It finally happened. The most magical moment of any stay-at-home dad’s career: ALL the kids are in school!
I thought I’d be more emotional about this. I was sure I’d be filled with crippling fears and worry. Would the house feel too empty? Would I roam silent rooms, clutching my pearls (or the male equivalent), while weeping over the loss of my precious babies and yelling, “They’ve all grown up and left me!”?
OK, I did cry. Not gonna lie.
But right now I’m writing while listening to loud, offensive, very inappropriate music, and it’s magnificent!
Sometimes the measure of success as a parent is dubious at best. Most victories come in small bites. A “Yes, please,” from your kid to a stranger. A gentle hug from your oldest to the youngest, followed by some encouraging words. These are powerful at the moment, but they feel small. Isolated.
It’s not that I want the world to know just how awesome I am as a dad, but, damn it, I do want the world to know, at the very least, I don’t suck at this! So when my youngest daughter leaped out of the minivan, chatty and excited to begin her first day of school, teachers nodded approvingly, and other parents with shrieking children frowned with a smidge of jealousy, I felt I had earned my reward. They could see. They could ALL see I didn’t suck!
Most of my time as a father has been spent pondering how I would cope with these types of moments. How will I react to the pivotal developmental milestones? I fail plenty, but in preparing my children to step out of the home and be independent, I feel I’m doing OK. Encouraging independence is not my best quality. I’m a hovering helicopter parent who has had to work extremely hard to let the baby birds fly, climb, swim and leave the nest. This does not come naturally, but I know it’s important.
Teach self-sufficiency, reclaim independence
My parents weren’t the best at this either. They gave me great freedom. In fact, when I ponder some of the things I did as a kid, I’m filled with anxiety. How the hell did my mom let me disappear all day without a cell phone? Feels impossible. Although I had great fun (and found lots of trouble), my parents did everything else for me. They never pushed me to overcome my anxiety and figure the world out for myself.
My mom had her reasons for behaving this way. Her childhood was much different than mine so she focused on making sure I had a proper childhood. She and my dad succeeded greatly in this, but along the way, I wasn’t really pushed to be independent. It took me a long time and a lot of hard lessons to find my way. I’ve endeavored to amend this approach with my kids – although I should probably sprinkle in some of my mom’s free-wheeling style every now and then.
My fellow dads and parents, I want to tell you it’s OK.
It’s fine to revel in the blessed silence.
It’s OK to get some of your independence back.
It’s fine to reclaim some of your life that was lost when the kids came around.
No, you’ll never be the same, but that’s a good thing. Kids change us forever in all the best ways. They are the adorable fiery cauldron that refine us into the people we could have never become without them.
So as they assert themselves into their own entities capable of existing without you, even if just for a few hours a day, it’s OK to chase after some of the old life you left behind. Give yourself permission. You’ll feel better.
But you better do it soon. Those little monsters will need to be picked up in a few hours, and that school car pickup line is a bitch.