In an ideal world, perhaps one could follow all the steps in the parenting books, but real life often leaves scant time to read those books, so you just have to follow your instincts and values!

At work the other day, one of the web developers made a quirky observation: “I don’t want the future version of me to look back at the past version of me to say ‘[Expletive]! If you had done a decent job back then, I wouldn’t be cleaning up your mess right now!’”

But, right now, a number of us are working unhealthy hours to set systems up for the merger of two companies. There isn’t time to build websites and develop training materials with the sort of rigour I would typically apply, ahead of being able to regard that I had done a stellar job.

I am frustrated that, even with the effort of giving up every second weekend and many late nights to work, some of the polish that I would like to apply is missing. “Make do” has become my mantra. Giving in to “we’ll do what we can” rubs harshly against my want for the finicky details to be just so. In order to get the job done, I have to cut corners that I would prefer were squared off with the sort of precision you could only see under an electron microscope.

No Compromise

Cutting my own self-imposed corners at work to get the job done is just the way it is for the moment. At home, however, I will not compromise on the care of my daughters, raising them in integrity and honour, careful attendance to their development, honesty and a sense of responsibility and disciplined good habits.

Similar to the web developer, my perfectionistic self initiated a conversation with my pragmatic self to give him a bit of a dressing down. “Read all the texts on being a dad, pore through the parenting literature, examine the research on raising girls,” demands the part of my character that expects a flawless parenting performance.

“Bollocks to that!” counters my pragmatic character, offering his expertise. “Spend time with your daughters connecting, get involved, make time for solid conversation, say sorry as need be, do kind things for others, be heartfelt and vulnerable, bake a cake together, read more of Magic Pudding and do more hugs and tickle wrestles.” The pragmatic side argues for values and I tend to side with him a little more.

Priorities

However, I know that there are great books out there that can help me craft my dad stuff with more precision. Yet there are also meals to prepare, and girls that need to be urged to get into school uniforms and encouraged to make beds, and managing two daughters playing soccer at different sides of town at the same time, and running kids to birthday parties, and losing time to coaxing broccoli into the girls and following up homework. There is a lot on with the single parenting gig, and I wince when precision-driven dad in my head calls me out for not reading every single word of Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls book.

While my copy of Steve’s book is gathering dust, the pragmatic dad in my head had a soothing chat. He reminded me that I am not ever ‘just getting by’, but delighting in the time the girls are in my care. He took me back to the few hours I shared with my eldest for her birthday and the excitement she let loose when she discovered that I had upheld the tradition of making an ice-cream cake.

I suspect that parenting textbooks may have chapters devoted to applying the correct proportions of parental rigour when urging a just-turned-11 girl through the simple routine of brushing her teeth and hair in order to get to school ahead of the bell.  Only a day after the birthday cake, I withdrew the rare treat of a school canteen order as a consequence for the bathroom faffing around that Miss 11 has mastered.

She was back to mum’s care that same evening and when I rang, her tone suggested that she was still miffed at missing out on her canteen lunch. In spite of her cool tone, I was able to share that her thank-you card to a work colleague had softened my workmate to a gentle tear. My daughter had written, “Thank you for covering for Dad so that he could pick us up straight after school.” It is those moments that I am hanging on to.

I have this notion that there is a parenting nirvana between the textbook parenting that applies careful discipline and the values-based parenting I apply. I would like for there to be a place where I make all the right parenting calls. By-the-book or by an instinct for values means making a decision on parenting style, and it is so fulfilling to see my own daughters make their own right choices, especially when they demonstrate getting it right in their connection with others.

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Photo by Gustavo Fring.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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