For the past three years I have worked during the day as a nanny, while doing eCommerce consulting at night and on weekends. My daughter is nine-and-a-half, so I’ve been a dad for a while now. I am hardly an unbiased observer, but I think my daughter has turned out pretty well. I know some of it is due to her being naturally calm–she slept through the night the first night and only cried when something was actually wrong (unlike me, who my mother assures me was a horrible baby)–but I like to think that I’ve also done a few things right.
I am not trying to tell anyone else how to raise their kids, because my initial approach is pretty simple. What I did was think and observe. I learned about the family members and thought about what problems they have. For example, my ex has pretty severe motion sickness. Once I figured out what issues might arise later, I developed a plan to prevent or solve the problems. With my daughter, if I was walking with her–and not trying to put her to sleep–I would spin, wobble, or otherwise move in an exaggerated manner to get her accustomed to motion. I would carry her upside down or at odd angles regularly. People often looked at me like I was insane (well, I get that quite often regardless). However…
We take long road trips. The only time she gets carsick is if she tries to read on winding roads. Would she have had motion sickness if I hadn’t spun her around as a baby all the time? I don’t know, but it’s possible that what I did prevented it.
From long before she was born, I’ve been focused on being a good father. We read the first six Harry Potter books to her before she was born–probably 80% of the time I did the reading, as it’s significantly easier for the non-pregnant parent to be well-rested. I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to bring my daughter to work with me, so I was the primary caregiver. (This isn’t to say anything against my ex: She had a higher income than I did, so she contributed her fair share, just the reverse of the “traditional” American family.)
We decided that when she turned two, we would send her to preschool. We had two main requirements:
- It was preschool, not daycare.
- It wasn’t religious, because we wanted to handle religious education ourselves.
We found a real gem, which, due to changes in Tennessee state funding rules, closed shortly after we left, although the original location is still open in Downtown Chattanooga. Siskin Early Learning Center specializes in educating children with special needs and developmental disabilities, but they do this by teaching them with typically developing children. As such, from an early age my daughter was exposed to children of a very wide range of abilities and backgrounds. She learned that kids sometimes can’t help acting out, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t play with them. She figured out how to teach her friends how to do things and developed incredible patience.
I think that far too often people segregate themselves, because they prefer to be with people who are like them. I am strange in that I mostly don’t look for people who are like me, because in my experience I have more fun and learn more when I associate with people who are not like me. I am really happy that because of her preschool, my daughter makes friends with just about anyone. In a discussion this past week–we had plenty of time due to her being home sick with pneumonia–she explained her criteria for her best friends. She doesn’t like hanging out with kids who talk about the same things, do the same things, and act the same way all the time. She seeks out the adventurous kids.
I do have a few rules of parenting. Your mileage may vary:
1. Don’t lie to your kids.
This may seem simple, but most parents lie to their kids. Exhibit A: Santa Claus.
Yeah, I know. I deprived my daughter of the mystery and joy of Christmas. Bah, humbug. She learned that people who love her gave her presents instead of giving credit to a mythical fat elf. But, more importantly, she didn’t lose faith in me when I had to explain that Santa wasn’t real. If I tell her something, she believes it–or at least she believes that I believe it, since I have taught her that I sometimes make mistakes.
Now, not lying to your kids doesn’t mean telling them everything. It has often been tough to tell her “I will explain it when you are older,” because I know that she doesn’t have the background to understand some things. I do tell her far more than most parents would, because I don’t believe in hiding the fact that the world is sometimes evil from her.
2. Don’t stick to a rigid schedule.
I have seen too many kids–and parents–get very anxious when their schedules are disrupted. We’ve had a running joke for about seven years that my daughter’s bed time is 8:30. We wave to it as it passes. Dinner can be at 5:00, or dinner can be at 9:00. Sometimes we get up at 1:00 a.m. to go for a stargazing drive. Yes, even on a school night.
What I have now is a very adaptable kid. If something unexpected happens, she shrugs it off and moves on. She doesn’t panic or break down in tears. We pick up the pieces and move forward. (Now, I get that some kids need consistency and structure. I have a nephew on the autism spectrum who sometimes doesn’t do well when things don’t go according to plan, but I think that for most neurotypical kids, adaptability is a positive trait.)
Yes, sometimes I will say “Because I said so,” but that’s rare. I have raised a little negotiator, because I feel that kids do better when they think they have some control over their lives.
“Dad, can I have some cookies?”
“You may have two.”
Now, I started that negotiation knowing that she was going to end up with three cookies, but she felt like she got something extra–and she did, but I made her work for it.
There was one time in preschool where one of her friends asked his mom if he could stay fifteen more minutes. His mom picked him up and carried him out. My daughter came up to me and said, “He should have asked for two more minutes.” At age four she knew that if you make an outrageous request, the other side may just shut down the negotiation entirely.
I almost never tell her that it’s time to leave; instead, I will tell her that we need to leave in X minutes. That does two things:
- It gives her a chance to wrap things up.
- It gives her an opportunity to negotiate–and if she has a good reason for a few extra minutes, I’ll go along with it.
As such, her complaints when leaving are minimal, and never the complete meltdowns I’ve seen from other kids.
4. Diaper changing is surgery.
Prepare the surgical area, get your instruments ready, then wheel in the patient.
Unfold the diaper. Lay out the expected number of wipes plus one. Take the cap off the ointment, if needed. If a wardrobe change is needed, have the clothes laid out. Don’t try to do all these things while the baby is screaming on the changing table: It just makes a bad situation worse.
5. Don’t let other people make your kid afraid.
I am the father of a Free Range Kid. I don’t insist on keeping my eyes on her at all times when we are in public. I actively encouraged her to talk to strangers. (She knew not to go off alone with strangers and to ask me about anything really out of the ordinary.)
A few times at playgrounds, other busy-body parents told my daughter not to do something, usually involving climbing on something they thought was dangerous. Once she ran to me crying as a result. My response was consistent: “Go, right now, and climb what she told you not to climb.” While she did this, I stared down the other parent. Now, was what she was doing completely safe? Of course not–but nothing ever is. I taught her how to climb, and I taught her how to fall, and she was always pretty good about not going above her abilities.
A couple of times, she’s wandered away from me in a crowded place. For example, she went to look at a toy in the Winnie the Pooh shop in Disney World. Before I even knew she was gone, she had found an employee–she knew to look for people with badges–and they tracked me down. As a rule, 99%+ of strangers will help a kid. Make sure your kid knows that.
Now, if you take all these rules and tweak them just a bit, you get:
0. Embrace diversity, and treat people with respect.
- Don’t lie.
- Be adaptable.
- Prepare for when shit happens.
- Don’t let other people make you afraid.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and don’t forget to vote. For me, preferably, but at least for whomever you think is the best person for the job.