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A [Very Simple] Job Description for Parents

August 15, 2014
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1. Feed them lots of coffee 2. Let them pet stray cats so they can learn how to recover from minor injuries 3. Frequently tell them they are failures so they don’t get over-confident 4. Just kidding…read on for your REAL job description

For the over-three-thousandth time my little girls snuggled up in their beds, cozy and warm, exhausted from the day’s hard playing, to start making their way towards dreamland.  Like most children, they’ve come to expect things at bedtime.  For us it’s frequently a “story about when you were a little boy” (I’ve got some great ones but by now they’ve been exhausted and I’ve resorted to fudging the truth a bit to keep them interesting) or a “Stripey story” (the Stripeys are an imaginary family inspired by the stripes on their sleeping bags – you wouldn’t BELIEVE what happens to that family!).  But regardless of the other shenanigans that go on during this magical time, there is one part of our little dance that I try to be consistent about.  

“Can I ask you a question”, I say, leaning over and looking into their eyes with that “we’re going to be serious now” look…all you parents know exactly the one.  They roll their eyes, because they’ve heard this beginning a thousand times.  

“Yeeeessss…”

“Did you know I’m crazy about you?”

“Yeeeeessss….”

“Can I ask you another question….Did you know I’m proud of you?”

“Yes.”  By now the familiarity of the routine is setting in and they are growing more comfortable with the reality that fun time will have to wait for tomorrow and the questioning will continue until I’m satisfied.

“Can I ask you another question…Did you know I think you’re beautiful?”

“Yes.”  Their eyes sparkle a bit on that one.  

“Can I ask you one more question….Did you know that I LOVE being your daddy?”

Now that smile that I’m looking for can’t hide any more:  “Yes!”

“OK,” I relent.  “I just wanted to make sure”.

And for the over-three-thousandth time I hug their little necks, kiss their little cheeks, and remind them that it’s time to go to sleep.  

So why these questions?  And why, even when their eyes are rolling and they’re tired of hearing it, do I persist with them?  The answer might surprise you a little.  

Because I have no idea what I’m doing.

Becoming a parent is life’s way of reminding you that you’re not all that hot.  There’s times when you feel confused, disoriented, at your wit’s end and just generally like a failure.  You’re supposed to have the answers, but you don’t.  Before having kids, of course, you could have taught seminars to packed auditoriums about how to raise the little hooligans.  “How hard could this be?”  you’d think.  You started sentences at dinner parties with “I’ll tell you one thing MY kids are never gonna do…”  And now here you are,  several years into it, sitting with your head in your hands, realizing that all your glorious insight has been blown to smithereens by the evil tyrant known as your offspring.  

You have no idea what you’re doing.

Well, let’s step away from that reality for a minute to look at a bit of good news:  It’s OK, you don’t have to.  Turns out, parenting isn’t about having all the answers.  By the time you figure out how to parent a three year old she’ll be four anyway, so at best you’re always going to be a step behind.  Get used to it.  No, you don’t need all the answers.  But you do have one very important job that – in a brilliant rescue from the same source that created this beautiful disaster – brings it all back around and saves the day.  It’s the magic band-aid that heals all your parenting boo-boos and redeems the train wreck that is your parenting competence.  And it’s quite simple.  You ready?

Find ways to make sure your children know you think they’re amazing and you’ll never, ever leave them.

All of us are going to wrestle with issues like behavior and diet and education and politics and religion.  You’ll knock around there and find your own way, some of it brilliant and some of it worthless.  But there’s one job that supersedes all others, and that must happen at all costs.  Your children must be given a few foundation stones to build on, and they must be reminded of them constantly.  This happens mostly by the way you live your life, but also with the words you say.  And these can look different:  You are beautiful.  I am proud of you.  I love being your daddy.  I am crazy about you…but they have the same message:  You are valuable to me.  I will always be here for you.  

So go ahead, do your best work with discipline and character building.  You can’t just lay down and quit…you’ve got to at least try.  And I hope you have some success at raising kids who aren’t embarrassing to be around in public or make your life too miserable. But every once in awhile, relax and smile for a second (I imagine Tina Fey at this point for some reason), realizing that at the end of the day, no matter what else goes right or wrong, your kids will turn out OK if they simply believe they are valuable.  Then find YOUR way to make sure that – above all else – they feel it deeply and consistently.  It’s all they really need to know.

 

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4 Comments
  1. Irene Niemyer permalink

    We did enjoy the post! Tried to reply through the post but not sure it went through. It seems to me sort of a difficult procedure. Is any one else having a problem with it?

  2. Sherry Borders permalink

    absolutely loved this one!

  3. Sue Fletcher permalink

    LOVED this post Don. As a grown up daughter – these are the things I most wanted to hear from my Dad… You’re doing it right!

  4. Beautiful. made me tear up a bit… God bless those little girls, and their parents.

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