Every parent has a secret list of things they wish they could be doing better. This is Mike Reynolds’ list…
If someone were to write a book about how great it is to be a parent and how it’s always about riding unicorns over rainbows and finding pots of gold at the end of those rainbows and then playing hopscotch with the gold nuggets from the pot all the while holding hands with your always-smiling child, I’d read that book. I’d read it so I could learn more about the author and then I’d hunt them down and let them try to take my kids over that rainbow.
My kids would pull out the unicorn’s horn, swallow the gold, and throw the nuggets at people instead of using them for hopscotch. And I think my kids are well behaved kids. All this means is that raising kids isn’t like raising unicorns. Raising kids means you have to do things you don’t like and often things you don’t love doing. The things we don’t like doing are different for all of us, but I imagine, if you think hard enough, you’ll be able to think of one, two, or maybe 84 things that you do, even though you know you’re “not supposed to be doing that with your kids.”
Should we feel guilty for this? For the most part, I think the answer is a resounding “Hell NO.” Do many of us still feel guilty anyway? Yeah, at least a little bit, once you reflect on it. So here’s my list of things I sometimes stupidly (and sometimes rightfully) feel guilty about as a parent:
Not Always Being Up for a Craft
This one has gotten so bad that I won’t even use words that start with the letter “c” or sound like “craft”—“Waft,” “raft,” and “laughed” are banned words in our house—unless I’m in the mental state to deal with cleaning the entire house of glue, breaking up a sister fight, and watching my daughters try to use scissors without looking at what they’re doing. Crafting is fun for both me and my girls, but it’s a bigger commitment than I thought it would be.
I had imagined we’d sit down in a circle (or I guess, with three of us, it would be a triangle) and we’d all tell jokes while we cut precise lines in our craft paper. Then we’d build an origami swan out of our precisely cut lines and then we’d spin around in circles pretending our swans were flying.
What actually happens is that we end up gluing body parts together and eventually taking a bath to get paint out of our noses. And that’s why I sometimes say no to craft time, even though I don’t think it’s right.
Not Having as Much Saved for Their Future Education as I Should
I work in a university. I know how expensive domestic (forget about international) fees can be for university and college. Still, I don’t have that money saved now and I don’t know how I’ll have that money saved 14 years from now. What I feel guilty about is pushing the worry aside instead of doing anything about it, as if eventually university tuition will start lowering itself or my daughters will be offered full scholarships or some other thing that will not happen.
I talk about fostering creativity in my kids, I talk about the importance of exploring all kinds of potential career paths, and I talk about the way my own education has helped shape me. Yet, I can’t bring my mind around to focusing on saving $100,000. It’s infinitely easier to ignore financial issues than to deal with them and, while I doubt we’re the only ones with a clear year-by-year plan to help our daughters pursue a post-secondary education if that’s an avenue they’d like to explore, it doesn’t make me feel any better.
“I’m Going to Take Part in Your Picnic from the Couch”
That’s my answer 56 percent of the time my Eldest has a beautifully-prepared imaginary picnic spread out all over the living room floor. Me, I’ve kind of been pushed into a trance by whatever cartoon we have in the background and am lying comfortably on the couch. The good dad thing to do is to hop down with the ants and the watermelon slices and the smart and funny company at the picnic, but I’m not always a good dad.
“I’ll do it but I’m going to do it from the couch if that’s OK.”
It is for her, but I know it’s not as fun. The fake strawberries taste more watery, the bologna sandwiches don’t have mustard, and the apple juice is too warm. Our couch isn’t even really that comfy so I’m pretty awful for lying down while I drink my tea. She won’t even tell me most of the time that it’s less fun when I don’t commit completely and that’s sad. I kind of wish she’d yell at me when I’m being lazy.
Getting Rid of Artwork
When The Eldest was an infant, I dreamed of the first time she’s draw a picture we could put up on the fridge. Then she started producing those and the fridge got full. Then my office got full, and my bedside table, my closet, my work bag, my parents’ house, the basement…. everywhere. I’d turn over in my bed and there The Eldest would be with another drawing she needed to put somewhere. We quilted in drawings, we stuffed pillowcases full of them. And then I finally put one in the recycling bin. It was a parenting low point.
But it also opened the floodgates. Suddenly I was pulling things out of her school bag and moving them straight to the recycling pile. I felt like an asshole and still think I might be one. There are times when art needs to be moved out of the house, but I prefer giving everything its moment of fame. As a parent, I do a fine dance around these things but when I dance wrong, I feel awful.
Being Told By My 4-Year-Old to Put Away My Phone
You don’t think there’s anything to learn from your kids? There’s no better life lesson than being told by someone you’re trying to raise that you aren’t giving them the attention they need. Yet, sometimes being told I’m on my phone too much still isn’t enough.
“Give me a second, I’m just finishing up an email,” I’ll tell her. Hell no, no more secs. I know it’s great to think that we’re important and that our jobs or clients rely on us to answer their emails within 100 seconds of receiving them, but if our own child has noticed that they are taking a backseat to your clients or work, you’ve managed to skew your level of influence over your children to an unhealthy level.
I’m guilty of this time and time again and I’m playing a dangerous game when I do it. There is no video game power bar that indicates I only have one more phone screw up before my kids think my work is more important than they are. They’re young enough now that they still think giving them the phone to play Caillou puzzles on is a fair trade, but that won’t last forever.
Calling Other People Idiots While I’m Driving
I have no problem with my own swearing while driving because other drivers are really bad—that’s not up for debate. What I regret is calling people names, because we spend every not-in-car moment preaching tolerance and acceptance to our kids. I state time and time again that I’m terrified of my kids being bullied and then I give someone the finger because they’re driving 20 kilometers under the speed limit. Being angry isn’t my issue, being a bully is. I’m too rude to others when I’m behind the wheel and I’m setting an incredibly bad example for my girls when I do it.
Not Always Being Up to the Potty Training Challenge
My Youngest would go to the bathroom every three minutes if given the opportunity. Or, more accurately, she would wander into the bathroom, rip her diaper off, sit on the potty, do nothing, use all the toilet paper, clog the toilet, and leave diaper-less every three minutes, if given the opportunity. I know it’s important to let her grow up, but I almost never have the energy to play this game for more than three consecutive visits.
I Don’t Do Fancy Hairstyles for Them
In and of itself, this probably isn’t a problem because what I lack in styling I make up for in gentleness of knot untangling. On more than one occasion, I’ve been pulled aside by The Eldest and asked if I can brush her hair that morning. But I lack exploration and I fear that my lack of creativity and my unwillingness to explore a straight-up ponytail or an eight-pronged pigtail hairstyle will give them the idea that “always doing the same old thing” is a good way to go through life.