Present and Accounted ForJuly 23, 2006
I think one of the reasons I enjoying parenting so much is there is always more to learn. There are new challenges around every corner. Since your child is constantly growing and changing, the brilliant parenting revelation you had yesterday may be useless today. O.K...that doesn't sound like a lot of fun, but it is...really.
Here's something I've learned over this summer: taking Ben somewhere is not the same as going with him somewhere. Taking Ben to the movies is not the same as going with Ben to the movies. I'm not referring to whether I drop him off or stay physically, I'm talking about whether I'm actually there when I stay.
All of us have a sense of parental guilt - we want to be the best parents we can be and we usually think we're falling short. The most obvious way to meet the minimum parenting requirement is to do things with our kids.
Here's where we so often go wrong. In modern America, spending time with our children is just another way of saying take them someplace. It could be the park down the street, the neighborhood pool, a water park, ballpark, fast food restaurant, ice cream shop, mall, movie theatre, friend's house, toy store, or even vacation. There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, and Ben and I have had great fun doing all of them. Many of these excursions, though, are just the path of least resistance - in other words, lazy parenting. It's the parental equivalent of a bad diet. Are the kids having fun? Of course. Did they want to go see a movie? Certainly. Does that mean we should have burgers and fries for dinner every night? Uh, no.
Somehow, we think we've fulfilled our parental obligation by just driving our children from one place to another. Some of the most neglected kids are never more than 5 feet from a parent, but the parent isn't really there. How many bored children have you seen in the backseat of a car while a parent talks on the cell phone? Naturally, we've come up with a solution to this problem - we've put televisions in the car. Now, everyone can coexist without the risk of interacting.
I'm amazed at often I see a parent pull up to a park, get out with the kids, send them to the playground, and then sit on a bench and talk on a cell phone (or read email) until it's time to leave. The interaction consists of a couple of hand motions, a head shake, and a "C'mon, it's time to go." It's as if we're padding our parental resumes:
June 2005 - August 2006 Led over 20 outdoor excursions to local family-friendly destinations.
Even funnier (well, not really) is that these same outings are then used as an excuse for more bad parenting when we get home. "Why don't you watch a movie or something. I need a break after spending all morning at the park."
I can take Ben to a baseball game, have a "good time", and even buy him a $5 ice cream sandwich, and never truly interact with him. I can go for a long walk and spend the entire time thinking about work. It is so easy to fake being a good parent. How many times have I stared at the computer screen, appearing to listen to his latest story idea? And how often have I gladly allowed him to watch one more show or play one more video game because it's a lot easier than actually pouring myself into him.
The lengthy resume isn't the measure of a good parent. It's the letters of recommendation from the ones who you taught and loved and walked alongside, each and every day.