Here is something that is not easy to admit. I find fatherhood difficult. I love my kids to bits, and would do anything for them, but the actual day-to-day work of being a parent, I find challenging, even as I know that my wife is doing significantly more than her fair share.
For a while now, I have been struggling to engage with my children. Partly this is a natural introversion, which means I quickly tire in intense social situations, but more I think it is a difficulty engaging with ideas on the level of a five-year-old and a three-year-old. I just get bored really quickly, and find myself longing to be somewhere else. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way.
So, I got to thinking about it. I watched my wife engage with them, and I thought back to the best engagements I’ve had with them. Then, I made an interesting discovery. My wife, I realized, often tries to steer their play into areas that interest her. She loves the outdoors and the natural world, as well as arts and crafts, and tries to guide them in that direction. She actively instigates these activities. Meanwhile, one of the best interactions I’ve had with my daughter recently is when I suggested we do some painting together.
This is probably pretty obvious to some people, but it was a realization to me: interactions with my children go much better when we are doing something that I like doing as well! If I’m always passively reacting to what they want to do, I will often end up bored, engaging in play which does not interest me. If, however, I offer them options which I actually enjoy, as often as not, they will happily join in. This isn’t about steering the children in directions they don’t want to go – I want to support my children to find their own paths and interests – but at this age, they know so little of the world, they are likely to be interested in trying out all kinds of new things. The key is that I have to be active in offering these opportunities.
So, in an attempt to put my new idea into practice, I put my miniature paints on the table last night, and asked my daughter if she wanted to paint a miniature. Last time, I gave her a miniature and let her get on with it with her kiddie-paints and kiddie-paint brush. This time, I gave her one of my brushes (yes, I paused, but decided the sacrifice was worth it). I let her choose her paints from my miniature paints. I let her shake them, though I still squeezed the dropper bottles. I decided I would concentrate on the proper use of the paint brush – dipping and cleaning – and not worry about how she was painting the miniature. That could be for future lessons if she wants them.
I painted my own miniature along side her (another ghost that took very little attention). Of course, she said she was ‘done’ after 15 minutes and asked for another miniature, but I said, that’s all there was for tonight, as miniatures are expensive and we need to enjoy making each one as good as we can. She then happy carried on for another 10 minutes.
So, really, it was only 25 minutes, but it was 25 minutes that I really enjoyed, and I think she did too. I honestly don’t know if she enjoyed the painting for its own sake or just the fact that she got to sit there and use ‘Daddy’s paints’. In a few days, I’ll dig out another miniature and ask if she’d like to have another go. I’d love it if she says yes, but if not, I’ll start looking for something else that we can do together that I’ll enjoy.
My son is a little easier in that he loves kicking and throwing a ball, and as I enjoy these activities to, it’s easier to go right into it - though again - I need to work harder to initiate this interaction. That said, I need to find something we can do indoors, as the rainy season is coming!