Ever since my son was born I have struggled to be the best dad ever, and I often feel like I’m coming up short. I’ve been told by others that I’m a good dad, so why can’t I relax? I wonder, will I ever feel like a good enough dad?
After I got divorced I went through some of the usual neurotic and conflicted feelings—I worried that by separating from his mother, I was doing the wrong thing for my son. I compensated by letting him get away with some questionable behavior, and I also tried to constantly entertain him when we spent time together. That may have made me feel a little less guilty, but was I helping my son?
LEARNING TO BE A DAD
Though I still let my boy get away with a lot, I’ve since learned other ways to show him he is loved and valued. Every afternoon when he gets home from school, we spend a couple of hours talking about his day and working on his homework. I keep in touch with his teachers, always trying to be on top of his performance at school. And I am always trying to figure out whether his behavior (which by most standards is quite good) and his schoolwork (which is average to good) are symptoms of something else. Does he have Attention Deficit Disorder, or some psychological damage from the divorce? Or, as I am often told, is he just a boy being a boy?
And really, how should a 9-year old behave? He’s considerate and gentle with younger kids. He loves to play, wrestle, and compete in sports. He’s polite, a mediocre reader, curious, generally happy, and innocent. He’s great; yet I’m still a worry wart. When he’s too well-behaved, I worry that something’s wrong with him. When he’s not so well-behaved, I wonder if I’m the one doing something wrong. Every day I have a battle with myself about how to do the best I can for him. I don’t want him to be a robot. I don’t want to be a Nazi father. I rarely punish him because he rarely does anything that merits punishing. But am I giving him too much liberty? And just how much liberty should a boy have?
Read Related: A Dad Confronts Separation Anxiety
TOO LITTLE FREEDOM?
When I speak to people my age, we all talk about how free we were when we were kids back in the 1970s. How we ran wild in the neighborhood, rode our bikes without helmets, played in construction sites, got in trouble, ran away. We lived a carefree life, without fear of child predators or trips to the E.R. And we did okay. Now I look back and think, “What the heck were my parents thinking?”
What has changed is that we now book our kids’ schedules such that there is hardly any free time for them to goof around and be imaginative, to be left to their own devices. With after school programs taking care of the kids until we get out of work, then homework, dinner and a bath, plus 20 minutes of reading and in bed by 8:30, they have no free time for play during the week. And on the weekend, between soccer, other sports and activities and running errands, time flies. Is this right?
A BALANCING ACT
Being a parent is a balancing act. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly being pulled in different directions, trying to be a disciplinarian, or taking it easy and trying to give him freedom to learn on his own. Over the summer, during one of those moments of freedom, my boy dropped a rock on his foot and lost his toenail. Should I have been on top of him, yelling at him not to play with rocks? Did he learn his lesson?
Whoever first said parenting isn’t easy wasn’t kidding. Every day seems to bring a new concern, a new adventure, a new accomplishment on both our parts. But sometimes, I feel alone as a dad. Moms are traditionally the caregivers and as a result, all the advice and support and websites are geared towards them. What about all us dads?
I want my son to have a happy childhood like I did, but I also want him to do well at school, play sports and learn empathy and respect. Sometimes it seems like a tall order. Maybe in his little world he is happy entertaining his own dreams. In the end, I may never know. And all I can do is be a dad who cares, and trust his personality, trust my guidance, and trust his school’s teaching, and believe that he will learn and grow and be a good person. And when that happens, maybe I’ll finally start to believe that I am actually a good enough dad.