Ordinarily when I write it’s a satirical piece but sometimes what’s on my mind isn’t always amusing. There is a word that can describe someone who is trying to be funny when they just aren’t feeling it – ANNOYING!
So, this piece is a little about me and a little about life through the eyes of someone with a career that also spends a good deal of time supervising and organizing their children’s lives.
My kids have two parents with demanding careers and this doesn’t always lend itself to having the time to attend every school function or participate in every extracurricular school-based activity. I have noticed, in real life or posted on social media, parents that rarely if ever miss a program, ball game, recital, etc. Often these parents are proud to proclaim they didn’t miss an event or they took time off to be there for their children, something they should be proud of.
For some of us this just isn’t possible and is not a reality. The fact is, there are some extracurricular activities my children do not participate in because of our schedules. Many of us have work that doesn’t afford time off to attend events or shuttle kids to and from practices seemingly year-round. We have to sit with our children and have hard conversations about priorities, not only our own but theirs as well.
I can see the reactions now, “this guy is a jerk, there is no greater priority than my children’s wants and needs, what a bad father”. Go ahead. What I do know is that to make enough money to afford a modest lifestyle, coupled with my children’s future education expenses, I have to be present at work when work needs me. My career is both agriculture and retail based. Just one of these by itself can be demanding of time outside “normal” work hours.
What I do is spend the free time I have as quality time with my children. I even take it a step further and incorporate them into my work when the appropriate opportunities present themselves. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to hold yourself to someone else’s standard and definition of what qualifies as being a “good parent”. You have the opportunity to shape and mould your children’s experiences and they don’t all have to be with school or community based extracurricular activities and organizations.
Frequently I take my kids to work, especially during the abnormal hours. They aren’t just witnesses during these times. We work as a team. I assign them tasks and hold them accountable just like I would a grownup. When they fail to complete the task or produce subpar results, there is a conversation, yes. Repeated failures are met with consequences just like there would be when they become adults. Some people who have heard me speak to my children at work say I’m too stern, that I am tough. Life can be hard as an adult and it’s just my opinion but one of the greatest things I’m going to be able to teach them is how to respond when things get tough.
I love my kids and because I do, I want to teach them how to understand and deal with challenges, disappointments and failures. When my children become young adults it’s my greatest hope, they will have the fundamentals to cope with both success and failure, and the perseverance to see either through to the finish. Someday, hopefully many years from now, my kids will have to do life without me. I want them to be ready.
The children and I do many activities together that aren’t work as well of course. We have a vast public park system in the United States that goes somewhat underutilized, yet we all contribute to the expense of these parks in the form of taxes. Our family uses these parks on warm days to play all manner of sport. We spend time talking about things we want to do or explore what the world around us has to offer.
Sure, my children have done and continue to do some school based extracurricular activities. I’ve helped coach or organize at times, and they’ve participated in boy/girl scouts off and on as well. There are times they want to participate, and they can’t. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn teamwork or that the odds have increased that they won’t be a professional athlete someday. It simply means that as a family we had to make prioritize and those decisions aren’t based on what someone outside of our family thinks, ever.
Yes, I have missed school programs. Sometimes schedules conflict and all we are able to do is what can with the time and information we have, when we have it. Were my children saddened that I wasn’t there? Yes. Did we talk about it? You bet. If my children somehow believe that my absence is a reflection of the love I have for them, then that’s for me to clarify, and to hell with what anyone observing might think or believe.
Oh, and that last part, I mean that.
If you work in agriculture or you know someone who does, you may have heard them comment at one time or another that they “love it”. I’m no different and I also suspect people who work in other industries may feel the same about their careers. In the 20 years of full-time work in agriculture I’ve come to love two things:
A single corn plant grows for months and extracts as much from its environment as it possibly can in an effort to put out an ear that is comprised of a cob to hold it's kernels in place and a husk to protect it from the environment around it. The corn plant gives it's life for that ear by the end of the growing season. Parenthood is a lot like that. You extract what you can from your surroundings in an effort to raise your kids and help them reach the maximum of their potential, all the while protecting them the best that you can.
My kids are my life. My greatest love, is to give the only life I have, to them.
Conrad Smith is an Ag Retail Business Owner & Employee in Illinois with his family. He is a former farmer and the proud father of 2 children. Follow him on Twitter @SmithAgConrad.