When Mrs. Three Time Daddy became pregnant with our first child all those years ago, we did the usual parents-to-be things: shit ourselves, shit ourselves a bit more, think about all the crap we’d need to buy and then worry about what on Earth we’d call it when it arrived.
Inevitably our thoughts turned to what we hoped our child would be like. ‘Healthy’ came high on the list, but other words such as ‘creative’, ‘musical’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘happy’ made it too. Fast forward nine years and we’ve been extremely lucky with our three children, but it is the word ‘happy’ that continues to concern me.
How can I even tell if my kids are happy?
If I’m honest, out of our three kids it is our eldest NJ who I worry about the most. Roo is generally more happy-go-lucky while Jasperino often seems content when he has anything that resembles a football in his hands.
It is NJ who I fear will be more susceptible to bouts of unhappiness. He is spirited, sensitive, intelligent, has intense emotions, places strong value in fairness, often sees things as black and white or right and wrong and is extremely vocal when he doesn’t agree with something.
Just this week I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘YOU HATE ME!’ and ‘YOU WISH I WAS NEVER BORN! I KNOW IT!’ and equally upsetting things like that.
So, if I’m worried that my kids aren’t going to be happy, is there anything I should be doing?
Happy parents are more likely to have happy kids, right? It sounds counter-intuitive to concentrate on myself rather than my kids, but if they see their dad huffing about work and the endless DIY jobs to do, they’re going to pick up the miserable vibes too. After all, they are little sponges listening and watching when I think they’re not listening and watching and especially when they are acting like they are not listening and watching.
I’m not going to stroll around with a great big fake smile – they’ll just think their dad has gone nuts. No, I’m going to try to make more time for me and do the things that make me happy, such as reading more books, spending more time with friends, running more (dodgy knees permitting), putting down my phone more and enjoying the company of my family.
As NJ has grown up, he seems to be more and more obsessed with material things, such as games on the Xbox, virtual ‘points’ that can be used to purchase other items in these games, Match Attax, magazines from shops, football boots, the list goes on. No matter how much he has he always seems to want something else.
Obviously what outlasts the latest craze or fad are his friends and family. It seems like the convenience and accessibility of our electronic world is making it harder to teach the value of these emotional connections (and with three kids under nine we haven’t even touched social media yet). Lately, we’ve been trying to ‘unplug’ our kids a little bit, encouraging playing together outside and basically doing anything that can promote connections with real people, emotions and surroundings.
How easy is it to sit in front of the TV and zone out, or pick up your phone and endlessly scroll through page after page? How easy is it to get bogged down in dealing with the Everest-sized pile of laundry or DIY jobs that need doing every weekend? How about forgetting that our little kids that want nothing more than the attention of their mum and dad (I’m assured this is not the case with older kids, by the way)?
I’m guilty of all of this. I’m constantly badgered to play football with NJ but there is nearly always a reason not to. Jasperino would love nothing more than for me to sit on the floor and play with him and his toy garage, but if I get on the floor I probably won’t be able to get back up. Roo is desperate to constantly jump on me with her incredibly boney-knees but obviously that flipping hurts. But it is not just daddy time they need. They need unstructured, adventurous play where they can explore and discover the world around them, climb trees, build dens and get mucky. Our kids are never happier than when they get to run around a huge field – simple but fun.
So much of everyday life removes the opportunity for imaginative play, whether it be rigid school lessons, the domination of TV or the dwindling quality of our outdoor parks, playgrounds and open spaces.
Let’s face it, kids aren’t exactly reliable. Ask a big question like that and the chances are I’d just get a blank face. Even if I ask them a simple question they often reply with an ‘I don’t know!’ or ‘I don’t remember!’
In reality, they probably wouldn’t even know what to say or know how to translate their complex feelings into a response.
All I can do is create a happy environment and hope that any missing happiness will come naturally.
ThreeTimeDaddy is Dad of 2 boys and a girl. Voted 'best daddy ever' by one and 'rubbish at reading and football' by another, but the youngest is yet to form a reliable opinion.