Learning to Dad

Summer holidays. The bane of every parent ’s existence.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it? As a child, you couldn’t wait for summer to start and for your holidays to kick in. As a young adult or if you’re a non-parent, it doesn’t make much of a difference - because you’re pretty much running from pillar to post to make things work out. As a parent though, it suddenly takes on a rather monstrous form - especially if your kids have the energy levels of someone on 3 cans of Red Bull. 


If any parent tells you that getting through summer holidays is a piece of cake, they’re either lying or they’ve been blessed with cherubic angels who are great at hiding their mischievous tracks, horns, tails and wings. Summer holidays are not easy for parents with little kids. Period.


My 6-year-old returned to school this week. In fact, I’m typing this after dropping him off at school today. A part of me is ecstatic. I’ve been working from home for the past few years, so trust me when I say this - WFH is not as romantic or laced with freedom like a lot of people would have you believe it is. Yes, it does have its benefits, and more importantly for a parent, it does give you more time with your kid(s). But it’s a trade-off. Unless you live a fairly regimented life or have a great sense of time management, you will often find yourself biting off a lot more than you can chew. Especially if there’s a kid involved in the mix.


So yes, summer holidays are a handful for most of us. Which may also partly explain my general lack of enthusiasm to post or blog over the past few months. But this summer, I discovered something different. Something that I probably should have done a lot of while he was younger. Evaluating the quality of the time that I spent with him.


Ask any parent, and the first thing they’ll say is that it’s important to spend time with your kids.  Especially when they’re little. I don’t disagree. But the trouble with our normal definition of time is that we check or measure it on the basis of the duration we spend doing a particular activity. Why? Perhaps because it’s more tangible that way. It’s easier to keep track of and when the mood swing hits and the kids say stuff like ‘I don’t like you’, it paves way for the more dramatic - ‘I spent all that time with you, and this is how you treat me’ - thought process. Don’t roll your eyes - if you have never felt that way at least once, you’re either not a primary carer or you’ve attained a supreme level of Zen. (In which case, here’s your ‘Zen Master’ badge)


Although most of you know this, for the uninitiated, I am a stay-at/work-from-home parent. Which invariably means that I’m around a lot more than my spouse is. At least, duration wise. However, I’ve often noticed that my son seemed to relate (and relay) more to her than me. At first, I dismissed it as a case of ‘wanting to be around the other parent’ syndrome. It’s something that happens in every nuclear family where one parent is seen as ‘going to work’ while the other one is ‘working from/staying at home’. It’s, in essence, a situation where kids feel that the parent who is around lesser tends to have less typical ‘parent’ and more ‘friend’ behavioural traits. Yes, it did hurt at times, but you learn to live with it. Or pretend it doesn’t hurt anymore.


However, over the course of this summer holiday, I reassessed my situation with the kid. I came to the conclusion that what my parenting lacked was not the time that I spent with him, but rather the quality of that time. Yes, we did a lot of fun things together, went out to the playground, watched movies together and whatnots. But his mother did all of these too. Yes, due to time constraints, she did do it a little less often than I did. Nevertheless, it was all happening. So where was I going wrong?


I often poke fun at the fact that I’d like to give away my ‘as-good-as-new’ Engineering degree because I don’t work in a tech field anymore. However, in retrospect, I’ve realised something. Your academic degree does not guarantee that you’ll find a career doing what you learnt. But what you’ve learnt can come in handy in different ways. For instance, it helped me figure out what the problem was with my parenting style. Quite bizarre, is it not? Engineering teaching me Parenting? I won’t go into the details, but with some keen observation and applying a bit of scientific analysis, I figured out where my pain point lay. It wasn’t with the quality of time that I spent with him.


The exact reason my son preferred to do certain things with his mother was that over time, they had developed it into ‘their’ little activity.  For instance, watching a certain genre of movie or TV series, was more valuable when it was done with his mother than with me. And when I thought about it, I realised that he and I did not really have a ‘thing’ that we could call our own. An activity or two, that made him think about me.


So in many ways, this summer holiday period marked a new beginning for us. Instead of spending time just doing things to get through the day, we spent time creating memories. Of course, we had our fall outs and arguments. Tempers flared, tantrums were thrown, tears were spilt, ‘I hate yous’ were traded, emotional hugs were exchanged. But despite it all, we had fun. We found little things that the two of us enjoyed doing with each other. For the first time in a long set of summer holidays, I was actually a little sad to see my son go back to school.


Having said that, at this moment in time, I’m thankful for the limited period of silence that I have at my disposal now. And grateful that once again, summer holidays are done with.


[In the interest of being upfront, my wife has always said that I needed to do this with our kid. That we had to find an activity or two that was ours, and no-one else’s. Of course, it took me analysis, application of engineering theory and whatnots to figure out this myself. But in my shoddy defence, husbands rarely listen to their wives. I probably should start now. ]