Parents are the original jack of all trades. The range of roles we are called upon to play in a single day is, if you think about it, quite staggering. It is really quite staggering even if you don’t think about it, and if you are yourself a parent, it is likely you don’t have the time to do so anyway.
The different hats we wear as parents are above and beyond the roles that adults already play in general, such as parent, spouse, employee, manager, sibling, child, friend, dog walker, barista, dish washer, cleaning staff, and sleep deficiency expert, to name a few. I am speaking instead of the hats specific to being a parent, of which some are super-wonderful — and some are less so. One thing you can say about being a parent, few jobs have more variety or better benefits. It’s a labor of love.
Here’s an abridged list of some of the jobs that I fill as a parent, starting with my least favorite, followed by my more preferred ones.
I think kids don’t realize how much we hate having to keep from them things that they want. There is nothing more I would like than to see my daughter enjoy a great big piece of chocolate cake. But if you haven’t eaten your dinner, well… we gotta lay down the rules and stick by them. Really I just want to give them everything good and tasty in the world. But then I will end up with lousy adults, and since they’re going to be adults for a lot longer than they’re going to be kids, it seems wise to invest in their adulthood.
I know there are lots of folks who like to make food. I am not one of those folks. I really dislike food preparation. I am loath to even make myself a PB&J sandwich, or even just a J sandwich. And of course even the really easy stuff becomes very not easy when dealing with children. Did you ever make the mistake of cutting the sandwich in half when they didn’t want it cut? Catastrophe! How about trying to get “the brown stuff” off chicken, bananas, broccoli, toast, or even foods that are supposed to be brown!? This is very much a job I prefer to leave to my wife. I’ll load and unload the dishwasher instead.
This one isn’t so terrible, except that somehow you always seemed to be called into it at the most inconvenient times. You come in from a particularly exhausting day at work, only to be reminded, “Honey, did you forget to pick up Talia from swim practice?” And then back out you go, cursing the fool who invented swimming pools.
This job does have the perk that you sometimes get to spend nice one-on-one time with your child, but as they get older, you are increasingly relegated to the status of a chauffeur, in addition to the role, and your kids end up interacting with each other or their friends and behaving exactly as if they were in a driverless Uber that magically takes them to the correct location (for free).
Changing diapers is already low on anybody’s list, but that’s not really even the worst of it. It’s when you have to examine your child’s poop – closely – to determine what kind of ailment it is that is causing them to holler at irregular intervals through the night that really hits the low point of the job. You know, when you have to get up close and personal with their feces in ways you never expected, like having to wrench it out of the rectum of your constipated six-year-old, or sift through it to find the tooth she swallowed (this has actually happened in my household).
Okay, now here are my favorites.
I’m really good at this one. This is often called for when the kids are in a little bit of a down mood. Or a silly mood. Or really, there aren’t a lot of moods I find a poor match for the jester (except the one where they’re really PO’d and want to stay that way – you do not want to make them laugh at that time).
It’s also a great role to call upon as a distractor, say when someone is fixated on getting a lollipop or on not putting on their underwear. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I have entered my kids’ rooms with underwear hanging off my ear. This has proven an excellent way to break through underwear refusal and get it swiftly onto their tushy.
How do airplanes fly? How come the moon follows us when we walk? Why is it called a street? What are dogs from? These are just some of the questions I was asked in a recent four-minute interval as I was out on a walk with my 7-year-old. Sometimes I get to answer before she asks the next one. Sometimes not.
It is admittedly satisfying to know the answers when I do. It’s nice to feel smart. But the real satisfaction is observing the spongelike qualities of my children as they drink up new information in the manner of the First Chinese Brother swallowing the sea (if you aren’t familiar with the book I am referencing, you are missing out).
As a teacher, I aim to expand my children’s minds. As a counselor, I aim to expand their hearts. Emotional intelligence, which I aim to inculcate in them by example as much as by instruction, is critical to one’s long-term happiness. In addition to the proactive bit, I am also called upon to be reactive – when my daughter is distraught over her broken toy, her dead fish, her ailing BFF relationship, or when she is stressed, or elated, or apprehensive. I feel fortunate to be able to give over the emotional tools my children will need to weather the ups and downs of life.
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What, then, is a Dad? Is it just a catch-all for the list of jobs we do? I don’t think so. A Dad is more than the sum of his parts. Dadness is the moment when you give your kid an ice cream cone with the sprinkles already mixed in and her eyes light up like the sun. It’s the time you spend snuggling in bed saying nothing at all. It’s the hours when you struggle to bear her pain that you cannot take away. And it’s also – so I hear – the bittersweet day that you realize she’s an adult and not your little girl anymore, that she packs up and moves out and wishes you well as she embarks on a life in pursuit of her own success and her greatest dreams.
Isn’t that, after all, Dad’s success and greatest dream as well?