A Parenting Manual?

My son, 8, comes up with some whoppers. 

The other day we had this conversation — or some reasonable facsimile thereof: 

8: “Dad, when you became a dad how did you know what to do?”

Me: “Well, I asked a lot of other parents and your grandparents questions and mommy and I kinda winged it.”

8, thoughtfully: “It would be good if they had a parenting manual.”

Me: “It would, buddy.”

8: “I guess when I become a dad I’ll have to ask you lots and lots of questions.”

Me: “Anytime, pal.”

8 is a thoughtful kid who ponders endlessly with strong reasoning skills. The fact that at his age he’s even considering what parenting entails and how he can prepare for it is mind-blowing to me. 

But the real takeaway for me is that while there are parenting books ad nauseam, this is a job that you can really only accomplish with on-the-job training. There might be an internship or two available (with a niece/nephew or a close friend’s child) but it’s when you are immersed in it, with your own offspring, minute after minute, that you prove your mettle and worth as a parent. 

It’s also when you make mistake after mistake that makes that mythical manual seem like required reading. 

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. When my wife became pregnant our sole focus was on the birth. We took classes, hired a doula, fixed up a nursery, bought tons of stuff. All of that was critically important. But it’s just the first step. It’s phase one. It’s like preparing to play Major League Baseball by playing Little League. Sure, you have to do it to get from here to there but it’s a blip on the parenting record. 

Before we left the hospital after 8 was born, we had a few classes. You know the ones — they should be called “How to Keep this Baby Alive.” And off we went. When we returned home with baby, a divide had been crossed. We were now parents. All of our preparation and neat stacking of diapers and wipes and folding of clothes and purchasing of food was great. But it did little to soothe a baby that NEVER STOPPED CRYING!

Sure, we read books but they were mere words on a page that my sleep-deprived eyes could barely focus on. We were pledging the parent fraternity and getting by on guts and guile and staggering amounts of non-sleep. 

Here’s something else I told my son in our recent conversation — and this, I think, is the most important part of becoming a parent — it’s really, really hard to do it alone. You need help. We sure did. Beyond the help in terms of someone to give you a break for a nap, you need someone to laugh with, cry with, converse with, commiserate with. You need a steady hand, a gentle, reassuring word, a hot meal. Sometimes it’s your spouse that provides that. Sometimes it’s a mother-in-law who visits for several weeks. Whatever it is, it beats a manual. 

A manual is a guidebook, a book of answers to common problems. When my son is older I’ll remind him that there was no manual for raising him or his brother. They were and are unique. They challenged us in ways that the author of a manual would never consider. That’s the beauty of them as individuals and as part of humanity. My wife and I had to raise them on our own and together, making mistakes, fostering love, teaching values and morals, giving them opportunities, disciplining them and helping them to have an unforgettable childhood. There isn’t a parenting manual around that could provide that.

(Photo on <a href=”https://foter.com/re2/e90552″>Foter.com</a>)

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The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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