Parenting is a weighty endeavor. In order to lead our children well, and prepare them for the road of life ahead, we parents must first go out in front. It is our duty to explore the terrain and become familiar with the place we are leading them because, as you and I both know, we cannot expect to lead our kids to a place we, ourselves, have never been.
Do you want your children to be healthy? Very well then, the first step is to become healthy. Do you want them to be generous? Then weave generosity into your life. Do you want them to be lovable? Then begin the hard task of becoming, yourself, lovable.
That's the Trouble, Isn't It
Brenda and I carry the hope that Sydney, Savannah, and Elliot learn all they need to navigate life while they are in our care. But in a very real way, we represent their natural limits. It's not likely that we will raise kids who are more mature than us. Or more humble than us. Or more tolerant than us.
The Importance of Whimsy
Everything I've said so far is sort of a given, right? We want our kids to be responsible adults and whatnot. It's all so serious. In fact, it may be too serious. Excessive seriousness is just a much a threat to our kid's future mental wellbeing as not enough, which is why, as a family, we embrace the importance of whimsy.
Thankfully for us, our daughter Savannah was manufactured with ample parts whimsy. We call her #theSmilingOne because she radiates fun and she knows it is her job to keep the family properly balanced in this way.
How much more important, then, is it for me to go before her? To travel the road of silliness and to be a model for her? To show her how to leverage what comes naturally to her for the benefit of others?
Critically. It is critically important.
She has a gift, there is no doubt. Sure, some days it can be exasperating when her play interferes with my plans, but her heart always shines through. I hope that her mother and I are up to the task of helping her balance the responsibility of being fun with being a well adjusted adult. Of channeling it appropriately. Of blessing others with it.
I want her to know that it's ok to be whimsical. Or to put it another way, it is a good thing to take your silliness seriously.
We play cards as a family on a near-daily basis, usually over dinner. Our game of choice is Uno. This game is easy enough for a 4 year old to grasp, but still fun for the rest of us. In order to combat sticky fingers we use the Uno H2O version of the game which comes with plastic cards, not paper. In fact, every month or so I fill the sink with water, bust out the soap, and soak the remnants of meals long forgotten off of our cards.
Playing cards is a great way for families to bond. It turns out that in our case, it is also a great way teach important lessons on good sportsmanship.
Throwing Tantrums, and Cards
When we first started, it was really difficult for Elliot to lose. He would throw a tantrum and sling his cards all over the floor. Often, he would do this in the middle of the game after receiving the grumpy side of a +4 wildcard from one of his sisters. Whenever this would happen, we would just continue playing without him.
Do you want to know what a 4 year old hates worse the receiving a draw 4? The rest of his family continuing to play the game without him. Poor Elliot would throw himself out of the emotional frying pan and into the proverbial fire. Ugh.
Week after week the four of us, his two older sisters, his mother, and I, modeled two things. The first was how to have fun in spite of one person's bad attitude. The second, was how to have fun while losing.
As the rest of us played on, we challenged each other, we growled at each other, and we boasted openly. When we lost, we threw our arms up in the air in melodramatic exasperation! We threw mock tantrums, littered with smiles and silly faces.
When we won, we victory danced. When we lost, we huffed and we puffed. But always, at the end, we accepted defeat and celebrated the winner.
"Good game, Savannah! I don't like losing, but I am happy for your win. You earned it!"
"Noooo! Mommy is going to win!? We gotta stop her! I have a skip card, someone change it to blue!"
"YES! I CAN! NOT! BE! STOPPED!"
Finally, a Breakthrough
It took months and months, and tantrum after tantrum, but eventually, slowly, at long last, it worked! Elliot is a completely different player today. He still has his moments, especially when he comes so close to victory that he can taste it, and then someone else unexpectedly swoops in and beats him, but the truth is that he is more likely to throw a mock tantrum than a real one.
A New Beginning
The two older girls received Pokémon cards for Christmas, and I've been playing with them when we go on our coffee dates. Not wanting Elliot to feel left out, I recently grabbed a deck of cards for both me and him.
The rules are much too complicated for a 5 year old, so I created special Pokémon: Family Rules that keep the game simple and face-paced.
Elliot has already lost to both me and his sisters, and the only time I’ve seen him throw a fit or cry was when he lost his cards and couldn't play with me.
There are a lot of things I'm doing wrong as a parent. If I was a braver man, I'd write more about those things. For today, however, I'm going to stay content with celebrating this victory because it's not mine alone. It's a win for the whole family.
We all earned it, especially Elliot.