3 Enemies To Parenting in the Moment

I have found that parenting is only truly difficult when I am trying to get my child to do something else. I enjoy the job of parent more often when I am focused on being in the moment. What does that mean, exactly? I started to understand it more when I thought about three main forces working against us:

  1. What the internet tells us we should be doing.
  2. Our own desire to be doing something else.
  3. The fact our government, employers, and culture don’t want us to spend time with our families.

The modern world of parenting self-help constantly pushes us to question what we are doing. Let’s take bedtime as an example. Is she up to late? Should I lay her on her side? What horrible patterns am I creating if I rock, sing, or snuggle him to sleep? Did you read enough to her? Other parents have their children in bed by this time! And they sleep all night! What am I doing wrong?

I can’t enjoy this time with my child when I am focused on a future state and not the moment I am in. I have been trying to forget about what I should be doing and simply be with my child. I find way less stress and frustration this way. Yet, that pressure to be in a future state can come from another place.

We often want to be doing something else. It sounds horrible but it is true and completely valid. Why do you want to rush bedtime and get it over with? Maybe you want to spend talk to your spouse. Maybe you are in an online class and have to be free at a certain point. Maybe you are tired from the day and want to watch Bones or some other bad TV with a glass of wine. Maybe you want to call your Mother. It turns out that parenting is a real chore when I am focused on getting it over with. This is another way we can build frustration into the experience. When I am not present, night time can go like this: “C’mon man! All I really wanted to do was read this last chapter and now you are awake. UGH. This is horrible.” Only once I let go of the future was I able to better enjoy the moment. I also found that I reached my goals even better. I remind myself out loud: “This is where I am. This is what I am doing. My child needs me. I will be there for him.” It is hard not to think about all of the other stuff we need to do as people outside of work and parenting. This brings us to the third enemy to parenting in the moment.

Our government, businesses, and culture doesn’t give us enough time to balance everything and be a fully present parent. It would be a lot easier to be present with your child if you had more available time. You could then be present with your child without thinking about all the other 100 things you have to do. There is always a sacrifice. If I spend more time with my child right now that is less time I have to pay bills, talk about life with my spouse, go to the local town council meeting, call a friend, workout, etc. So we parents sacrifice family or one of these other things. You know who doesn’t factor into this sacrifice? Your workplace or the system (for a lack of a better word).

The U.S. is the only one of 4 countries (if I remember correctly) that doesn’t have paid family leave. Here is an infographic from 2013 on paid family leave that has a nice visual comparison. Our country is telling us that time with our families is not important. This sets us up for bypassing being present with our kids because there is limited time to take on other pressing matters we have as adults. Sorry kids.

Most employers don’t offer paid family leave. But that is only scratching the surface. I think we all know that taking time off work for your kids is frowned upon. Even if it is allowed, there can be a nagging thought of what you missed out on or the company valuing the worker who chooses to be there more often. There are times you sacrifice your work and career to be present with your children. Remember, though, that is you sacrificing work time, not work sacrificing your time. Check this out: Americans wasted 658 million vacation days in 2015. Whoa. Talk about pressure to be at work and away from your family. Additionally, we are encouraged to shame the parents that make this choice. Hardly anyone shames the company who should value their leave policy enough to encourage if not require time off with job safety and security. End of soap box. The broader point is that we are set up to fail. We are set up to spend less time with our kids in the first place, let alone be fully present with them.

So what is one to do? I have a few things that work for me, that I don’t do all the time but I try!

  1. Name it. Know when you are focused on something outside of right now.
  2. Develop that mantra for you that will help you stay present. This is where I am. This is what I need to do. I don’t need to be anywhere else.
  3. There is more than enough out there on mindful parenting. Here is a Huffpo blog post on 5 main tenets of mindful parenting. I know there are better resources out there, but someone should be waking up from a nap any moment and this is what you get.
  4. Embrace being good enough and not sweating the internet of parenting. This also goes for not comparing yourself to other families. If you and your child are playing blocks, play blocks. Don’t think about how many he should be stacking at 15 months, or if she should be better able to tell colors at 2 years, etc. Just play. For bedtime, focus on right now and not the future.



At Home Parenting: It Runs In The Family

If we are open to thinking about a son or daughter following in the footsteps of either parent then the idea of a man staying at home with the kids is not an anomaly at all. He is following the ultimate family tradition that extends back thousands of years.   

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) a few hours a week for the local community college. One of the activities we do is trace our family tree to learn the names of relatives and family members. On top of that we write down the careers of each person in the family tree.

As my primary career is at-home parent, I looked forward to doing this activity. Being a man and staying home with the kids is foreign among the cultures in the classroom and it is always an opportunity to blow a few minds. I remember sitting down to do this career family tree for the first time. I wrote next to my father and grandfathers-“Pharmacist, Pharmacist, Farmer”. I imagined the tree going back farther and the entries were essentially all Farmer.

Then something interesting happened. I wrote down the careers of my Mother and Grandmothers-“At home parent, at home parent, at home parent.” It was my mind that was blown. For the first time I realized I was carrying on the family tradition of caring for children at home. It was even more powerful when I quickly thought of the maternal family tree expanding a hundred or thousand years and seeing their career as an at-home parent.

Just like me, each of them had some way of making income on the side. My farm-wife Grandmother sold chickens and chicken eggs. My pharmacist-wife Grandmother worked a few hours at the drug store and helped with the books. My Mother did the same when they took over the store. At the end of the day, though, they all stayed home with the children when they were young.

What a relic from our gendered past that is only now starting to shed. I had only thought of “carrying on the family business” from the lens of the patriarchy in my family.  Yet, this rich career history on our Mothers’ side has been there all along. Maybe this is different for daughters and this default to dads is a thing for sons. I don’t want to assume that though. If you are woman reading this, I look forward to hearing how you have imagined and thought about “the family business.”

To all my fellow at-home dads: thinking about carrying on the career tradition of my matriarchy has been a powerful thing for me. I feel even more purpose and legitimacy in the role. When others ask if you should be doing something else, remember that our Moms are just as important as our Dads and carrying on in their footsteps is a historically valid and important career to pursue.



The Modern Library

20160210_115551The Library is a different place than it used to be. It is keeping up with the needs and lifestyle of a modern community.

I had to take a picture of this suggestion and the response from our library. I am proud to see their clear decision to become a “community hub”. On any given visit we see one-on-one tutoring, students working on projects, and people hosting a range of formal and informal meetings. They host Lego parties and show movies. The other day they had a viewing of Mad Max Fury Road. Whoa. At the library?

To the concerned library goer’s credit, the children’s area is loud and rambunctious. It has to be! Keeping 20-30 preschoolers quiet in any location is unrealistic. More importantly, modern parenting doesn’t try to enforce such rules. We are open to the chaos and help our children manage the waves of emotion they experience vs. controlling the emotions we expect them to have. We sing songs, clap, and get vocally excited while seeing our favorite characters in a book. The library gets it.

What a change. The library used to be a formal place where you had to be quiet and not make a sound. Shhhh! The change is evident in my own reaction to being in a modern library. When I am talking with other parents after toddler time I once in awhile look over my shoulder- Are we allowed to do this? Shouldn’t we talk somewhere else? Nope. Everything is okay. This is a community space and we are practicing the art of community. If you want quiet there is a place for you to go. But engaging with other people is now the default library setting. (I can already hear my grandmother ranting about how things used to be and “kids these days”.)

The days of the buttoned-up library are over. Good riddance. What a great illustration of how our culture is changing across the board. Our children have it good. What are the ways your library is a community hub?