The following was originally published in “The Good Life Men’s Magazine”
It was about 8:45 a.m. when Macklin rolled over to ask “Can I have another one?” Still in our pajamas, neither he nor I had gotten out of bed yet. Mom was out of town for a couple of days on a work trip, so of course we took advantage and had ourselves a little sleepover in the big bed.
We had fallen asleep watching cartoons and then picked right back up where we left off once the sun came up and roused us awake. After a couple episodes of PJ Masks, Mack was now asking for just one more.
Importantly, it was a Tuesday.
As I cued up another harrowing adventure for Gecko, Owelette and Catboy, a stinging sense of shame came over me. The emotion hit before the recognition, but soon enough I realized what was happening — I had become a lazy parent, way too eager to hit “play” on the ol’ Netflix babysitter while I sat glued to my iPhone lost in an endless Twitter scroll… and rightly so did I feel ashamed.
Remember, this was a Tuesday. If it had been a Saturday morning, fine. Good. Great! Weekends are for relaxing. But it was Tuesday. Mack had to get to school, and I had to get to work… and it was already 8:45.
While I am fortunate to have an incredibly flexible schedule, clearly I had let it all get away from me. And the worst part was, not only was this a fairly good representation of our typical weekday, it was also becoming more and more representative of the parenting mode into which I had let myself fall.
I had let easiness and convenience start to dictate my parenting decisions. Too many cartoons, too many chicken nuggets, too much time lounging in our undies. Not nearly enough outside play, books or vegetables. I had become lazy, and whatever made life easier for me was what Macklin got.
When I was a stay-at-home dad, Mack and I were as active as possible. We walked or road bike almost everywhere we needed to be. Our diets were full of fresh fruits and veggies (after he started eating solid foods, that is). He was probably 2 before he even knew the screen on the wall could turn on.
Now, the both of us can rattle off an embarrassingly long list of our favorite cartoons. And we both like way too much ranch on our nuggets.
The good news about shame, at least in this case, is that it can be quite motivating. As soon as I saw the pattern we were in, I decided we needed to get back to the good habits that defined our routine. And here’s even better news: unlike my usual columns, I actually have some sound advice to offer you!
Kids are resilient, adaptable and possess the long-term memory function of a goldfish. In other words, change is usually easier for them than it is for us adults. It may be rough for a duration, but after swimming around in circles a few times, they seem to altogether forget what changed. So, parents, never fret about introducing change — your kids will delight you with how fast they can adjust.
After we moved into a new house this past summer, Mack was all settled in after the first night he slept in his new room. I, on the other hand, for weeks kept finding excuses to drive by the old house. The change was definitely harder on me than it was for him.
When I made the choice to remove the iPad from the breakfast/lunch/dinner counter where Mack prefers to take his meals, yes he threw a bit of a fit… for about 48 hours. From then on, however, it was as if the iPad never existed. He happily ate his food — or pushed it around the plate enough times to earn his participation pass to be excused — without any cartoons or technological stimulation of any kind.
As I began reintroducing the healthier habits that had prior been our norm and watched Mack adapt to each and every one with whimsical ease, it became crystal clear the decline of Civilization Hanson was entirely my fault. Mack didn’t one day decide broccoli was gross and the backyard was scary. No, I had simply gotten lazy.
Playing inside was easier than going out for real exercise. Frozen dinners were easier than cleaning and chopping fresh produce. Cartoons at breakfast while I showered was easier than me getting up before him and being ready when he deserved my attention.
I’ve never gotten into the New Year’s resolution tradition, but this year I actually have resolve! I don’t want to be a lazy parent. I don’t want Mack to be able to outrun me anytime soon. Nor do I want to buy new, bigger pants. I like my pants. More than anything, though, I don’t want Mack to fall into a routine built on convenience. Not just yet, anyway. I don’t want to ruin his early 20s.