by Rick McCray
Being a parent is hard. One moment you think you are doing everything correctly and the next minute you feel like an unfair dictator. As good parents we are constantly evaluating how our children are doing and how our parenting is helping to provide a supportive environment that lets our kids grow. It’s easy to feel inadequate. Here are 5 things I’ve learned can show my love when I feel like I am falling short.
My mother has wonderful stories. My favorite times growing up were sitting with her and my sister at the kitchen table while she told a story from her past. I learned that she and one of her brothers would go to the woods in her hometown in North Carolina and pretend to be Tarzan by swinging on actual vines, running around, and yelling as loud as they could. I learned that pigs actually bark similarly to dogs and female pigs are so protective of their babies that they become violent to anyone that comes near them. I learned that my grandmother began to cook for her whole family at 4 years old and that sense of responsibility was taught to my mother and her six siblings. Through telling stories about her life, my mother was teaching me that my young life was somehow connected to a rich history of wonderful people.
“Our lived experience can serve as a constant fountain of knowledge for our children.”
Our lived experience can serve as a constant fountain of knowledge for our children. The trick is knowing how to share our lived experience with our children in a helpful manner that keeps them listening without feeling talked down to. Sharing what we know allows our children another viewpoint to consider when they are called upon to make important life choices. At some point every child must walk alone. However, during that walk we can help our children take all their experiences with them, whether lived or learned from others.
My father, who passed away this year, was brutally honest. He would give me his thoughts on any subject whether I wanted them or not. Sometimes, I would seek out his advice because I knew he would tell me the truth as he saw it. When I was about ten I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong with the whole Santa Claus scenario. All the shows I watched and pictures I saw made him out to be this huge fat man who came into houses through chimneys. It just didn’t add up that a fat guy could come down our chimney on Christmas Eve without any of us hearing him.
I decided to ask my father because I knew he would tell me the truth. I approached him and asked, “Is Santa Claus real?” He looked at me with a puzzled look and almost laughed, “No, your mother and I get you that stuff.” I was so relieved that I knew the truth and could stop being paranoid about Santa sneaking into our home.
Being honest with our children about life is a gift that will continually bless them. When a child knows that he can ask us a question and get a truthful answer, that means the level of trust we share grows immensely. He is more likely to be honest with us if he knows that we value and practice dealing in truth. Dishonesty is a trait we see from too many of our politicians, religious and business leaders. A child is more likely to come to us for advice or at least a different take on a situation when he knows we won’t have a hidden agenda to bend the truth. Honesty from a parent gives a child another source of reliable information in their life.
When I was about eleven, my paternal grandfather passed away. My family went to Philadelphia for his funeral. After the funeral we were all in a hotel room together when my father started crying. He was laying on the bed and I was beside him and he gave me a big hug and cried. I remember laying on his chest with his arm around me and feeling safe and loved. I knew he was going through terrible pain about the death of his dad, but as his son, I was just happy to be close to him like that – no matter the circumstance.
“When we stand on a pedestal of constant perfection, it only gives us a longer way to fall.”
Often, we want our kids to see us as superheroes. However, the really good superhero stories involve the hero showing his humanity and vulnerability. When our children see us show real emotion and show that we also need people, it allows them to see us as people. No one is perfect. When we stand on a pedestal of constant perfection, it only gives us a longer way to fall. In addition, if our children think of us as an impossible standard to live up to, that can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy in them. Don’t be afraid to be human.
4. Quality Time
When I was in high school, I practiced debate. My team would travel around North Carolina competing at different high schools. During one trip my mother agreed to be a judge for “Dramatic Interpretation,” which was a debate competition where students would act out a portion from a contemporary or older dramatic play or book. This wasn’t a category of debate that I participated in, so I was able to sneak in when I wasn’t competing and watch my mother judge other competitors. There were people who were sad, angry, hilarious, and intense. Everyone brought their “A” game, and they all seemed like actual actors who could be on television or the big screen. My mother loved it and talked about her volunteer day for years afterwards. I loved it because I got to see my mother take a genuine interest in something I loved.
Time is the one thing that we can never replenish. Spending quality time with our children – listening to them, playing with them, and going on adventures with them by our side are some of the most fulfilling things we will do as a parents. Think about the people you loved that you have lost in your life. All you have left of them is your memories together. Each day that goes by without them makes those memories sweeter and more important. Personally, I want to spend as much time as I can with my children so when I’m gone they have a massive bank of positivity to pull from when remembering me.
My sons take their time when they eat. My oldest son will eat his food, tiny bite by tiny bite, while picking at every crumb on his plate. He will have 1/10th of a sandwich left and will nibble and nibble at it until it is finally gone. My youngest son likes to talk and eat, so he will tell me about a story of some kid in his class, take a bite, then tell me about a cartoon he was watching. He may even mix in a few hummed bars from a song he heard. A breakfast that should have taken 15 minutes, ends up taking closer to 45 minutes. During morning walks to school, my oldest picks up every acorn. My youngest has to say hello to every bug. Cute as it is, when we are rushing, this can try every fiber of my patience.
“We must respect our children as new soul travelers on this planet who need to take their time with everything that is exciting and new.”
Our children test our patience every day. Yet patience is what children need almost more than anything else. When my patience is tried, I remind myself that my children are younger than me by a multiple. They are learning this big, new world one morsel at a time. We must respect our children as new soul travelers on this planet who need to take their time with everything that is exciting and new. Be patient, be patient, be patient (I’m saying it to remind myself as well). If necessary, allow yourself the extra time to accomplish errands or get to school/work. They have all of adulthood to rush.
About The Author
Rick McCray is a married father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast. Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.