Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
* To those who know me personally, this blog is going to come across as extremely hypocritical. Bear in mind that, while I’m encouraging others to follow these steps, I’m directing this advice at myself as well.
I fail at my job as parent pretty regularly. Every day, in fact. I yell too loudly, I laugh in my kids’ faces when they mispronounce words, I sometimes even forget that they’re due for an afternoon snack until we’re pushed right up against dinner and it’s too late. But since I still show up for my “job” the next day, no matter what, I think I’m on the path to ultimate success. I also believe that my tendency to scrutinize myself, while occasionally leading to personal anguish, yields a self-aware, prepared father at the end of the day. At least I hope so.
Naturally, the road to self-improvement goes through self-awareness. So, I decided to come up with a list of potentially harmful common themes I’m finding in my own life, and quite frankly, in the lives of too many parents.
Here are the most direct ways I think we can ensure we don’t miss our children growing up while we’re busy doing too much:
Put Down the Camera
Look, I get it. I’m guilty of it myself. But your kid doesn’t want every waking hour of his/her life dedicated to film. And if they do, you’re raising a narcissist (or a reality TV star). There are certainly times when I hover over my son like the paparazzi in hopes of a magical moment. But neither of us are enjoying it as I’m stressing over getting the perfect shot, already thinking ahead to the Instagram filter that will go best with my masterpiece. In the end, my kid gives less than a sh*t about social media and much more about me playing with him, hands-free. And another thing, not every single picture you take of your child is post-worthy. Trust me on this. I’ve had to remind myself on Christmas morning to put down my phone and/or camcorder to focus more on enjoying the look on their faces and less on documenting it.
Stop Cleaning Up
I hate cleaning an entire roomful of toys after my sons are finished wreaking havoc on it. So what I often find myself doing is shadowing my kids, picking up things and putting them away not even a minute after my boys have moved onto another toy. I do it for two reasons: one, to avoid having a much larger mess to clean later and two, to avoid the inevitable struggle of convincing my kid to clean it up himself. I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens. And I need to stop. If even ¼ of the time I spend with my kids is taken up by snapping pictures and clearing the floor, am I really spending time with them?
Talk to Them at Length
You’ll find that if you do too much of bullets 1 and 2 listed above, you’ll have less time for this. I’ve discovered some of the most fascinating things about my children by simply asking them follow-up questions about their day, what they dreamed about, their fears, etc. Sometimes if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Probing your children for further information is like listening to a musical artist’s entire album, rather than just the singles. You’re bound to find a gem or two.
Let Them Fail
I’ve written about this in the past, but kids need to know what it feels like to fail. It’s the only way they’ll be motivated to succeed. I’ve spotted my older son trying to tie his shoes at age 3 a few times. I knew full well he wasn’t going to make it happen, and initially tried to step in. But more and more, I’ve been letting him try to figure things out on his own. I like to think it stimulates his brain and encourages self-empowerment. The one downside is it also leads to frustration, but it’s worth the risk.
No Phone Zone
Like anyone with an iPhone, a constant battle for me is Joe vs. the perpetual social media tick. Instinctively, we pull out our phones when we’re in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Or when we’re on a dreadfully boring conference call. Or, sometimes we even take it out as an escape from the chaos of our routine, daily lives. It becomes a problem when it’s interfering with our parenting, specifically when your son or daughter actually calls you out on being on the phone too much. Whether it’s for work, play, or a simple check because you *gasp* heard a notification sound go off, don’t overdo it. I know I’d hate for my kids to grow up thinking, “Dad was here, but he really wasn’t here most of the time.”
I suppose the best advice I can give you is the advice I try to follow everyday: The most important gift you can give your children is your time. Surely, there will be days when we snap one too many pictures or we get so distracted by our own thoughts that we don’t even listen as they gleefully regale us with a story about a new friend they made at school. But if we make a concerted effort to live in the moment and give our kids the attention they deserve, I have a feeling we’ll look back on these years with significantly more pride than if we hadn’t. After all, no one ever looked back wishing they spent less time with their kids and more time with their iPhone.
If you enjoyed this, check out a previous post I wrote about choosing my kids over an iPhone app and what made me wake up.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to tweet me @JoeDeProspero or add a comment below! I also welcome email, and have been blown away by the effort readers have put into their messages to me. The greatest gift a writer can receive is knowing he/she made an impact on a reader’s life. Keep them coming!
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