I’ve heard people say “oh there’s no manual for being a parent”, but there are many, many books out there on the subject, and in our digital age answers to questions are only a click away. However, despite the abundance of information and advice out there (blogs included!), it remains a fact that there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual for being a parent. It comes down to one simple fact. Individuality. You are an individual, and so is your child. My kids are currently 11, 8, 3 and 9 months, and I have changed in my parenting style as the years have gone on. I was tougher on the first and had high expectations, but have softened (slightly) over the years and have learned to accept that things will happen when the child is ready.
As a 35 year old first time father I certainly wasn’t young, but it was daunting nevertheless, and I had definite ideas of how I was going to be as a daddy. Turns out you can’t really plan like that, as the little rascals keep you on your toes so much sometimes you don’t know if you’re coming or going!
Top Tip (and you’ll be pleased to know it’s only this one, I’m not about to turn into a ‘been there done that’ dispenser of wisdom) – Do not be too hard on yourself, you’re doing better than you think. That’s it.
There are times when you raise your voice, times when you make them cry, and yes (don’t hang me), times when you may say unkind things to them you wish you could take back. After you’ve finished beating yourself up about it, move on, because it’s guaranteed that your kids will forgive you and move on quicker than you. Their capacity for forgiveness is humbling. And let’s face it, anyone who’s watched Supernanny realises it’s not all bad!
Confession time – I’ve dropped my kids, lost my kids (found one in the service lift in a department store after a frantic 2 minutes once!), forgot to feed them, left nappies on too long, forgot to sunscreen them and generally done a few things that, on face value, probably put me in the bad daddy category. At that time. And that’s the important thing to remember; it’s transient, so relax. Who knew you could still grow up in your forties? Don’t answer that!
Joking aside, that part is true. You never stop learning, and because each child is different means that you have to test and adjust your style to find what works. Sometimes I feel I’m totally on top of it with my 11 years’ experience, and other times I feel as if I’ve been at it just 11 minutes.
I’m kept on the straight and narrow by my wife (obviously!), who will readily offer an alternative method of delivery for my grumpy dad-rants; she has a gentler parenting style than me and remains calmer for longer, so I try to listen when I can, as I’m a hot-headed/short-fuse type by personality.
By and large we learn from both good and bad experiences with adults as children. As a 6 year old I vividly remember being smacked hard by the father of a friend for some small 6 year old misdeed, but equally vividly I remember as a 9 year old a different friend’s father showing me how to draw a Dalek from Dr Who (I’ve long since forgotten your name but thank you!).
Based on that thought, I try to do enough of the memorably good things and as little as possible of the memorably negative ones.
So what’s solution to getting it wrong sometimes? Getting it right more. Sounds simple, but it’s about balance. Like Dr Seuss says, ‘Life is a balancing act’. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Just keep going as best as you can, because being a dad is, always, a work in progress.