Over the years of fathering, I've noticed a sickness that spreads through our children quicker than rotavirus. Liz and I are immune to it, and this may be (although this is not scientific, merely experiential) more prevalent in the house filled with four daughters than it is with four sons.
Usually for this virus to spread through the family, one of the older children must get it first. It begins harmless enough and may even seem a bit isolated. The first symptoms are usually whining over something innocuous, like the back of an earring is lost, or an article of clothing is not clean, or one is merely a wee bit hungry (like it's 11:05, and lunch is at 11:30).
This is how it spreads through our family:
Whining begins and quickly devolves into tears. If Child A is not quarantined immediately, the virus will spread, though it will remain dormant until Child A has recovered.
Then, symptoms pop up in Child B soon thereafter. And usually Child B shows no symptoms of whining, her body begins immediately convulsing in tears, over yet another minor infraction.
Similarly, Child C is stricken only when Child B has recovered.
Warning: There is no immunity to this, so that at anytime, Child A or Child B could come down with this virus as soon as 5 minutes following recovery.
This cycle could last for hours, with brief periods of enforced peace (kid sent to room or outside, weather depending). What's worse is when the younger ones get this virus, the ones with whom there is no reasoning. Because when they get sick, it can last for hours, ending only with nap time or bedtime. Though there have been rare reports where a simple distraction works.
This virus is always lingering just beneath the surface. It is simply known as Crying.
A lot of times, major symptoms of the virus are:
There is no immunization to this. One can only hope that within the next twenty years their bodies will be able to fight against it.
Parents, while they aren't stricken with the virus, do exhibit side effects from being so close to exposure. Usually this can be cured by child bedtime and a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.
What’s my priority in life? What’s the most important thing? When I die, what am I going to regret that I did or didn’t do?
I find my thoughts leaning this way lately, probably because of the New Year beginning, maybe because I’m in a pensive mood, or maybe because I’m in the midst of a midlife crisis, who knows.
There may be a misconception that I’m only a stay-at-home Dad because I can’t find a job. That’s somewhat true, but the reality is that if I weren’t the stay at home parent, my wife would be. She just happened to find the job outside of the home first, and I haven’t been able to find one as good. If I do, the roles will reverse.
Sometimes people might say, “Oh, that’s so nice that you can homeschool. That’s so lucky that you can have one parent stay at home with the kids.”
While that may be true in the sense that we are blessed that my wife has a job that makes (mostly) enough to cover all the bills, the reality is that we have to sacrifice a lot to make this happen (and it doesn’t always happen). I won’t go into it, but I’m sure you can imagine the many things we are not able to do because of our choice to have four children and have a parent stay at home with them. I guess it’s obvious that we don’t really see these peripheral things as being that important to us. Otherwise, perhaps we would make different life choices.
It all comes down to priorities.
This is the way it is for most people, I know. For the people who take family trips every year or invest in a large house or put in an in-ground pool or send their kids to private school, that’s their priority, that’s where they feel their family will benefit. I would not say to them, “Wow, you are really lucky” to do that. Those people have worked hard to make those things happen. And I’m sure they had to sacrifice things in life to do that.
I’m not a resolution type of person, but if I were, I would say that this year I want to make sure that I’m making the choices and choosing the priorities that are the best for my family. My wife and I have to ask ourselves, what will benefit our children the most? What do they need? For, if they were given to us, the expectation is that we must find out what they need, what will help them grow, what will make them thoughtful, caring, God-honoring adults.
What’s most important for a kid?
Is it putting them to bed at 7:00 or spending more time with them? Is it sending them to an institutional school or homeschooling? Is it being in gymnastics or playing on a soccer team? Are academics more important than learning empathy and compassion?
The battle for The Most Important Thing is constantly at play. My goal is to honestly and continually challenge myself to make the best decisions that I can at the moment that will hopefully set a foundation for our children that will carry them into the future.
Sometimes when I've told people my situation in life, the one where I would like to have a job, but I'm really a stay at home dad, I get a well-meaning response similar to this one:
"Oh, well you're such a good father! Your girls are so lucky!"
And, while this may sound good and encouraging, it's really pretty useless. There are a lot of good fathers with jobs that make enough money to support their wife and children. I don't see how being a good father must exclude me from employment.
(As a side note: I love being home with my girls. And if I were able to choose a situation I would love to be able to work from home and make enough money so that my wife wouldn't have to work. So this is not about me wanting to "get away" from my children. It is about me wanting to fulfill the dream of my wife - to stay at home with the kids. But back to the post at hand.)
It's easy to look at the bright side of things for someone else's problem.
I mean, you tell me your problem, and I (in my infinite objectivity), can see the potential or long-term good in it. I can tell you, with very little effort, actually, what lesson you are probably going to learn or what positive effects there will be.
In discussing this with my wife, she admitted that she has a bad habit of doing this. She says that it comes from a place of wanting to encourage me (or whomever) and trying to cheer me up.
I gave her a hint and I told her that it doesn't encourage me or cheer me up. In fact, sometimes it's downright irritating. Theories and philosophies on life do nothing for those who are struggling.
There's a reason the Bible says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Wisdom from Romans.
But, also, I guess there is the verse (if we are playing Bible Verse War), that says "A man's wisdom gives him patience, it is his glory to overlook an offense." Wisdom from Proverbs.
So... I suppose I should overlook this offense, realizing that it comes from "a good place."
Why I bother to write this though, is not to complain, although that may be what it seems like, but to remind you that when people have problems, it's far better to just commiserate.
You could share a beer or a cup of coffee or something. Maybe this is a man thing. Maybe it's just me. I really don't know.
I'm not saying that encouragement is bad, but at times it can come across as condescending. In the end, I need to just be content in my situation, and that is something I need to work on. Not to sound belligerent, but no one giving me "advice" can change my perspective. I must.
I think I just want to explain how I feel without someone "correcting" my feelings (whether or not my feelings are right, wrong, true, a lie, or whatever.)
In the end, I love my children. I love when our family is together and at home. I do love being with them during the week when my wife is at work. As I get older, I am beginning to learn to savor these days. They will not be with me forever. When they are gone, they will be like the passing of a loved one. When they pass, I will miss them. I will mourn them. And I will not look on the bright side of their leaving.
When I was a child and would do something wrong, a punishment I frequently received was to write. Yes, the humor of this is not lost on me, and while my mom did not let me write whatever I wanted, it still sparked something in me. And perhaps it led me to see that a way of relieving tension or anger was putting pen to paper, which led me on a lifelong pursuit of the craft of storytelling. Made it so that I feel compelled to write and can’t help but do it. In that sense I could see that maybe her punishment was really a gift. (If you know my wife, you know that this is something that she would say.)
Or, (and this is more something that I would say) it was really the ultimate punishment, like this quote I put on facebook a few days ago:
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker
Or, it was just a tool that hopefully made me stop calling my brother an idiot.
Whatever the case may be, I figured out a creative punishment last night for my daughter who hates math. She had a bad attitude and was being defiant, and so I made her do a math worksheet.
Some of you may think that I’m ruining her future as a mathematician, but I can assure you that she’s more than likely not going to go that route anyway. And anyway, my mom made me write sentences, and look at me now! I write sentences all the time, and I really enjoy it!
So along that line of thought, maybe she WILL be a mathematician, and she’ll have me (and her bad attitude) to thank.
Creative punishments. Think one up for your kid today.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.