Thursday, September 2, 2010

Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Raising a child is rewarding. It is also equally as difficult. Lessons of patience, understanding, and tolerance are a part of our daily experience – both for toddlers and parents. I answer the question, “Why?” as if it were on a constant repeat. I survive multiple tantrums each day (sometimes all day). I struggle with potty training. As I spend my days with my son, I can plan for quality time, but even the best laid blueprints are fallible. Tantrums can ruin a good lunch. Fighting over a dump truck can end a nice day at the pool. “Quality” is often lost amidst the chaos of toddler unpredictability.

As an unemployed person, it is easy to let each day blend into the next with no real structure. Time can slip by in a muted blur. One day. One month. One year. All unemployed. The one thing driving me each day is my desire to maximize my quality time with my son while I have it.

I’ve been told “practice makes perfect” a million times in my life. It was drilled into my head as a kid – playing sports, studying for tests. Now, as an adult, I’ve tried to apply a new twist to the old adage. If I “practice” things with my son (like sharing), it can lead to more quality time together. Hence, quantity can lead to quality.

Through my life I’ve learned, however, it is too simplistic to say that practice makes perfect. If I practice bad habits, I develop bad habits. If I practice them enough, I get really good at them. Thus, it is not enough to just be with my son. I need to be more then just…there.

The reality is that there are times when we just “go through the motions”, letting time just pass. We’ve all done it before – at work, at the gym, even with our kids. We squander opportunities. Today, I witnessed a mom at the local pool who sat and read a book, instead of interacting with her toddler who was swimming in the water…alone. Did it matter that she was even there? When I take a good look at my life, I am extremely fortunate to be a “stay at home dad” and spend a lot of time with my son. But, am I a good dad just because I am there?

For me, simply being present is not synonymous with “quality”. It is important for me to be intentional with my son. I want my actions to have true meaning for him. I want to be in the moment with my son. I know his mood is unpredictable. I know he will have tantrums that can interrupt quality time. I know he will fight with his friends over toys. However, if I treat every moment as a teaching moment, to let him learn about life, right from wrong, good from bad, then I believe that he can develop into a remarkable person. Because it’s not that practice makes perfect, but rather perfect practice makes perfect, it follows that productive quantity can lead to quality.

But…in the end, as I sift through my thoughts about the time I spend with my son, it no longer becomes about quality over quantity. If I choose to be truly intentional with our time together (no mater how long or short) and live in the moment with my son, all our time together becomes quality…even if he’s throwing a tantrum.


1 comment:

  1. Here's a little secret about this Mama: I often feel like waging my own tantrums - to clench my fists in a terrific fit of tears and screams. Sometimes, over small things like cold coffee or another pile of dishes in the sink. Sometimes over big things like financial uncertainty and social injustice.

    When my son is deep in the throws of a tantrum, I am reminded of our similarities. He is scared, frustrated, unsure of his ability to control himself and the world around him. He and I are feeling similar things, he just hasn't been conditioned to control his response.

    I'm a little envious of his ability to blow off the steam - to just get it out until he falls in a heap of exhausted boy mush. But...I also feel for him. I understand that this is just the beginning. Today he is frustrated because his train tracks keep coming apart. When he gets older, he will endure a broken heart, a lost love, an dissolving dream.

    When I am intentional and empathetic in my response to his tantrums, I find that we connect on a deeper level. My compassion drives my reaction. I am able to control my frustrations and act with more patience. I am able to see my boy as a small person who is finding his way through a world of confusing rules and mixed-messages.

    When I can control myself in the midst of his tantrum, I can see beauty in his freedom to rage and sadness in the reality that this is just the beginning.


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