It’s been no secret that it’s taken longer for me to bond with my son than it did my daughter, at one point I even regretted ever conceiving him! It wasn’t until I realised that I was merely reflecting my own issues onto him and using him as an excuse for my feelings that I learned how to love him. So for his fourth birthday, here are four things I’ve realised I had to change about myself:
- Patience. I’ve often heard the adage, “boys will be boys” but until George came along I hadn’t appreciated what this truly meant. His energy and lust for adventure knows no limits. He bounces from one activity to the next and is really quite content sprinting from one side of the living room to the other, over and over and over again. It’s fun for him, it’s natural. I tried to measure him against his sister and couldn’t understand that while she was able to just sit on the sofa and silently watch TV, do some kind of craft activity at the table without a peep, or read a book lost in her own imagine for hours, he simply won’t. He’s not being naughty, he knows the boundaries of what he is allowed to do and what he’s not, he’s just a bundle of never ending energy. He hasn’t had some kind of processed food, or sweets, or pop or any stimulant that I know many people will use as a justification for this kind of enthusiasm. He just bores exceptionally easily and requires more attention than his sister does. This is where patience comes in. I often found myself shouting, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?!” when in reality I just needed to understand that they were two very different people and needed to be treated as such. With her it was easy, it didn’t take much energy, with him it requires a lot more patience and a lot more effort.
- Treat him like a person, not a child. Other than social media, I’ve picked up quite a lot of really useful parenting tips from TV. Programmes like the ‘3 Day Nanny’, ‘Super Nanny’, and most helpfully ‘The Secret Lives Of…’ This last one in particular has given me a new perspective on what little ones’ lives are like, and it has lifted the lid on a world that I had no idea existed. My children are not naive little morons who can only think what I tell them to think; they are little people desperately trying to make heads and tails of their emotions and working out how to express themselves with a limited vocabulary and an audience that constantly tells them to listen. I’ve made a conscious effort to get down to his level and have genuine conversations with him about why he has done what he’s done; how his day has been; and what he thinks of what is going on around him. I don’t judge him, I don’t belittle him, and where possible I teach him fact from fiction whilst still indulging his little idiosyncrasies. I don’t get angry when it takes him longer than usual to say a simple sentence; I watch him closely so I can see his mind kicking into action and admire his victory over the internal struggle that he faces every time he tries to translate what is going on inside his head to the words from his lips. I treat him with respect, I treat him as a person.
- Listen. Whenever my daughter was “naughty” or pushed the boundaries, I – more often than not – didn’t give her the opportunity to explain herself. I didn’t ask her about her day in nursery; I didn’t have conversations with her; I simply ‘didn’t have time’ for that. I was busy getting myself in the door from work, cooking dinner, relaxing back into the home life desperately trying to shake off the stresses of the day. “Not now, sweety” was usually the first thing she heard from me. It wasn’t until I put myself into her tiny little shoes that I truly comprehended how this must feel to her. I had empathised with a child, and it almost broke my heart. I changed for her but forgot this lesson with my son. It took me a long while to realise that I had shut him out and I learned the lesson all over again. Now my son’s favourite thing is to describe his nursery snack to me, tell me all about his day while we eat dinner, and when I come in from work he is usually the first to ask me how my day was. I take the time to listen to what he has to tell me, and I genuinely talk with him rather than talking to him.
- Have fun. Yes I’m a parent and my first priority is to prepare my son for life beyond his time with me, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be space for fun. I never understood that you can be a parent AND a friend; you don’t have to firmly park yourself in either camp. I deliberately take some time to have fun with him, let him dictate the play and the pace of the game. We laugh together at silly things, I pretend I can’t do things so he can teach me how, and I pretend to enjoy the omelette he has made me out of a fire truck and a Toy Story pea in a pod.
Of course, this all applies to his sister too. I missed out on a number of years of her life being an over-bearing, needlessly strict parent who had no time to indulge her childhood fantasies, but thankfully my son helped me learn some valuable lessons just in the nick of time and maybe when she turns eight in July I’ll write another post about all she has taught me. Of course I still have a long way to go, I still take some of my stress out on them; when my wife and I have an argument I’m more snappy and less tolerant of their behaviour than I should be, but I’m getting there and I’m in a considerably better place now than I was two years ago. I’m learning to enjoy my children rather than just raise them, I’ve finally learned how to love my son, and all it took was some perspective, empathy, and TV.
A photo posted by Tony Pitt (@papa_tont) on Jan 14, 2015 at 12:33pm PST