Mike Reynolds: Dad Outside the Lines


If Babies Were Born as 4 Year-Olds...

Parents Need Time to Grow into their roles, too

Our daughters have a large fascination with babies. They push them around in strollers all day, they put them in time out for swearing, and about 23 times a day, they put a baby under their shirt and eat food, telling us that "If I take one more bite, I'm going to have a baby."

The bite is always taken and the baby always drops to the floor. They ooh and aah and give the plastic dolls names like Samalaia and Samalaiamaya.. They cuddle them for three seconds and then push them and put them into timeout for swearing game rotation. Within fifteen seconds on this earth, they have their babies swearing. In 15 minutes, these babies are toddlers and beyond.

How different would parenting be if kids were born acting like they were already 4 years-old instead of the current "I squirm and yell and poop," attitude they seem to take from birth through 18 months?

Would we still be as eager to share our stories and our pictures online from day one? Would our Instagram feeds be full of hospital room shots of kids with spilled yogurt running don their face with a dramatic caption "FIRST WORDS: it wasn't me, it jumped out of my hands!." Would we see a dramatic decrease in the number of multiple children families? Can you possibly imagine having a baby and then three hours later spending three more hours at the door of your hospital room trying to get them to put on their goddamn boots instead of running back upstairs to put on their 18th outfit?

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"Oh my god, look at my little girl, she's so beautiful," my partner would say to the midwife seconds after the delivery. "Could you please bring her to me for some skin-to-skin contact?"

"No thanks. I'm going to sit in this chair in the middle of the room," our cute, seconds-old little daughter would tell us, looking straight into our tear-filled eyes.

"Oh I love you," I'd say, walking towards the chair, trying to get a closer look at her.

"I don't care, I'm busy with..." and she'd look for something, anything to keep from needing to talk to us. "...with this dirt."

"Dad, the rest of the world is only going to see me for the first time once. The clothes you gave me look the same and are so boring. But this tutu and this Star Wars 'I (heart) Chewie' shirt look perfect. Oh wait, maybe I need pants."

I love my girls. I love them more than chocolate covered almonds dipped in vanilla pudding. But as they get older, I'm more appreciative of the time we spent together with them not being the age where everything we do, even if it's exactly what they asked us to do, is wrong. For a while, they needed us, and for a while they couldn't a) ignore us because they were incapable of moving and, b) tell us why we were wrong because they didn't have words. I feel so unintelligent for wasting so many hours thinking to myself "it's going to get easier when they can walk around themselves and when they have enough words to tell us exactly what is bothering them." As if them knowing words would mean they'd be able to use them in rational sentences.

The first months - maybe even the first years - are such natural developmental stages in human life. We know this about our kids and we remind ourselves of this every day when we use the parenting mantra of "This will get easier" but I don't think we realize thee same about ourselves as parents.

Put simply: parents new and old need time to develop too. It doesn't matter if you have one kid, three kids, or 34 kids, we need development time to prepare ourselves for three, four and five year-olds. Where kids learn to walk, we learn to walk away. Where kids learn to talk, we learn to not laugh when our kids say "f*ck" for the first time. Where kids learn the value of the words "no," and "I'll give you a hug if you give me that chocolate bar," we learn that there's a 97 per cent chance what they tell us is a lie, or to them a "not lie but a joke that wasn't funny."

Because the reality is, we spend a lot of time simultaneously worrying about how much harder things are going to get as our kids get older and waiting for them to get older so we don't have to deal with what we’re dealing with at the time. As a dad to two daughters I hear all the time that the teen years (earlier than that?) are going to be crazy. Crazier for sure than the age they're at now where they punch each other and steal each other's yogurt all the time. The words "Oh boy, wait until they're older," is often enhanced by eye rolls, or by parents putting their hands on their knees as if it's too tiring to even think about all the drama that will unfold.

I think it's a matter of semantics and that things don't necessarily get more difficult, they just get different. And, that what we do today prepares us for what we'll have to do tomorrow, or next year, or 10 years from now. I'm not as worried as people seem to think I should get about Mean Girls or about the boys or girls that will break their hearts. I'm not worried about a member of their favourite band leaving the group or of them deciding what menstrual product or bra is the best for them. I'm not worried or concerned about these things because we aren't doing that right now. What we're doing is paving the way to make those moments easier when they do come. So I worry about my daughter not being able to sit still in class or that she needs to tell adults that someone is being mean to her when it's play time in class. We deal with that and that gets be ready for what we'll deal with next.

So that "Dad, there's this girl at school I really like but I don't know if she even knows I exist," isn't met by me with "Oh, that's great, I'll make a t-shirt of myself holding a gun for you to wear to school so you can show everyone that I'll kill them if they break your heart," and instead with "Well, have you talked to her about it? Tell me more."

"You're screwed and you're extremely naive," is probably a fairly common chorus being sung by people who read that my opinion. "You have no idea how hard it will be when your daughter comes home crying to you about this or that. You have no idea how mean girls can be or how heartbroken they can get."

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Nope, I do not. But I see my girls growing up and I know my girls. I see them being strong and I see them in fits of rage. We watch them interact with one another and we talk to them about things that are going on in their lives right now. Never, not ever, ever, ever, do we tell them they're going to be a pain in the ass when they get older and that we'll be completely clueless when they come to us about being bullied or that they've been shamed for wearing something or that they've been told they have no future in (insert anything they want to grow up to be).

We try our best to not look at everything through a lens of perceived fear. We don't build up a fight between 13 year-old best friends, don't fret 10 years in advance of the time our daughter has her feminist t-shirt blurred out of a school picture. We try awfully hard to not spend the years we get to teach our kids how to group up to be the person they want worrying about the person they haven't yet become just because a movie said she's going to hate us when she grown up anyway.

Parenting is hard but growing up is too. Girls aren't any harder to raise because they're girls and boys aren't harder to raise because they're boys. They all have speed bumps that we can't smooth out in advance. I'm not a bad parent to a girl because I'm a man and vice versa for parents of boys. We have trouble because no problems are the same and as we've all learned, there is no textbook we can use to cheat off the answer key. The answers, I assume, are buried somewhere deep in the boots I have so much trouble getting my kids to put on each and every morning.

The lucky part for us is that listening to kids is easy even when they aren't listening to us. My kids aren't an easy study but neither were a lot of the courses I ended up passing in university. Listen often, talk when needed, that's my plan for learning.

And good luck with your struggles.