Parenting Efficiency

Posted on July 25, 2011


Parents often feel guilty.

They may feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids.  Or maybe they put in the hours, but they worry it’s not enough quality time.  I don’t worry about the quantity of time versus quality of time debate because I only measure parental success in quantity of activities.

Time passes much slower when you’re a kid, so one minute of catch in my time will feel like ten minutes in his and will be just long enough to make an impression.  Instead of spending half an hour only playing catch, I can fit five activities in that time frame.  When my sons talk to a friend at school, the friend will say he played basketball with his dad yesterday, and my sons will counter that they played basketball, baseball, video games, wrestling, and Legos with their dad yesterday.  The quantity of time may have been the same, but when the kids compare dads, the quantity of activities will seem much more impressive.

I get the kids ready for school in the mornings before work and when I take them to the bus I always bring a ball and we play catch during the two minute walk.  I also ask them about friends and girls and schoolwork, so in only two minutes I get credit for taking the kids to the bus, playing catch, and having a meaningful fatherly conversation.  This is the height of parenting efficiency: At only 7:55AM, I’ve accomplished three parenting activities and rid myself of parental guilt for the rest of my day while other dads will carry this weight around until 6:00 or 6:30PM.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my wife and sons left last week for a two week visit to the US and will return after I depart to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for one month.  They finished packing at 4:00PM and had to leave for the airport at 5:00PM, so I decided to spend that remaining hour with my ten-year-old, Optimist Prime, loading those sixty minutes with enough father-son activities to make an impression that would last for six weeks.

I made a list of father-son activities and checked them off the list one by one.

4:00 Play catch: As we tossed the football, I gave him a compliment on his arm strength and perfect spiral before reminding him of the proper point in his motion to release the ball.  I always try and give a couple compliments before I mention something that he might need to correct.  Next, I asked if he had any compliments for me.

4:10 Take an interest in something he likes: I asked if he wanted to show me any new skateboard tricks.  Every trick he shows me seems to be the same trick–he jumps off the board, the board spins, and he lands  back on the board.  Sure, the tricks look difficult, but I have mixed emotions about complimenting a skill that seems to celebrate the opposite of what I assume is the most important part of skateboarding: Staying on the skateboard at all times.  Why would you want to jump off for any reason?

4:14 Have a heartfelt discussion:

“You’re a great son, son.”
“You’re a good pop, Pop.”
“You want to play Super Mario Brothers 3 Battle Game?”

4:15 Play Super Mario Brothers 3 Battle Game: I was going to let him win, but he actually beat me on his own.  I think I was distracted by all the leftover emotion from our heartfelt discussion.

4:25 Work on a puzzle together:  Luckily I had a partially completed puzzle on the coffee table.  I removed two corner pieces, handed them to my son and said, “Where do you think these go?”

4:26 Wrestle: I keep this extremely short because I remember the one time we were wrestling when he was four, and  he threatened to “hit me with a sack of tragedy”.  I still fear agitating him to the level where he might be tempted to use it.

4:27 Positively reinforce my abilities as a father: Just in case he meets another dad that seems awesome because he’s forgotten how awesome his own dad is, I think it’s important to build myself up.

“Aren’t you glad your dad is so awesome?”
“A lot of dads are lame.  I bet your friend Tyler’s dad just sits around in his underwear after work.  I bet he never plays video games with his kids.  (I knew this was all true because my other son told me.)
“Yeah, he does sit around in his underwear a lot.”

4:30 Play golf: We have a mini game we’ve been playing every night before he goes to bed where we try and sink five putts in the least amount of shots and he gets different handicaps based on the previous night’s results.  I considered letting him win, but he had just beaten me in the Super Mario Battle Game and I figured his confidence would recover just fine.

4:45 Nerf Dart Gun Duel: We stood back to back, counted five paces, turned, and fired.  He won.  I couldn’t believe he would shoot his own dad.

4:55 Give some responsible advice:

“Be nice to people.”
“Don’t do drugs.”
“I won’t.”
“Quit smoking.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Are you thinking of starting?”
“No!  I never want to smoke.”
“You sure talk about smoking a lot for a kid who has no interest in smoking.”
“When do I talk about smoking?”
“Right now!  This conversation!  Why can’t you stop talking about it?  Your obsessed with smoking!”

5:00 I took a picture of all three standing next to the taxi and told them, “On the count of three shout, Paris, France.”  I did this for the benefit of a neighbor who was watching us, and I hoped he would later ask about the trip to Paris and be confused when I explained they had gone to the United States.

Posted in: Family