into his car seat, and I found a really quick and easy way to remedy this.
When it’s time to go into the car, I let Atlas take a ‘ride’ on my back, and I open the car door, then back into the car and allow him to dismount me. That’s when he hears the exact same phrase:
”Ok, Atlas – it’s time go into your car seat. Crawl into your seat, please.”
Atlas gets about 10 seconds to crawl into his car seat. If he doesn’t, I gently pick him up and place him in the car seat to reinforce the fact that ‘it’s time’ really means ‘it’s time.”
Because I’m proactive, he’s learned that there isn’t a ‘plan B’ when it’s time to get into his seat. As a result, he gets into his car seat without any sense of fight or disagreement.
There’s also something to be said about what you say to your children when parenting. I make a conscious effort to start with “It’s time to go into your seat” – thus, establishing what is about to happen.
Next, I make sure that I clearly tell him the action that needs to take place:
”Crawl into your seat, please.”
There’s a major difference between those words and “Please get into your seat.” And even a child can tell the difference between a parent that’s begging them to do something, versus the parent that is being polite about the request being made.
Anytime I ask Atlas to do something, I always end it with “please” rather than using that as my opening plea. It works.
About a year ago, I was putting Atlas to sleep and it was one of those difficult moments where I was exhausted, worn down, discouraged and running on fumes. Nothing seemed to work and he continued to move and squirm around in bed, instead of falling asleep.
Wearily, I told him:
”Atlas…I’m too tired to fight you right now.” As he squirmed away from the pillow.
A light bulb went off, and I found a second wind I needed, before firmly saying:
“Atlas, you don’t fight your Dad. It’s time for bed. I love you, Goodnight.”
Within minutes, Atlas was asleep.
What happened in that moment was that I established who the parent was. Me.
As a parent, I think it’s very common to want your child to like you, be happy and avoid anything that resembles a tantrum. Yet, the way to accomplish this isn’t to let your child have free reign over you. Rather, you have to set the stage for the sort of behavior that you want to occur with your child, and be committed to standing fast, confident and strong even in the face of an upset child that isn’t getting their way.
Kids don’t need a best friend. They need a parent. And if kids had their way, they would have a diet of candy and ice cream instead of nutritious food.
Being an active parent is only of the most fun things you’ll ever experience in your life.
I’ve found a lot of different activities to do with Atlas. Most of these are free activities since I’m ‘balling on a budget’ as a single Dad, yet Atlas doesn’t notice or care about the cost. Rather, he finds joy in the moments we share, because we find a way to make each one special.
One of our favorite things to do is visiting “trash truck paradise” aka Republic Waste Services. Atlas is obsessed with Garbage trucks, and I make a regular visit to the local waste collection center where we park the car, get out and wait behind a wooden fence for the trash trucks to ‘come home’ at the end of the day. Safely behind the fence, we wait for the trash trucks to pull into the collection center and then eagerly motion for each truck to honk their horn.
As one truck drove past, the driver excitedly pulled his horn and filled the air with a loud blast, at which point Atlas absolutely lost his mind with joy; laughing and screaming “taaaaankuuuuu!’
Those moments touch me, as a Dad, and I felt hot tears running down my face as I smiled and waved at the driver. There was something so wonderful about the moment that I couldn’t help but become overwhelmed with emotion as I held my son, who was practically convulsing with joy and laughter as the driver pulled away.
Moments like that are priceless…and mean a lot more to me as a single Dad that’s doing everything he has with what he has to care for, feed and protect his Son.
After ‘paradise’, I took Atlas to the skate park and pushed him up and down the ramps in his little orange car. As we raced through the park, several older skaters gave fist bumps and shouted out to Atlas:
”Tear it up, man!”
Atlas screamed with joy as we sped down the concrete declines, slid his car on the grind rails and went back and forth on the quarter pipes, with him screaming “fakie!” Every time we went forwards, then backwards down the wooden ramp.
We stopped to chat with two younger skaters, who reached down and gave Atlas fist bumps as I caught my breath between our ramp runs.
“Are you ever going to get him a skateboard?” One asked.
“Man, look at his hat…of course he’s going to” the other one said.
Someday, Atlas will be big enough to get on a skateboard. And with that, he’s probably going to have his share of falls, scapes and spills. But that’s something I’ve already thought about, and know that the positives of him skating will far outweigh any negatives that could occur. It’s going to be my job to make sure that he’s as safe as possible whenever he gets on the board for the first time, just as it’s my job to make sure he’s equipped, educated and ready for the real world when he’s an adult.
I told those teenagers one thing before leaving:
”Whenever you two become a parent, I hope you remember that time like this is the most important thing you can give your kids. They don’t care what sort of job you have, or what you drive, or how successful of a career you have – your kids will remember the moments you were there for them. Oh, and here’s one secret: we never grow up…we just get older.”
“Hell yeah, man. I can’t wait.”
With that, we sped off and hit the grind rail one last time while Atlas raised his fist in the air.