Soaking Up Dad

I figured out why they called that children’s character SpongeBob. Because our kids are nothing if not sponges. And they soak up a lot.

I’ve ranted about this before, but I happened to observe something this week that made me want to pick up my virtual pen again.

As a dad, I want to ensure that I teach my babies the lessons in life that I feel are important. I am fully aware that my ability to do this properly is evolving. I tried too hard with our first one, Abigail. Everything she did had to be perfect. She had to be perfect with her toilet training, her letters and her numbers, her pronunciation. Then school came along – she had to get all the academic awards, she had to do her homework (even in kindergarten), she had to attend every ballet class, and soccer practice. I was all over her to mind her manners, and I know now that I was too harsh on her. I feel bad, but I was learning.

Then came Amalie, and in the four years since she joined us, I’ve developed the ability to be more flexible, and to realize that my, and her, world won’t stop turning because of a small mistake. I’ve learned to give her some wiggle room, and to guide her with a little less rigidity. I’m sure she’s not wound nearly as tight as Abigail because I haven’t been as strict about certain things. Luckily I’ve applied the lessons I’ve learned about relaxing a bit to raising Abigail too.

Now that Andon has come along, I’m too tired to care. KIDDING! But I’m really trying to ensure I do the best job at teaching, guiding and passing on lessons, and doing it in a way that it will benefit my children, more so than catering to me, my vision of what I want my children to be and my pride.

This week I saw a parent, with children in tow, react in a stupefyingly inappropriate way to a homeless man who had gently approached them. He wasn’t pushy. He wasn’t brash, or aggressive, or even asking for a lot. Yet the reaction was incredibly harsh. I could go on at length about how I feel about that, but that isn’t even my point. What I immediately noticed was the litter of children – silently watching, hearing, soaking it up. And learning.

My point here is that, as parents, we spend time ensuring the lessons we pass on to our children are the sit-down, planned-out kind. We think we are so awesome because we took 2 minutes out of our day to truly share the right way to do something with our offspring. For that short period of our day, school was in session. And man, did we ever pass on something important.

Sure. That’s all fine and dandy. But I believe we tend to forget something that’s far more critical. We forget that, for our little sponges, school is always in session.

Not just when you sit Junior down to pass on your vast knowledge. Nope. Lessons are also learned when you get up from the homework table, or the woodworking lesson, or the session of playing catch in the park.

You know when the ref or the ump blows a brutal call at your kid’s Little League game? And you get unglued, and say things you’d never, ever want to hear your own children saying? Guess what? School’s in session. Sponges are soaking up. All around you, including your own from the field or the ice – learning how to treat others.

Had a crappy day at work? How you treat your wife or husband the second you walk through the door is doubly important. Why? Well, of course, how you love your loved one is something that I consider very dear to my heart, but secondly school’s in session. The sponges are just around the corner, soaking up how you talk to, touch and look at your loved one. Or how you don’t talk to, don’t touch and don’t look at your loved one. And they’re learning.

Think you’re a man because you can take a swing at your woman, your property, because your day sucked? Will you be surprised to see your son doing it some day? Or to see your daughter gravitating towards men that take her for granted and push her around and keep her under their thumb? Don’t be surprised. The sponges soaked it all up when you were all they had.

How much impact do you think it has when you sit your kid down and teach them some well thought out lessons on overcoming racism and bigotry? It might make a dent, to be sure. But I’d like to think that my kids will be more color-blind when it comes to people because of how I treat people around me, rather than what I took the time to verbalize in a “lesson”.

Make sure you teach your kids the right lessons, whether you think school is in session or not.

I grew up with parents that loved each other very much and I knew that. I never heard my parents fight – not one single time. I have a friend whose parents, now long divorced, fought. They fought all the time. And I remember how deeply it impacted my friend. I clearly recall the many times he would talk about it. And the pain was so clear in his eyes. As a matter of fact, I got the feeling that a day that may have started out perfectly could quickly turn blustery and cold when his mom and dad’s relationship iced up. These things impact our babies, and they’re learning from us. All the time. I would hope that I won’t have taught my children these types of chilly lessons, lest they apply them in their own lives some day.

Our children are sponges, quietly soaking up everything we say and do.

Let’s make sure we teach them what’s important, whether we plan out the lesson or not.

That way, when our time here is done, we can look back and be glad about the things we see our children have soaked up.

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