A newborn wish revisited
Nearly 13 years and what amounts to a virtual lifetime of memories and moments ago, I wrote a column as an expectant first-time father.
I remember being filled with an abundance of anxious energy at the time, trying to prepare myself both physically and mentally for this unknown world of parenthood. My words were honest and from the heart, but in retrospect, completely speculative, innocent and even naive.
Long story short, I had no idea what was to come. This incredibly special, life-affirming journey has been a true blessing to our family in ways I could have never imagined. Easy? Absolutely not. Complicated? Without question. Challenging? Always. I wouldn’t change a thing, though.
We are now days away from bringing our fourth child into this crazy world. The nerves and eager anticipation are as strong as ever. A bit older, possibly wiser and hopefully more prepared, I do feel like I am able to speak from experience and give some more realistic advice — both real-world and sports applicable — as a dad simultaneously reminiscing and looking forward to this new chapter.
As a parent…
1) You don’t have all the answers. It’s common for a young mom, dad, teacher, coach, etc. to try and solve everything instantaneously. Truth be told, many of the solutions we seek take time or help from others — if not a little of both. The benefit of hindsight is a blessing, but oftentimes, failure or struggle is required first. Instead of getting discouraged, get better and treat it as a learning experience.
2) Your motivation isn’t always their motivation. We all have a personal vision for our children: success in school, in athletics, in other extra-curricular activities. It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that kids can and will find inspiration without your influence. Yes, you can steer them in certain directions or expose them to opportunities that may unlock the passion you pictured. In the grand scheme of things, though, they’ll start to find their likes and loves without you. At the end of the day, you can’t ”want” it for them. Hard truth.
3) Each child is different. Parenting, like teaching, coaching or anything else, is fluid. There are no set of iron-clad rules that will work the same on all kids. Reactions vary, and depend on so many variables. I’ve always been amazed — and a little overwhelmed — by the differences in our children, given my wife and I have, for the most part, been consistent in the way we parent. Spend time on what amounts to relatively controllable aspects of their life — morals, attitude, character — and look for similarities there, instead of comparing their accomplishments and ambition (especially to each other).
4) Sometimes, you have to let them make their own mistakes. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. My tolerance and patience for our kids doing the wrong thing is very short, especially when I can see a self-imposed error coming. It’s not always our job as parents, though, to help young men and women avoid all of life’s wrong turns. From time to time, we all have to take our lumps based on our own shortcomings. I tend to try and clean up a mess before it becomes a bigger mess, but it’s not always wise to intervene. Easier said than done, I know, but there are situations where it’s better to just be there for them than attempt to solve their problems.
5) Respect for authority and each other is as important as ever. Our society is sorely lacking here. As parents, we have to be more cognizant of how we treat the other adults in our lives. Our kids are watching, and often mimic our behavior. Overall, we’re not setting a very good example in civility, maturity, sympathy or trustworthiness. It’s not up to children to find proper perspective or a sense of understanding. Take a step back, a deep breath, and ask yourself if the argument is really worth the effort in the grand scheme of things. The benefit of the doubt has become a lost art. In the wise words of Norman Cousins, ”Life is an adventure in forgiveness.”
6) Personal accountability and responsibility are important, but so is patience and understanding. Another difficult balance. Again, adults have the benefit of time and experience on their side. I tend to forget that I wasn’t so mindful or mature about handling situations the right way at 12 years old, or even 22. Most of us weren’t. We have a selective memory when it comes to the successes and failures of our youth. There will be good days and bad; right decisions and wrong. Try to find the teaching moments and be consistent, so that your kids will know they can count on you even in times of trouble.
7) Don’t let the grind get in the way of the moments. Relatively speaking, the last 12 years have been a blur. I’m sure the next 12 will be, too. It’s important to slow things down and appreciate what you have in the present. Every age and every stage is a blessing for its own reasons. Don’t wish it away. Take time to talk, listen, laugh, have fun, and make the most of the best and the worst. Kids don’t need or expect perfection. They just want you to be there for them.
I ended my first piece as a soon-to-be parent in 2005 by saying, ”My hope is that one day, the kids will dust the years off this old column, pat me on the back and say, ‘you know dad, you and mom did a pretty good job.”’
Through all the years and changes and advice I’d give to my younger self if given the chance, that wish remains.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MessengerSports