If we were having coffee right now,
Presumably we would ask each other things about who we are, and what we’re about. Perhaps we would do our best to phrase questions in an inviting fashion, and smile supportively, to try to get each other to talk a bit more about what it is that’s important to us. And today, for me, that would mean telling you about my relationship with my kid.
The logic is simple – he’s out of town with my parents (God, Odin and Jesus bless them) for the weekend… and I miss him. This is actually a bit of a turnaround for me: the idea of missing one’s offspring, as opposed to feeling relieved to be freed from one’s duties for the weekend… It’s taken me a while to get to this point, the point where my son is less of a responsibility – and more of just a wonderful individual that I am thrilled to be getting to know.
To all the other 17 year old dads out there
When he was born, for those who don’t know me or haven’t read my backstory-posts (lol) I was in highschool. 17, to be specific. You know that new ‘better sex ed’ curriculum that is being teased out by the provincial (Ontario) liberals? Yeah, well … I could probably have used that in my life …
Sometimes I meet other kids with names like “Moon River Dawson” or something, and “I’m like, Oh, I see your parents were teenagers too.” Haha. No really though, names like that are not boring, are pretty cool actually.
So anyway, I got to have the full teen parent experience. The stigmatism, I found, was applied mainly to his mother – she was the one who was judged as ‘that girl who got knocked up in highschool.’ I, on the other hand, was lauded as “a standup guy who had a baby in highschool and stuck around.” His mother and I were both to blame for poor contraceptive choices, and both devoted to making his life a positive one despite our age and maturity levels, so the unfairness of how people treated us differently was hard for her.
Funny enough though, it was balanced by the reactions of our families. She came from a family of 7 girls, 3 of which had gone through the same ordeal: to her family it was “Hey, join the club!” For my family – who had hoped I would end up as a teacher or lawyer, and leave their house by the age of 25 – the news was devastating. I will always remember my staunch grandmother crying as she lectured me, “How could you give in to temptation? YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!!!!” (I have never found out what that actually meant, but apparently I was no longer the chosen one.) That said, my other grandmother – a bit more worldly, and also more aware of my relationship with the baby-momma at the time – heard the news, raised an eyebrow, and said “Well what did you Think would happen??”
At least the transition was easy – from living with my parents in highschool, to living with my child, his mother, and my parents, to eventually having my son live with my parents and I – though he still sees his mother regularly, has a good relationship with her, and she and I remain on cordial terms. My parents have gone above and beyond in terms of spending time with my child, constant babysitting, and allowing me to still have dreams and a social life. Meanwhile, being a dad has allowed me to do all the things that adults should do more but feel self conscious about – like build sandcastles, climb trees, blow bubbles and chase them around, and play on playgrounds – and its been great. Albeit not necessarily easy…
And then the hard part: Parenting
I had always wanted to be a father: but parenting did not start out as easy to me. Initially, wanting to live my life, I left more of my child’s care to my parents: true, he was only a baby – and they were thrilled to spend as much time with them as possible, and have made great sacrifices for him – but I now regret some of the time I could have spend familiarizing the infant with the sound of my voice and face.
Later, as he began to grow, I began getting to know the guy – but I was approaching him from the perspective of “I am the father, I am here to have fun with him – but also train him for harsh life.” My son is a willfull child, and with my approach of “I know what’s best for you” I often pushed harder than I should have – well meaning pushes in the right direction, but he quickly learned to dig in his heels. Anything I would push him towards doing, no matter how much he would usually have enjoyed it, he would flatly refuse to consider. I suppose this was him building up a defense mechanism to defend his 2 year old individualism and sense of control over his own life – and I respect that now. But it made things hard.
“My Will Be Done!”
