I had an epiphany this morning as she yelled ‘higher, higher!’ I was pushing Sienna on the swing, watching her blonde curls float in the breeze. Her smile was radiant, but I’d never before taken it in like I did this morning. I’d never fully realised the significance time together in the park would have.
We are nearly at the end of the “terrible” twos. Or as I once heard them optimistically called, “terrific“ twos. At first, I was wary. Nearly every parent on the planet will tell you how much challenge comes in the 12-18 months surrounding the 2-year-old age bracket. But for me, they have simply been adorable.
These months are a critical foundation for the rest of a child’s life. I have enjoyed it because Sienna has been like putty in my hands*. It is an incredible responsibility for any parent to craft and shape their child, and to do it with gentleness and tender compassion. The instruction we give her will grow and shape her into a respectable young lady, who has a solid christ-like character and understands simple values of respect, love, honour, ‘please’, ‘thankyou’ and forgiveness.
You see, if I don’t have fun with Sienna — if I don’t engage her smiles, cuddle her, kick the ball in the backyard, push her on the swing, read her stories, give her raspberries on her belly, tickle her when we have snuggles in bed and share a babycino at the local cafe, my ability to set that solid foundation is prevented, if not impossible. My authority and place in her life as her daddy means nothing. It’s worthless. It becomes pointless to her. She wouldn’t listen to my instruction. The good intentions I may have to teach her and bring correction to her behaviour never happen. Let alone have the emotional space to actually enjoy her as my daughter! Instead, she becomes a burden to me and my lifestyle.
I’ve seen it. Dads trying to tell their children off or simply bring some correction and order to their house are unable because they don’t have the trust credits in the bank. Credits that are only compounded through the foundation of play, connection and fun.
It wasn’t always like this though. I remember switching on the TV on a sunday morning (probably the fourth weekend in a row) so she was out of my way and I could go get some things done around the house. Her little inquisitive mind was a problem in my desire to complete tasks. Her inclination to learn and understand the world was hindered by my big headedness to tick things off my list.
Since then, I now slow down. We sit and play Duplo for hours at a time. We dance around the lounge room to her favourite songs. I’ll push her on the swing and enjoy the smiles. We’ll pay the cost of wasting water in the shower to enjoy the father/daughter cuddles. I’ll let her push the lawnmower even if it takes me an extra 20 minutes. All of these activities set the foundation of healthy respect for me as her father. They show her that I’m here, that I’m listening and that I’m interested. They show her that I’m on her team, and that I want the best for her.
All of these things make the discipline, correction and teachable moments effective because she knows me and knows that I love her. The time invested in play, can be withdrawn in these moments when I need to teach her.
The healthy authority she needs to learn from her father only comes from a beautiful relationship of play which is grounded in smiles, time and love.
Oh, and building stacks of Duplo cities!
*Not all the time. Trust me!