Three years ago I was at the museum with my five children. The baby was hungry for a bottle and the rest were hungry for their lunch, so we headed into the foodcourt. We sat at an empty table with enough room for all of us, and I asked the older four children to sit quietly while I fed the baby. They behaved fantastically, sitting quietly and talking about the things they’d seen and done that morning. One of the olden kids got out a snack for the second youngest and they continued waiting patiently for their lunch.
To be honest, on this particular day I took their behavior more or less for granted. Certainly they didn’t always behave so well in public, and there have been plenty of times that we’ve left somewhere early simply because they weren’t in control enough to stay out in public. But that wasn’t this day, and I didn’t think much about it as the baby finished his bottle and I pulled out lunch for the rest of the kids.
Lunch continued to be fairly quiet – as quiet as it can be with a gang of kids talking around their sandwiches, but there was no yelling or arguing or screaming. A generally successful meal on all accounts, and before too long we were packing up to head back into the museum to see another exhibit or two before heading him. And that’s when my day changed. A couple of tables away three women were sitting with their children (one each, that I saw), and one of them approached me hesitantly.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I just wanted to say that your children are behaving wonderfully. We were watching when you came in with them by yourself, and we weren’t sure how they would act. You’re doing a great job.”
We talked for just a couple of minutes about the kids. I mentioned that I was a stay-at-home dad, so I’m used to taking my kids out. She responded that her dad was also a SAHD for a number of years when she was a child, and that it was wonderful. That was the extent of the conversation, and my kids wandered back through exhibits for another hour or too, though I didn’t forget the conversation.
I don’t know why she approached me to compliment me on the behavior of my children. I’d like to think she would have done that for any parent who walked in with five well-behaved children, but the cynic in me tends to wonder if she was complimenting me just because it’s rare to see a dad handling a large group of kids so well. Or perhaps she remembered struggles her dad had as an SAHD in a society that is all too often uncomfortable with us, and simply wanted to say a kind word.
None of that is particularly important, because whatever her reasons for saying it, it was something I needed to hear. It’s wasn’t a particularly unusual conversation, but right then I needed to hear that my children were behaving very well. Well enough that it was obvious to other people. Not because I needed the encouragement and recognition, though that’s nice to hear from time to time, but because I wasn’t even thinking about how well my children were behaving, and I should have been. It’s all too easy as a parent to focus on the problems and to only see the times when nothing seems to be going right and none of the children seem to listen. To allow the arguments and fits and fights to eclipse all the great things that are also happening.
Like many parents I struggle with this. I have for the past nine years that I’ve been a parent and a SAHD. It can become very difficult to see the good when there always seems to be a problem to focus on. When I get stuck in that sort of negative mindset it becomes even more difficult to parent effectively and to show my children how much I care about them and love them for who they are. Of course there needs to be balance, because children do need correction to help them learn how to treat others and act appropriately, but that correction should never eclipse the celebration of their successes. And yet all too often I don’t even see their victories because I’m so preoccupied with the other side of the equation. Sometimes I don’t see their sparkling personalities and moments of kindness and insight and fun, and all I can see is that they have trouble keeping their rooms clean or happen to enjoy coloring on the walls.
It’s been three years since that day at the museum. I don’t know if my parenting has improved in that time, though I hope it has. I don’t know if I’m more positive, or if I notice my children’s successes more than I did back then, but I think it’s time to focus on these things more deliberately. It’s time to make those positive moments the focus of very day instead of letting them slip by unnoticed. My children are worth it, and yours are too.