It was a long time before I could start accepting that he was not, and never would be, another version of me – only of himself. Sure, it sounds intuitive, but it’s so easy to fall into the old “I did this son, and I liked it, so to be validated in my eyes you need to do it to.” It took a long time for me to figure out, too, that I needed to treat him as a partner – and not a patient – in his own care. When something is good (or not so good) for him, I have learned to explain to him the rationale and allow him to accept the initiative, and when he makes compromises – as he so often does – to accept them if they do not impede the benefit of the lesson, even if they do not fit my agenda. This, dear blogivores, has taken a long time – and when I’m a bit short on sleep, I tend to forget this modus operandi, occasionally even throwing the two of us back into one of our hellbent epic battles of his early 2s and 3s.
Worst of all – or perhaps just closer to the centre of it all -was that it was a long time before I could stop seeing him from a perspective of fear. I wanted to ensure he had all the tools for life, and lived in fear that if I didn’t push him to do the right things, he might risk ending up unhappy or unsuccessful. For example, if he would want to watch tv instead of going outside with me twice in one day, I would be liable to fall the depths of worry that he would grow up lazy and un athletic – and that there was no way I could accept this. If he were to refuse to let me tell him a piece of information I found fascinating, I would sometimes be thrown into a righteous fervour to Make him understand that Learning is Good, and Science is Important, and he needs to learn Everything he Can.
Working from fear would help me allow myself to try to push him into the behaviour I want to see – and if I haven’t made that clear yet, that does Not work with this kid.
But, eventually, the sun came out.
When I started doing more listening and less talking, when I started paying more attention to what he was trying to express, he became motivated and encouraged to get better at expressing himself. This in turn helped me understand him more – and realize where he was coming from a lot of those times.
A Better Way
As I was continued to work with this individual, I realized that both his happiness, and my agenda if my lad growing up to learn things and try things and make mistakes and live life – both would be realized much more effectively by creating a space of sharing, not of imposing my will upon him. I suppose we could call my parenting style “Partial Parental Democracy” these days. If there is information he does not have – like why, for example, he should not have a chocolate before bed – I will provide him with this information. Generally speaking he responds to this very effectively – and when he does not, there are still things I have to enforce at times, but I am usually able to do it more from a bent of “I am sorry, but as I’ve explained already, this is why that’s not happening” and with less of a frothing-at-the-mouth “MY WILL BE DONE!”
Oh, and part of this also came from realizing that – yeah, he’s a bit of a little Princeling. But hey – in some ways, so am I. Life will teach him those hard lessons – I just want to build a relationship so that I can support him when it does.
When Two Individuals Share their Thoughts
Funny thing… Even when the boy was very small, there were moments when he and I would just relax and enjoy each other’s company. When a mutually safe and caring space could be created where we both wanted to hear what the other had to say. (It can be too easy to talk too much as a parent – especially for me, I talk too much in general – and listen too little.) And those little moments, where we found likes and dislikes in common, or even in friendly opposition – those were the moments that brought us together. And the less I push and the more I partner with this kid, the more of those moments there are – and the less that shared-space is made unsafe with yelling or angry words. And now, we are finally – seriously – getting to know each other.
The other day I found myself sitting on a swing beside him at a park, while we played a game of “Would you rather.” (Each player asks the other to choose between two options which can be good, bad, fun or harrowing – whatever). It was relaxed, it was unmarred by any anger, any fear from me or pushback from him. And I realized that This is what I wanted the most: to not only be this child’s parent, but to be his friend.
By this point, my misty eyes and deep sincerity have probably moved you either to adopt an air of empathetically similar emotion and warm-fuzzies, or to wriggle in an expression of discomfort. I would come back to the moment – to the coffee in front of us, to the things I have to do tomorrow, to the potential for other topics we have to cover. Perhaps I would try to keep that emotional ball rolling by asking you – what relationships are in Your life, that motivate you or fill you with emotion – be it anxiety or joy? And we would move on to other things, either the emotion-eliciting relationships in Your life (kids if you got ’em) or something lighter and less personal. Perhaps we would transition into my hilarious tales of toy-training the boy – perhaps that will be another Sunday post lol.
Our days would continue on, fuelled by caffeine and by our social interaction. But for me, all I’m looking forward to right now, is my kid getting home so we can hang out and shoot the poop.
Keep findin love. In everything.