Laid Back Dadding: A Parenting Philosophy
My approach to parenting derives from this simple adage: Kids need to learn to work things out. The three principles below are the foundations of my parenting philosophy, which I will call “Laid Back Dadding.”
Did Noodle just climb up to the highest tier of the largest structure at the playground? OK. Let’s see if he can get out of this pickle. Of course, I’ll be there to bail him out if everything turns south and he melts down. Of course, if he’s in real danger of falling, I’ll be there to prevent it or to catch him. But generally, if he gets into something, he can get out of it, and it’s best that he learn how.
Did another little boy at the playground just snatch a toy away from Noodle? Well, that happens. My approach: see if they can work it out among themselves. Likely they can. Of course, if one is about to wind up and smack the other, I step in. That’s the point at which you explain that hitting isn’t a solution, and that sharing doesn’t mean you can never have it back. Those are important lessons, and if your kid’s life is a series of “protective interventions,” they are lessons that your kid will rarely hear.
My suggestion is not to simply let every event play out to its conclusion. There are times and places to step in, and we all step in; we have to. My suggestion is that too often, our generation of parents wants to step in too soon. If we step in too soon too often, then we deprive our kids of the working it out experiences that foster healthier social interactions, creative problem solving, and increased self-confidence. It takes a strong dose of confidence and trust on your part to let things happen in kiddo’s life, so be prepared to resist my suggestions. But if you take a long-term view, as I suggest here, you might find, as I have, that it’s worth the leap of faith in both yourself and in your child.
We can probably all agree that they grow up so fast, that days flutter past without our having accomplished one useful thing around the house. Kids don’t have that sense. They don’t know what time it is, what day it is, what month or year it is — until about age four or so, experts tell us. All they have to do is to be awesome; all we have to do is to be stressed. Don’t let the two intersect.
Laid Back Dad doesn’t rush his child. Kiddo has a whole life of rushing ahead of him. Let him enjoy his moments. And in my experience, when you let go of your own stress, you enjoy your child’s moments as much as he does. That is bonding, and that’s why you’re dadding full time.
If you have ever tried to dress a child, you know that it is a heart-rate-raising exercise. Noodle is a wiggler, and especially in the early days, I’d step back to admire my fashionistic success having broken a sweat. They don’t always want to get dressed, and they don’t always want to wear what you picked out. For the longest time, Noodle had a thing against collared shirts. What does Laid Back Dad do? Offer another shirt without a collar. That’s not a battle worth fighting, because at the end of the day, whatever shirt you put on him is going to be covered in paint, spaghetti, and boogers.
On the other hand, if Noodle doesn’t want to eat the rest of his spaghetti before dessert, battle ensues. No dessert, no painting, no fun until you finish your dinner. Fair enough. These are healthy habits, so let’s foster them as best we can.
Beyond how much dirt covers the child and whether his pants and polo shirt match perfectly, there are daily household battles that we must also choose. Have you tried to keep a floor clean all day with a toddler around? It is not possible. If you choose to fight the clean floor battle every time it’s dirty, you will lose. And you will drive yourself out of your tree trying to win. When your Noodle spills a box of Cheerios on the rug, brush them out of the way and get back to the pile of detritus later. To do otherwise just cuts into his play time and your rest time. There’s no good reason to sacrifice either.
At all times, Laid Back Dad is ready to jump. Any and all of these principles are violable in the event of imminent catastrophe. Your job as parent is to learn your child’s limits and know what counts as imminent catastrophe. For example, the first time I caught Noodle balancing and riding his bike on a curb, I did not let that take its course; I intervened quickly because I thought it was a mistake and that there was no way he could actually do such a thing. Turns out, he can. So now, if I see him riding curbs on his bike: OK. That’s what he does, he has never fallen off, and he does it surprisingly well. It’s good for him to develop physical skills like these, even if they cost a bump or a scrape now and then.
Laid Back Dad lets things happen, but chooses to let the right things happen. The long-term view is that kiddo learns healthy social skills, builds his creative problem solving abilities, and walks out of childhood with enough confidence to take on whatever adolescence throws at him. You know he’s going to need it.