I don't really live by mottoes because you can't boil down life to a few sentences. But there's a simple set of rules I keep in mind when parenting: feed them, clothe them, respect them, love them ... the rest is common sense. I don't know if I made that up or stole it from an old lady's commemorative plate, but it helps. Mainly because it's so simple. You need that simplicity as a parent, because unfortunately, having children turns you into a drooling dumbass. For instance, every parent encounters a time when ...
#5. You Realize How Much You've Forgotten
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I was a math major in college. Well, before I dropped out and went on a quest to poop in as many states as possible, but that's another story. I was pretty good at it. The math part. The pooping part really depended on what I had eaten the night before. For clarity, let's just assume that from here on out I'm talking about math and not pooping unless I specifically state otherwise.
Math seemed to be my calling in life. I even taught an accelerated group of geometry and algebra students for a couple of weeks as part of my education. Last week, my 8-year-old daughter asked me for help with a simple addition problem, and I stared at the page like a monkey trying to figure out how to eat an iPod.
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"So ... just take it like a pill, then? Also, I am a talking monkey."
They were using an alternative teaching method that I had studied in college, but I hadn't ever used it in practice myself. That lack of usage coupled with time tends to blur the memory, if not completely wipe it out. And this stuff happens all the time when you have kids. They're learning all of the stuff you've forgotten, so it's still fresh in their minds. It's why the game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? worked. They were asking easy questions that anyone should know, but the adult brain tends to kick out impractical information if it's not used regularly.
"Fuck 17th century poetry!"
So you find yourself having to relearn the most basic forms of education, and you feel like a complete idiot. You're afraid to look up from their textbook because you know that you'll be met with a stare that says, "Maybe I made a mistake by asking you." Deep down, you know they have. And if what they're asking is beyond your ability to relearn on the fly, you have to submit to every parent's most humiliating admission ...
#4. "I Don't Know" Becomes a Regular Response
"I don't know" is a bastard of a phrase for parents because it has its own evolution. The first time you use it is the worst ... much like performing a hit on your first mark. Except instead of adrenaline and guilt, you're just overloaded with feeling like a dumb twat.
The more you use it -- and you will use it a lot -- the more you get used to it. You find yourself using that response as a knee-jerk reaction, as involuntary as blinking. They'll ask something simple, like "What's 25 times 2?" And before you can even think about it, you're saying, "I don't know, honey. No, wait. It's 50. Why are you laughing at me? YOU'RE GROUNDED!"
"Maybe next time you'll think twice before making me say something stupid."
Eventually, it becomes a go-to phrase for killing off an inevitably pointless conversation. If you're not a parent, you probably won't fully understand this, but there comes a point where you just can't take any more child rambling. The parent side of you wants to interact with them and reinforce the idea that their conversations have weight and merit, but the human side of you is screaming, "Shut up! Oh my Christ, just shut up! I can't take it anymore! I swear by all that is holy, your next pet is going to be a colony of MRSA if you don't leave me alone for five goddamn minutes!"
You'll use that phrase even when you know the answer to their question. "How does the Earth revolve around the sun? I don't know. You should go look that up." "Why is the dog shitting out a toy truck? I don't kn- wait, what?" It becomes a routine reaction, and that's a pretty good way to make you look and feel like a moron. Speaking of which ...
#3. Routine Dictates Simple Decisions
Growing up, my kids were rarely ever allowed to have tea or soda ... or "pop" or "fizzy bubble potion" or whatever the hell you call it in your part of the world. The caffeine was like hitting the nitrous switch on a street racer, and my patience just didn't have the right tires to handle that.
While I'm fully aware that keeping them from those caffeinated, sugary drinks is a good thing, I got into such a routine of denying or monitoring it that I forgot to adjust for age. My oldest son will be 15 in December, and keeping him bound to the same set of rules as my 8-year-old is kind of dumb and insulting.
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"And after you get out of the shower, bring me the brush so I can get all the tangles out of your hair."
It bleeds into everything. Bedtimes and curfews are a big one. It's easy to set a solid time when they're younger: "9 p.m. No arguing. I don't care if the cartoon does only have 10 minutes left. Get in bed -- daddy needs naked time." But there's no set age when the ability to handle more responsibility and privileges just magically appears. When you're with the same child for 15 years, you eventually stop looking for that change, and because it's so gradual, you never notice when it does happen.
Then one day you just sort of realize, "Why am I making him go to bed so early? He's a teenager now. If his friends knew he had a bedtime like that, they'd make fun of him until I started finding Google searches on pipe bombs." And when you start re-evaluating those routines and questioning why they're in place, you realize that you're parenting out of habit instead of reason and logic.
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"It is the way it has always been. It is the way it always shall be."
Those rules have to evolve along with the children because above all else they are humans and individuals who require constant modification. Knowing when to put some slack in the leash is essential, but it usually doesn't happen until they get the balls to question your stupidity.