You would think that after ten years of being a parent, I would have become accustomed to the concept. Yet there are still days when I’m simply overwhelmed by what it means to be a dad. To wake to a smiling little face looking to me for guidance along with a bowl of cereal completely blows my mind some mornings. The holidays in particular bring so many emotions to the forefront. Because think about it; each day you’re literally living their memories. Just as you wish some days you could go back and relive a moment, those moments are happening for your child, right now. They will look back at the pictures you’re taking today the same way you
look at pictures from your own childhood. So don’t look now, but you’re living your child’s past; today.
Every night my kids ask me to tell them stories about my childhood. In doing so I’m continually reflecting on my perspective as a child and how I viewed the world, my home and my own parents. I find myself reliving my own Christmas memories and searching for understanding as to why certain memories stand out from the rest. To now view myself on the other side of that equation is a true wake up call as I see every day how my efforts and choices directly build the memory banks of my own kids.
I pulled the kids aside last night and we looked up at our newly decorated Christmas tree. They commented on how much they loved it and how so many of the decorations told stories about their lives. They were already reflecting on Christmas’ past. All of them kept commenting on their first ornament and their favorite Christmas moments. Even now it’s starting and as a parent it can be a little overwhelming thinking of yourself as the cruise director of their little lives. After all, it’s not about entertaining them every minute of the day, but teaching them how to be responsible happy adults. And I’m sure we can all remember holiday memories that involve a screaming child or two.
Thankfully, we spent this particular morning decorating together, listening to Christmas music together, laughing together, baking together, working together and simply enjoying a sunday in December. For me that was the greatest Christmas gift I could have received. To see them reach that milestone of being a family and being able to truly enjoy being together building a memory was magical. I visualized them twenty years from now looking back on this particular Sunday, telling their own kids about it; and smiling.
There are days when, as a parent, you’re going to be convinced you’ve completely screwed up your kids. It may be a day of decorating you anticipated being blissful, that ends up with the kids in their respective rooms “thinking about how they could have handled the situation better.” This particular morning gave me hope that perhaps, despite being in separate houses, my ex-wife and I had made some progress and done some things right. Perhaps all of our efforts to maintain as much positive as we can and continue working together were paying off.
It’s your choice how you live these years with your children. As a divorced dad, obviously there is a sense of disappointment you hold within that you weren’t able to maintain the full family dynamic under one roof. But your kids are looking to you to see how you react to it and how you embrace it. You have an opportunity to demonstrate that life goes on and you can make the most of it. You have a chance to create amazing memories for them and provide them with the assurance that their lives don’t have to be miserable just because their mom and dad don’t live together anymore.
As parents we’re inevitably going to screw up our kids on some level. I think that’s just part of life. Their perception will dictate certain aspects of how the world treats them regardless of what we do. That, in and of itself can be overwhelming. So remind them of how much they’re loved and how happy you are that they’re there when they are there. And yes, BE happy they’re there. Focus on the magic that is, being a dad (or mom). It’s hard work. It forces you to really look at yourself and who you are. You’ll make sacrifices. They’ll force you
to make some really hard choices. And it will stop you dead in your tracks some days when you look in the mirror and say, “Holy crap! I’m the parent of a _________ year old!”
And you are. You’re a parent. I think on some level, that never fully sinks in. Because just when you’ve managed to accept the fact that you have a child in kindergarten, suddenly you have a child preparing to enter middle school. Trying to keep up emotionally is tough. I’m ten years in and it still hasn’t completely sunk in. And honestly, I’m beginning to believe it never will. Perhaps it’s because my life isn’t necessarily what I envisioned it would be. And because of that I continually have to reassess where I’m at and where I’m headed. I could make the choice to be bitter and angry over certain things. But what sort of memories would that leave the kids with? And truthfully, I’m where I am because of previous choices I made and those choices brought me some incredible memories of my own along with three amazing kids. Three amazing kids who continue to overwhelm, inspire and wake me up with a smile; looking for guidance and a bowl of cereal.