Our lives have changed immensely over the last 6 years. 6 years ago, we were going out to dinner and movies, having dinner parties, and going out for drinks. Now we eat dinner quickly, often not at the table, while we try to convince 2 kids to sit down. We watch movies… but they’re kid movies… and we watch them over and over again. Dinner parties are over and I’ve discovered that when you have a few drinks, your children will invariably get up far earlier than normal and possibly also several times throughout the night.
Our lives are not worse. They’re different.
Including our children in our lives has been interesting. It’s not easy. You don’t realize how selfish you are until someone more selfish than you is around. And that’s what having kids is.
But the problem is not that your kids are selfish. It’s not a fault. It’s a stage of development. Kids are focused on themselves because that’s how they’re built. It’s not my son’s problem that I don’t want to share my laptop with him. It’s my problem, that I am selfish.
But what I’ve started to realize is that the more we include our kids in our life, the better. When my wife makes cookies or muffins or whatever, she gets the kids to help her mix and measure and pour. And in addition to killing time (much of our life is spent trying to figure out what to do for the 12 hours between when our kids wake up and when they go to bed), we’ve started to see some real improvements in behavior.
Our children are basically like a see saw. If one is happy, the other one is angry. If one is laughing, the other one is crying. It’s a real struggle. Every morning my daughter just wants to give her brother a hug. And he refuses… for a while… until he changes his mind and decides that he DOES want to give her a hug. At this point she absolutely doesn’t want to give him a hug anymore.
So, one of the things we’ve really been working on has been getting the two of them to work together. And to do that, we’ve been working really hard on not being selfish ourselves.
Selfish is not terrible. It’s okay to be selfish. People are selfish. The act of parenting is in many ways our attempt at being purely unselfish.
But let me be clear. You will fail, constantly, at trying to not be selfish.
My wife and I have come to understand that including our children in our lives rather than trying to live these two separate lives is worth the effort. Now when we want to do something, we try not to think about how to offload our kids so that we can go for a hike, we think about how we can make a hike work for our family. Do we need breaks? Yes. Absolutely. Everybody does.
If you read this and thought, “We include our children in every moment of our lives. It’s the best,” then I’m really happy for you. Truly. I’m not being facetious. I mean it.
Raising our children has been a struggle. We’ve spent almost five years struggling with trying to keep it together. Some days that means walking away. Some days that means telling your spouse that you need to go hide in your room. And that’s okay too. But you can’t hide forever.
We have spent a great deal of our toddler years expecting failure. We plan for chaos. We schedule tantrums. And it turns out that much of that had little to do with our kids and everything to do with us. It reminds me of when we were sleep training our daughter.
When we tried to sleep train our son, it was… chaotic. He screamed. For several hours. Every night. For a long time. So, when it came time to sleep train our daughter… we just didn’t. My daughter slept in my arms for a few months while I watched 10 seasons of The West Wing. We didn’t want to put her in her bed because we knew she’d scream her face off, and we didn’t want her to wake up our son. So, I just held her in my arms for months. And when we finally put her down… she just rolled over and went to sleep.
We didn’t do things together as a family for a long time because we were afraid that it wouldn’t go well. We were afraid that if we took our kids into the woods for a hike they’d reenact Lord of The Flies. We were afraid that if we took our kids bowling they would throw bowling balls through the wall and run amok.
We were just afraid.
But the more we involve our kids in our everyday life, the more we realize that… we were right. They might run amok. Bowling balls might go through walls. But it’s going to be interesting. And interesting is good.