Improvising Fatherhood

A blog about the comedy of being a dad.

When our children are very young, we parents will use just about any trick we can come up with to motivate them to do what we want. For our first son, the easiest method was to make everything a game or competition. Chandler didn’t want to stop playing to go to the bathroom, but if I said, “I’ll race you to the potty” then ZOOM he was off in a flash. He enjoyed winning these little games so much, I could get him to do just about anything.

Eat some broccoli? Broccoli eating contest!

Brush your teeth? Teeth brushing contest!

Wash your clothes? Wet T-shirt contest! Wait…no. Not that. Never that.

But with the younger kid, competitions were much less enticing. Maybe it was because Parker always had a bigger brother to compete with and it always felt like the odds were stacked against him. But with Parker, if I said, “Race you to the potty,” he’d say, “You win!”

So with Parker I switched gears to playing the game of “Defy Daddy.” Things like, “DON’T YOU DARE EAT ALL THOSE VEGGIES.” And then he’d giggle mischievously as he ate all those veggies.

“Parker, don’t you DARE go to the potty right now. That would really bug me.” And then he’d giggle all the way to the potty and give me a play-by-play commentary of everything that he was doing.

So here’s the thing. The seeds we plant at a young age grow to become giant trees.

Chandler, who is 9-years-old, is now FIERCELY competitive in everything he does. In some ways this is wonderful. He has a passion for sports, especially soccer. But he is also driven to be a great student, and he loves strategy games such as chess.

However…he also has ZERO chill. The kid must win all the time. It doesn’t matter how trivial or silly the game is, losing is not an option for Chandler. This means he can’t just let his little brother win at something (the way I always let him win at games when he was that age) and losing at even a simple game of Go Fish can cause a meltdown.

Parker, who is 6-years-old, is now devilishly defiant. A positive aspect of this development is that he has become a very independent kid. If he wants a cup of water, unlike his big brother who will call for it like a royal heir to the throne summoning his butler, Parker will simply go to the kitchen, get a cup, and use the stool to reach the water dispenser at the fridge.

However…he also really loves to do the exact opposite of what I ask him to do. That’s our dynamic now. We are always at odds. Everything is a Daddy vs Parker battle. AND…he’s now old enough to know when I’m trying to trick him into doing something.

“Parker, don’t you DARE clean up all those toys.”

“OK, Dad. I won’t.”

“Oh…I mean…please for the love of god clean up all those toys.”

The boys are still young and these traits are not uncommon or unmanageable. But left unchecked, they could continue to grow and get out of control. With Chandler, I’m working on fostering his love for playing games while tempering his competitive side by teaching him that it is OK to lose. It is OK to fail.

For Parker, I am working on encouraging his independent personality while also reminding him that listening to others and getting help from those more experienced than us can be a very good thing. Sometimes I feel the need to “put my foot down” and demand that he be more obedient. But more often, I work on making him feel heard and valued so that he doesn’t feel like he has an opposition to fight against in the first place.

The moral of the story is, if you have young children be careful what methods you use to motivate them. And as those seeds grow into trees, be prepared to do some pruning.

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