Father Time is a weekly column dedicated to the concept of time in a parent’s life, particularly a father’s life. The point of view comes from a father of two young sons, both under three-years-old, and how time really is just that: a concept.
Some advice veteran parents tell newish parents—that can also be a bit annoying—is to enjoy every minute of parenting, especially when the little lambs are little. “Before you know it,” the veteran parents say, “and the kids will be all grown up and you’ll be wishing you could go back in time to when they were small again.”
Let’s be honest here: when your darling dear is in the middle of a tantrum and you’re tired, you just want to disappear. I believe fathers feel this way a lot, despite our ever-increasing involvement and presence on the family stage. We’re still guilty of losing our tempers, becoming disengaged, and viewing those tantrum moments as a torture. How do we as fathers get better at handling those tortuous moments?
Perhaps one of the easiest things we can do is appreciate the new world we live in and stop comparing it to the old one (the single days, or the days before children). Inside of that appreciation is another deeper appreciation of the way time works in this new world. Think of it like this: when children nap and then wake up, it’s like a whole new day for them. They’re almost getting two days in one. How awesome would that be?
Or remember when you were a kid and your birthday, favorite holiday, or Christmas took forever to come? It all has to do with our perception of time as we age. As we age, we begin to perceive time as shorter because we’ve experienced the course of a year several times and know how to distinguish the distance between two points in a certain period. Eventually, the years start to fly by like days, days like hours, minutes like seconds, and marketers start selling Christmas in September. (Next year it’ll be August.)
If we see the world though our children’s eyes, we begin to understand that time itself moves slower on their little clocks. Time is still abstract for small children up until about 5 or 6 years of age. Only at that age do they start to realize that events occur at specific times of the day. (Miller, Booth Church, Poole, Early Childhood Today) Imagine if for five years or so you didn’t have to worry about time and that you could just live in the moment? That’s reality for babies and toddlers, and we have to adapt to them.
Ultimately, children learn the concept of time based on the pace we set for them. If we rush, they will be rushed. If we slow it down, they will slow it down. That’s why when things like putting on shoes is like aligning the planets, we—dads—have to cool it and live in that moment with them. Or meet in the middle with that appreciation of a concept they hardly know.
We’ve all heard the idea of “long days, short years” in parenting. In the toddler years, this is the best description for what parents experience every day. That, or the first line from Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Worst to times aside, what the veteran parents say is true, and we must heed their advice. Savor it now before it all slips away. Those minutes that drag on like hours for the dad or mom that just wants to get onto the next thing are a blip on the space-time continuum. I constantly have to remind myself everyday to cherish those moments. Our children are the time capsules of our lives, and it’s up to us to send them along into the future with good memories and experiences, especially how they value time itself.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.