My 7-year-old son has been copying more of what I’m doing lately, major and minor things. He’s been wanting to learn how to cook. He’s started display his action figures the same way I do with my collection. He’s also started beating me at checkers.
I think its because he spends a lot more time than usual with me at home because of the coronavirus pandemic along with him being at an age where he observes and analyzes a lot more of what I do. In that way, it’s a good thing. He is gaining a keen insight into the exciting world of being a stay-at-home dad.
The drama. The intrigue. The laundry.
Way back in normal times (January 2020 seems like a lifetime ago at this point), the 3:15 p.m. end of his school day only marked the beginning of his second shift. Tee ball, swim class at the Y and other activities kept him moving from one place to the next at an almost breakneck speed. Then came the weekends filled with ball games, birthday parties and any number of other events that made Saturdays and Sundays anything but restful for either of us. The pandemic slowed that all down and that has translated into a lot more IRL face time as opposed to the iPhone kind with our little ones.
As a result, many of us are seeing our kids in a new light. We are seeing what their teachers, coaches and instructors did at all those times our children were away from us. This is also true from our kids’ point of view. Since we are spending so much more time in front of our children we need stay aware that our children’s eyes are always on us.
Take what happened to me a few weeks ago. I was in the kitchen preparing lunch for my son and his younger twin siblings. As I was getting some seasoning out of the cabinet, my oldest said to me, “Can I make you lunch?”
He caught me a little off guard. He had never asked anything like that before. As I carefully weighed my response, I noticed out of the corner of my eye the Play-Doh tools he had carefully set out on the living room floor. “Sure,” I said. “That would be great.
I figured that would be the end of it. Instead, he asked, “What would you like?”
I was not really ready for a follow up. “I would like a hamburger, Caesar salad, carrot sticks, a pepperoni pizza with anchovies and molten lava cake.” Ten minutes later, I would have each of those items handmade for me by my very talented and industrious son.
All this might seem like a common occurrence: kids making “play food” for their parents to “eat.” But how often does this happen in homes where no cooking goes on? Is pretend food preparation a normal activity kids do just because they are kids or was my son mimicking what he sees me and his mother doing regularly?
They always watching, imitating
You’ve probably heard the saying. “Dance like nobody is watching.” The thing is children watch everything we do. Everything. As parents, we need to be more conscious of not only what we say, but what we do. Even the most mundane action can shape and mold how our kids see the world and how they will respond to it. A simple act like seeing me folding laundry reinforces that there are no outdated gender roles in our home. A dad can cook, a dad can clean, just like a mom can fix the car or shovel the driveway after a snowstorm.
Sometimes, in this messy hectic world of parenting, we have the most influence on our kids in the times we think they aren’t paying attention to us: Grooving to a song from our past when it comes on the radio, making a meal in the kitchen, asking your daughter hand you tools as “fix” the dishwasher. They all leave impressions about who we are and what being an adult is, even if the impression isn’t always 100 percent or true to life (hint — my daughter may think I’m a mechanical genius but that dishwasher certain doesn’t). Even the things we say around our kids has an impact. How often have you had a conversation with one of your children and they break out a phrase or wording you recognize as your own?
We may not see these imprints immediately. Growing up, my mom did 99 percent of the food preparation in our house, but she always made sure to explain to me how she was doing it because she never wanted me eating cereal for dinner or depending on anyone else (besides her, of course) for my food. Now here I am today, cooking for my family just as she did for hers.
None of us are perfect as parents, but the eyes and ears of our little ones are always absorbing all they see and hear around them. We must set the example we want them to model for their kids. Whether it’s seasoning a piece of meat or folding the laundry, even the small, most seemingly frivolous moments can all be teachable moments that go a long way toward building the character of our kids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vernon D. Gibbs II is a stay-at-home dad living in New Jersey with his wife and three children. He has an architecture degree from Columbia University, and had worked for a variety of companies including the NBA and his alma mater. Gibbs writes for Families of Multiples; his own blog, Cool Minivan Dad; was published in the Washington Post, and recently authored his first book, When Good Fruit Goes Bad. He is an unhappy Giants fan, a weary Knicks fan and chooses Marvel over DC any day of the week.