In the past two month I’ve been able to spend time with my two-year-old niece and my eleven-year-old nephew and both reminded me of the value of diverse experiences. With my niece she lets me relive a brief and happy time that I was able to experience with my own daughters. She laughs a lot, she smiles a lot, and her mannerisms and expressions so badly want to be older than she is. My nephew is like an adult compared to my daughters. He has a cell phone, (a cell phone!). He’s mature enough to make jokes, get jokes, and talk about serious things like whether Captain America might be a good movie.
In each of them I see new experiences that I don’t get with my daughters. With my niece we rolled around the floor tickling each other, with my daughters it’s a competition of who’s knee can inflict the most pain. With my nephew, we can actually shoot baskets and talk about basketball, with my daughters it morphs into a game that ends with me pushing them on the swings.
I love my daughters and the experiences I have with them, but I also appreciate the times that I get with other people – even kids.
Besides tickle wars and sports, here are seven other things my nieces and nephews have taught me.
There’s more than one way to parent.
This is more of a reflection on their parents than the kids, but it’s a good reminder that there is no singular road to being a good parent. Not only to my wife’s siblings do a great job with their kids, but so do some of our family friends. It’s good to be reminded of this.
Sometimes I figure something out and think I’m the smartest father out there, only to see someone else doing it better. It’s humbling to be wrong but I love it when people I love are having successes. Plus, I get to steal and use their good ideas.
Let them explore their own options on their own time.
My oldest niece is playing lacrosse right now. I would love to see my daughters do other sports than gymnastics, and they will, in time. Looking at older kids who can ride their bikes, use public bathrooms only sparingly, and have more autonomy makes me pine for those characteristics in my daughters. This used to be like a pesky mosquito bite, a bump I knew not to scratch and just leave it be but something I couldn’t stop turning over in my mind.
We failed with this before too. Soccer last year ended in tears more often than ice-cream. Ditto for many other new activities as well. Now, I’ve got a bit more wiser view that those things will come in their own time.
It’s not just my kids that can be a handful.
At gymnastics there were three little kids that threw fits before going in. While I empathized with their mothers in that moment, I was mostly picturing myself in that situation. Mentally pretending that was happening to me, and imagining my reaction, will affect how I react.
My kids can get under my skin and seeing these mother’s irritated reminded me that all kids can be a handful and the best things you can do is to prepare to be calm and move through the moment. I learned this too from my nieces and nephews and the cool attitude my sister-in-law Jamie seems to preside over each situation with. She’s like a fog that slowly rolls in and out.
Try new things.
We visited family for Easter and the kids were like bees in the house, flying from here to there, never stopping long. There were things my niece and nephew like doing and things my daughters liked doing. One group would try something from the other group and then they would switch. Kids seem to understand this, find someone you like or admire and try things they say.
This is actually how we got our daughters to try new foods about 20% of the time when they were younger. We would tell them stories about how their older cousin loves this particular food and that if they try it now, maybe they’ll get to eat it with her someday. They see through our ruse now, but it still represents a good lesson.
It’s a good reminder to be around good people.
Like having more than one way to parent refreshes a view of the world, being around good people also gets me moving in the right direction. Kids are happy around happy kids and when a bully or jerk shows up kids know this and band together against them. I see this all the time at playgrounds and when I used to work in schools. Find good people and stand with them.
People take time to warm up to you.
My five-year-old nephew was pretty shy growing up, maybe. He was a kid, kids are shy. It took three days of playing together last summer before he warmed up to me. It was the same this past April when we visited, at first he was reserved but then he opened up.
This is the same for many of the adults in my life. Walking through Walmart last week I saw a copy of Robin Roberts new book, Everybody’s Got Something, that also served as a reminder that people might have something else going on and might not warm up to you right away. That’s why….
You always want to be nice to people.
Nothing feels worse than being mean to a kid. I’m sure there are some things that actually do seem worse, but that seems pretty bad. I hate it when I’m hateful toward my kids. It makes me feel awful and I want to buy their love back with ice-cream. It’s the same with other family, only you won’t get to see them as often to earn back their love.