In a house full of women, Noble McIntyre is just trying to get it right, from car seats to driving lessons
My house is filled with women. Don’t get too excited, my wife and I have three daughters, ages 13, 12, and 8. They’re funny, inventive, good students, and possessed of apparently infinite energy. They’re all involved in gymnastics, soccer, swimming, and (in the case of the oldest) cheerleading. They all have active social lives. We frequently host impromptu dinners for squads of tween girls. The calendar on the refrigerator is like a highly complicated battle plan, and my wife and I are its haggard and weary generals, hoping not for victory, but mere survival.
Juggling our jobs, home life, and the extracurricular activities of our three girls is a moving target that never stops. When my wife and I first got married, we would laugh at the people who owned giant SUVs—who could ever need to drive a tank around everywhere they went? By the time our second started school, we owned one, and we pack kids and friends in like troops gearing up to storm an enemy beachhead.
The movies and books about parenting never fully prepare you for what being a parent is like; going in, you believe parenting is a task that you’ll set aside time for—an hour each day, maybe two, but the reality is parenting is not a task, but your new life, and that life can be scary. The oldest has already started asking when she can start taking driving lessons. She usually asks me this while texting or talking on the phone, while also squabbling with her sister, while we’re all in the car. I worry about her attention span. She’s a brilliant student and a smart girl, but she and her friends seem to live in an age of constant digital distraction. The idea of her (or any of my kids) getting behind the wheel sometimes terrifies me.
So with three girls on the precipice of that teenage cliff, and numerous hours spent with them in that SUV, I’ve realized that there are little things I’m already doing that I hope will help shape them as responsible women, and hopefully responsible drivers, god help me, when they all get to be that age.
I try to set a good example
Before our first daughter was born, I thought that setting a good example meant always being consistent, delivering sage wisdom on a regular basis, and never losing my temper or saying something to my kids I’d later regret. That plan lay in ruins by the time my oldest learned to talk.
Now what I try to remember is that your kids are always watching, even when you don’t think they are. Kids are little informational sponges, soaking up data at an astonishing rate. They might seem distracted, but they rarely miss a trick. I’m not perfect, and I frequently make mistakes (as they take great glee in pointing out every chance they get), but if they’re always watching and learning, then it’s on me to make sure they learn something positive.
In the car this means, I don’t text while driving. I don’t speed or drive recklessly. If I’d chide or lecture my own kids for doing it, I don’t do it. Believe me, I may want to pass on the left sometimes, but I just picture one of them making that same choice down the road, and try not to.
I try to make time for us
I’ve learned that you have to make time wherever you can. Between my schedule and theirs, I don’t often have the opportunity to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my kids. I have to work my parental wisdom into sound bites small enough to fill the space between cell phone conversations or soccer practice. They don’t have the time or the patience for a long lecture, and they’d be too busy rolling their eyes to take anything away from it anyway.
So I try to talk to my daughters, not at them, whenever I have the time. We keep a strict rule of no television or cell phones at the dinner table. (Most of our conversations are about how benighted and draconian this rule is, but at least we’re talking.)
The opportunities to teach your kids something meaningful get harder to come by as time goes on. As kids grow into teenagers, their peer group starts becoming more important, and parents turn from role models and idols into embarrassments whose existence is, at best, an inconvenience. I’ve learned to be patient and take what opportunities I can.
I try to be honest
As an attorney, I can tell you there are no tougher opponents than my three daughters. They’ll wear down even the most robust arguments, find the most obscure loophole in any parental ruling, and their capacity for appeal is all but infinite. I could just default to the classic, “because I said so,” and at times it’s really appealing. When my daughter asks to go to the mall with her friend that just got her license two weeks ago, I’m going to say no.
I don’t stop there though, I explain that as a personal injury lawyer, I’ve seen what a moment of carelessness, or even bad fortune, can cost people. It’s not that her friend is a bad person; it’s just that I’m worried. My daughter might not like my opinion, but if I’m honest and I tell her why I’ve decided something, then I’m just being myself. She might not like that guy right then, but that’s part of being a parent.
One day, all three of them will be out on their own, driving circles around me and my SUV, and I can only hope that I’ve given them everything they need to navigate life’s highways and roadblocks.
—photo by dlisbona/Flickr