Unlike your own parents, you actually spend time with your kids. You get down on the ground and enter their world. You’re fun. Your house has joy in it.
Good for you.
But you have to understand that this is not enough. And more than that, being the ‘fun’ parent can be a form of selfishness too. As Josh Ireland details in his fascinating book, Churchill & Son, Winston Churchill was infinitely more available and loving than his own father. He loved to play with his kids, but still struggled with how to actually be present and truly think about things from their perspective.
“He was an extravagant builder of sandcastles who had always delighted in playing with his children,” Ireland wrote, “he was able to shrug off the cares and worries of adult life and plunge into games playing a gorilla—where he would drop out of trees onto unsuspecting youngsters—or a bear, where a growling Winston chased them through woods or a tunnel made from painting propped against a wall….The games lasted only as long as he wanted them to. All too soon he would disappear into that adult world that…was unreachable. Somebody else would always have to deal with the overexcited, disappointed children he left in his wake.”
This is so easy for us to do. We play but then flip the switch to go back to the ‘real world.’ We come home from a long day, riling them up instead of calming them down for bed. We show them adult or mature things—which is great—but are too busy to actually use that opportunity for real connection. We take our teenagers places, but we’re only available in spurts because work is always coming up.
You can’t do that. You have to do more than spend time with them, more than be fun. You have to be there for the whole thing. If you have the time to open their eyes to how amazing their world could be, you must also have the time to explain what they are seeing. It’s great that you want to enter into play but you have to help them transition out of it too.