Being a parent is a singularly-busy role; there’s an intensity to it outsiders can’t always appreciate. A young human is entirely reliant on you for food, water, comfort, intellectual stimulation, and more besides. You’re also aware that the intensity of those needs are time-limited; one day, your child will be grown-up and looking after themselves for a lot of the time. You’ll (hopefully, if you do your job right) still be a part of their lives, but won’t be needed every moment to provide all those things.
It’s both a joy to be able to raise a child and exhausting to do it effectively; you’re on call 24/7 and know that your child is the most important person in your life. Little Johnny or Joanna isn’t the only person in your life, however, and your own ambitions and desires don’t go away just because you’re a parent.
I’ve tried to be very careful to ensure my own personality doesn’t get subsumed beneath the tidal wave of my son’s needs. I’m not there to be his best friend; I’m there to be his dad, and that’s a key difference. I want to give him clear boundaries, lots of fun, and the strength of character to deal with life.
They’re big ambitions, and they require a lot of investment. If you’re not willing to make that investment, then what the hell are you doing becoming a parent in the first place? It breaks my heart to realise that some people don’t want to engage with their children and give them boundaries. Just today at the school gate, I saw a mum waiting to collect her child and saw her other child – four or five years old – banging her scooter against the gates constantly. I glanced at the mum, who was staring blankly at her child, and then I looked back at the child before saying, “Don’t do that, sweetheart. You’ll damage the gate and your scooter.”
The girl, quite frankly, looked astonished; her jaw actually dropped open. Someone had dared tell her off – albeit in a softly-softly way – and she looked at her mum for defence. The mum, however, was more vacant than I had appreciated; she didn’t respond in the slightest, and so the girl looked back at me with her most defiant look and edged her scooter towards the gate again. I just stuck my foot out and blocked her wheel from moving. She strode off in a huff, so I obviously did something right.
I digress. As well as doing all this with my son – because I want to – I also need to ensure that my own life isn’t entirely subsumed into my son’s. He needs his life, and that won’t involve his dad being involved in every activity on every day. I have to make sure I’m setting him the boundaries, giving him inspiration, and letting him fly as much as he is confident – and even sometimes when he’s not.
But I need him to see that the things I enjoy are still important to me; in my case, my writing, my long-distance walking, and my love of all things sci-fi. I’ve been able to get my son interested in writing, but not the other two quite as much; he moans if he walks any distance longer than between the kitchen and the front room, and he’s not really seen much sci-fi yet.
To be fair, we don’t need to have the same interests; complimentary interests certainly help, but they’re not essential. I just need to ensure that my son sees my own interests as important to me and therefore important for me to explore them just as much as it’s important for him to explore his.
How do I do that? With a great deal of difficulty. Keeping a single child secure, healthy, safe, and entertained is not a five minute wonder; especially for a kid with experiences in his background that make him interpret the world through his own prism. We all do, of course, and I need to work with him to help my son realise his potential – but also see me as a human being as well. Some challenging times ahead …