NYR 19-06: “Be a Better Parent.” Part 1: Letters To My Girls.

“Be a better parent?” What kind or New Year’s Resolution is that?

At first glance, kind of a terrible one.

For starters, the subject is fraught with danger. People tend to get opinionated when it comes to raising their kids (I am no exception).

But also it’s nearly impossible to measure. I mean, when it comes to parenting how do I even know if I’m doing it right? Developmental milestones? Diapers changed? Hours of screen time?

What if, despite all of my efforts, my kids still grow up to be totally messed up? Is it my fault? My wife’s? Both? Neither? Does “nature vs. nurture” come into play here?

I don’t have the answers, but I think that the main issue is that these questions focus on raising good kids, as opposed to being a good parent.

And I think there’s a difference. The idea of raising “good kids” implies that there are expectations to adhere to concerning what “good kids” actually are. And I think creating a goal around that is setting yourself up for failure, simply because there are so many factors outside of your control.

But if you focus instead on being a better parent, the job becomes a lot simpler: be a better person, then parent naturally.

My strategy is to focus on challenging and improving myself in as many areas as I can think of, with the hope that these better qualities will eventually be reflected in my parenting.

Right now, I’m trying to better myself by writing this blog. I find that writing helps bring my thoughts and beliefs into focus. An idea can seem crystal clear in my mind, and at the same time it can feel impossible to write damn thing down. It’s a humbling process which forces me to think critically about the ideas that bounce around in my head throughout the day.

And it has crossed my mind that someday my girls might read this, and it’s a nice thought. I want them to know their dad, and I want them to know how much fun I’m having with them at this age and how much I love them.

And that’s how I came up with this idea for a New Year’s Resolution:

In 2019, I will send forty emails to my girls.

You can see my progress here. I’ve setup email addresses for both my girls, and have been emailing them about once a week for the past six months.

After a few weeks of sending emails, I decided one morning to try recording a voice memo instead. The voice memos were better; for whatever reason, I find that I’m more casual and more honest when I’m speaking to them as opposed to writing to them.

Just reading the subject lines in the spreadsheet makes me smile. We’ve covered a lot of ground these past six months, some good times (“The Big Snow”) some frustrating times (“The Broken Faucet”) and some sad and scary times (“The ER Visit”). So far, I’ve recorded over 4.5 hours of content.

As I look at that number and realize that it’s going to get much higher (probably three times that size by the end of the year), I have my doubts as to whether anyone is ever going to actually listen to these. I don’t see my daughters ever sitting down to listen to twelve straight hours of their dad going on about a blown pass-interference call that happened in a football game twenty years ago.

But who knows? They might be interested. I still have notes from my dad that he wrote me when I was a kid, and my mom kept a baby book documenting my first year in painstaking detail. It’s fun to read these things and compare them to my own parenting experience.

So am I really doing this for them, or am I doing it for me?

I think the same question can be asked about most “parenting”activities. For me, it’s a little bit of both but I think I’m mostly doing it for me, and that’s ok.

It’s not just because I want to document all this stuff, or impart what little “wisdom” I think I might have. The main reason I’m doing this is because there are moments in my day when I REALLY want to tell my girls how much they mean to me but it’s hard to do that when they are so tiny and their English isn’t great.

Moments like this one, when we were all at Disney World, just having a blast…

These moments come and go so quickly that I usually forget about them. Even if I take the time to pause, look my daughters in the eyes and tell them I love them so much I still feel like they don’t really get it. Perhaps they never will.

But with each new message I get another chance to try. A chance to tell them that, in this moment, they were loved and made me happier than I ever deserved to be.

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