If we are honest with ourselves, don’t we all have to admit that at times we look at our children and the phrase that best describes our feelings is, “seemed like a good idea at the time”? Although we don’t dispute the empirical fact that we were all kids once ourselves, each passing year adds another hagiographic layer on our remembrances of the time prior to our arrival at our current state in life. In our own distant memories, there was an underlying logic to our every action so that even visions of our most regrettable activities are bathed in a golden hue. Of course this combination of time, nostalgia and denial often times render us incapable of understanding our own offspring. If you doubt this assertion, just try counting how many times in a week your interaction with your kids begins with the phrase, “What were you thinking?” Despite our perpetual state of befuddlement at childhood logic, I believe that one of the biggest benefits derived via the decision to reproduce is that the resulting product are often the purveyors of valuable insight into our own behavior.
Not to go all Dr. Spock on anyone, but this whole childhood development thing seems to break down into a few different phases. The first phase can be defined as the “surveillance and structure” period where the bulk of your parental responsibilities revolve around ensuring your child’s well being through the establishment of clearly defined boundaries like “don’t stick that fork in the electrical socket”. In retrospect, this phase is fairly easy since your youngster is eager to please and believes pretty much anything you say. My own children (ages 11 and 13) have now entered the second phase in which, while they still listen to what you say, this is more because you are being given the benefit of the doubt rather than blind obedience. I think we all know what the next phase is, and that one entails a level of complexity that can’t be described in a single blog post, so we’ll focus on phase two for the balance of this one thank you.
Since my son (the eleven year old) has really only just entered this second phase of development, he still likes to do things with me and wants to do well at them for both himself and his dad. Since this period is fleeting—in a few short years he’ll still want to do well from a personal perspective, but what the old man thinks isn’t really going to be a major motivating factor—I am always ready to provide a constant stream of tips and advice to help him “do better”. This was the case on a recent father-son golf outing as a few errant shots by Crosby the younger prompted me to interject a few “watch me’s” and “how to’s” into our round. Naturally, in his efforts to incorporate all of my helpful advice, my son’s shots began to find refuge in areas of the course that otherwise wouldn’t normally be the source of human exploration. As you might expect, frustration soon led my wife’s “little lamb” to find that anger and peak performance are typically mutually exclusive. As I watched my son, I couldn’t help but realize that his behavior was not dissimilar to my own at various times, when, as an adult, I let my frustration overrule my innate understanding that my performance would only improve by remaining calm—much to the detriment of my score and my enjoyment of the round.
I never cease to be amazed at how much I have learned about myself by watching my own behavior mirrored by that of my kids. Obviously, whoever said actions speak louder than words knew what they were talking about. As the round progressed I spoke to my son about just trying to relax and enjoy the game, but more importantly, I focused on demonstrating that behavior to teach both him, and me, an important lesson. I think by the end of the round that my son enjoyed it as much as I did, and one of us had taught the other a valuable lesson.