The P Word

Muddling my way through parenting

Archive for the tag “reality”

The echo is too loud

I went to have a haircut on Saturday, and I didn’t like it. The haircut itself was ok (well, at least my wife thinks so) but there’s something else that comes with the territory at a barber’s shop: the mirror. The dreaded mirror.

mirrorI can gladly get through most of life without having to look in the mirror too often. I usually get ready for work in the semi-darkness before the rest of the family stirs, so I manage to avoid the reflection in the full-length mirror attached to the front of my bedroom wardrobe. I’m not trying to confess some deep-seated insecurity here, but there’s something about mirrors which makes me a little uneasy. So having to effectively stare at myself while there’s a haircut going on up top for 10-15 minutes is akin to mild torture.

And then there’s my kids. As a parent, I don’t need any mirrors around to regularly catch an all-too-familiar reflection of myself. Even though it’s not always a bad thing, it’s inescapable. My children echo everything about me.

I’m sure some of it is because of biologically inherited characteristics, but I’m no genetics expert and as the years pass I see more and more of myself in how they speak, behave, spend their time, etc, etc …

Words

It’s not just the vocabulary they use, it’s the tone of voice. My kids are an almost perfect echo of what I say and how I talk. Perhaps that’s something I should celebrate, because it demonstrates that I really enjoy talking with my children. They entertain, inspire and educate me in conversations every day. They also learn to copy me. Which is fine … most of the time.

I generally succeed in avoiding to swear within earshot, but that’s not the whole story. As well as the laughter and my poor quality impressions, they also pick up on the despairing tone, the frustration, even the anger. The echo that comes back at me is not always pleasant listening.

Actions

The latest trick that my children have learned is to copy some of my odd little mannerisms. The two current favourites are the glasses-off-tired-eyes-rub and the downward-face-wipe, which I know are both signs of weariness. Does this mean that I’m not at my alert best when with the kids, or just that time with them it totally exhausting? Probably a bit of both.

Either way, I need to watch how I act and react in their presence. One of my biggest weaknesses is road rage. I have no patience with careless/ungrateful/inconsiderate drivers. I regularly fail to hide this even with my kids in the car. Whatever my children are learning from seeing me like that, it’s not good.

Values/Attitudes

This is the big one, and the scariest. Although other family members, friends and teachers all play their part in forming my children’s systems of values and beliefs, I know that it’s predominately down to us as parents. My attitude towards other people (see the road rage reference above!), my religions beliefs, my care (or lack of) for the planet, my use of time, my use of money, my positive/negative outlook on life.

It’s all already there. Every day, everything that I say/do/think is gradually seeping in to my children’s lives as they spend time with me, watch me, learn from me, listen to me, and mirror me.

Sometimes, it fills me with parental pride. At other times, the echo is too loud.

Coming next: I’m drafting a post about becoming middle-aged. But I want to know when you think that phase of life begins. If you had to put an age on it, when would it be? Please take part in my Facebook poll here. Thanks!

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Living the dream?

I’m generally quite a mild-mannered bloke, but sometimes it takes just a few short words to get me really riled.

‘Living the dream’ is one such phrase. Maybe just because I think it wreaks of American sensationalism, but perhaps more justifiably because it’s simply not possible. You can never actually ‘live’ a dream. Living is reality; dreaming is fantasy. Perhaps there are indeed times in our lives when it feels a bit like we are doing just that – but I’d argue that they are incomplete dreams, or transitory moments which finish as soon as we dare to believe that it our lives are indeed dream-like.

‘Watch this space’ is another phrase that ‘gets my goat’ (now there’s a better quality example of characterful language). What space? How long do I have to watch for? I’ll move on before my blood pressure rises too high …

But I’m an optimist at heart, honest. So if living the dream is indeed an impossible dream, what steps can we take towards that aspiration?

To re-define the debate (if that’s allowed at this post-rant stage) perhaps it’s better to talk in terms of turning vision into reality. That’s a much more palatable phrase. It’s language that crops up in all walks of life. At my work, we run an event for church leaders all about turning vision into action. When my wife and I walked into the house we now own, we had the same vision for the project which we later embarked on to revive a tired, unloved shell of a house (described to me recently as ‘the brown house’) and turn it into a proper family home.

The vision

And last night my wife turned a bit of her personal vision into reality. To help her through the unwanted side-effects of pregnancy she took up knitting to restore a bit of sanity. A few months down the line and she was hooked (if you’ll excuse the crochet pun, for those in the know) – a fully-fledged enthusiast. But it didn’t stop there. She began to dream of turning her new interest into more than just a hobby. Plans for a high street haberdashery started to take root, but as a first step she decided to start online. And just over 24 hours ago, The Yarn Barn went live. It’s the start of a journey, but a start nonetheless.

So what has all this got to do with parenting, you may ask.

I’m sure we all had our dreams of what parenthood would be. Perhaps it’s slipping into lazy stereotype mode to suggest that many women would have dreamt of that first babe-in-arms moment, while blokes would have looked forwards to having a kick-about in the back garden with their son (or daughter).

As great as those moments are (yes, we may even experience that passing sensation of ‘living the dream’!) any parent knows that the reality is quite different. We don’t look forward to exhaustion accompanied by short tempers. Sending your child to the thinking step – or at least the behaviour that prompts such disciplinary measures – is something that surely happens only in nightmares, not dreams.

The reality?

But there is hope. Earlier this summer, despite the complexities, my wife and I had a shared vision of how we wanted our family holiday to be. Our main objective was survival (of course), but to help us on the way we decided that we would only carry out child-instigated (or at least child-focused) ideas or activities. We wanted to live life at their pace, not try and force our own agenda on our little companions. Productivity went out of the window. The to-do list was usurped from its usual role in my life as judge, jury and executioner. (There’s more on the benefits of this approach in a previous post.)

And the result? We had a ball. Our two weeks of family holiday did still have the occasional moments of exasperation, but the over-riding memory is one of fun and laughter. We had to make a few sacrifices along the way, and everything took at least three times longer than it might have done if we crammed our own plans into the day as well. But was it worth it? By ‘eck, of course it was!

So, are you living the dream? Probably not, unless you’re a resident of cloud-cuckoo-land. But are there a few small things that would make your vision of parenting a bit more real once again?

Now, where’s that football …

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