Have you ever felt like you could be a better parent but you weren’t really sure where to start?
As a dad who spends a lot of time thinking I feel this way sometimes. Most of the time I’m not sure what to do with this feeling.
But a few weeks ago I came across a great question that helped me do something meaningful about this bigger question.
For Thanksgiving my family and I were visiting my wife’s side of the family up in Northern California. One of the days we were there we took our daughter Angela, whose two, to Busy Kids. It’s like a little city inside this building, complete with a little kid-sized grocery story, kitchen, doctor’s office, library, etc. My daughter had a blast there.
I noticed a lot of dads brought their kids. But most of them pulled a tablet or laptop out and started doing stuff on them on the kid sized tables there.
One of the daughters ran up to her dad working on his laptop. She had grabbed some of the fairy tale clothes, dressed herself up as a princess, ran up to her dad, and asked, “Daddy, what do you think of me?”
Her dad didn’t look up from his laptop. He kept typing and said, “You look great, sweetie.”
“Daddy,” his daughter said, “You’re not even looking at me.”
“Sorry,” he muttered back as he paused what he was doing. He looked up at his daughter and for a second it was like he was seeing her for the first time. “Wow, you really do look great!” he said. Then he went back to what he was doing.
As his daughter went back to play with her mom I started to wonder what kind of memory her dad had just made for her. Was this just what dad always did and she was numb to it? Was it something new? Or was it, maybe, the proverbial straw.
As I was thinking about this I realized I had been on my phone for more than a few minutes ignoring my own daughter like the dad I was watching had ignored his. My wife and her were playing over in the kid-sized grocery story over on the left. On my right was the girl and her dad.
In that moment it felt like I was in some kind of weird cross roads. I could be like that girl’s dad, absorbed in my technology. Or I could be like my wife, fully engaged in the moment with my daughter. Then this question popped into my head:
What do I want my family to remember about me today?
I put my phone away and started playing with my family.
Now I’m asking myself that question almost every day. While my daughter right now is two and probably won’t remember that day at Busy Kids it won’t be too much longer before she starts remembering the times I do and don’t ignore her. So I want to get better now.
For me it all comes back to that fork in the road. And in those times when I’m tempted to pull out my iPhone or iPad instead of being with my family I pull myself back to that moment and ask myself what I want my family to remember about me that day.
Do I want them to remember I gave more at work than at home or that I put them first?
Do I want them to remember I looked at my phone more than I looked at them or that, when the phone rang, I said, “It’s OK. I’ll call them back later. You are more important.”?
Do I want them to remember I played more on my Nintendo Wii or more with them?
I don’t think checking your phone or working hard or playing video games is bad. Sometimes those things can be healthy and help you relax so you can be a better dad latter. The key is to make sure you do them in a way that doesn’t make you ignore your kids.
They may not remember now, but they will later. What memory do you want them to have?