A man goes to the doctor’s office. He points to his shoulder, says, “Ouch! That hurts!” The man touches his knee, says, “Ow! That hurts too!” The man touches his forehead, says, “Wow, that hurts a lot!”
The doctor says, “Your finger is broken.”
I have been pontificating in these columns for some years now about how to raise healthy kids in this unhealthy world. “Play Parcheesi with your kids,” I have advised. The positives are legendary and endless. There are five and seven spots on the board between “safe” spaces. Little ones will learn arithmetic facts without tears! With every roll of the dice, your kids will get a sense of probability! If you roll three doubles in a row, your most advanced piece gets sent back. What are the odds of that happening? And the joy of competition! And the fact that when you’re playing board games with your kids, your kids aren’t isolating on their devices going to icky websites! Playing Parcheesi with your kids is awesome!
Unless of course dad makes the game miserable. It’s had to imagine anything but raucous fun but meanness and force could conceivably replace laughter and joy. “Seven plus five is twelve! How many times do I have to tell you?” is one way to go about it. Any interaction with your kids can be miserable if dad lets his own frustration and anxiety poison the interface. Even a great board game doesn't have to be fun.
What could be better than watching your healthy eight-year-old daughter play soccer? The sun is out; the girls are swarming lemming-like around the careening ball; no one has a life-threatening neuro-blastoma. Joyfulness abounds. Only a few years ago, this child came defenseless into the world and now she is running around in immaculate physical condition. How great is that? Unless, of course, dad takes it upon himself to insert his angst and howl, “Get your head in the game! Or “Kill the ref!” As if little ones care about winning as opposed to running around and giggling with their friends.
I have written about the joys of hiking with our beloved children. What could be more glorious than a backpack full of sandwiches and snacks? What could be more exquisite than an unstructured afternoon with the possible objective of getting from here to there, of reveling in the outdoors, of spending no agenda time with family. Yet it is possible for dad to ruin the experience: “We covered that mile in 30 minutes! Let’s pick up the pace! We can do better!” What misery. What an opportunity lost. There might be something wonderful right here. But we’ll never know if we are rushing. No matter where you go, there you are and where we are is always sad because dad wishes he were somewhere else.
The obsessed dad here is the finger. Everything he touches becomes painful. That which should be outrageous and pleasant becomes fearful and sad. Opportunities for joy and connection are not just squandered, they are assassinated.
Dad has to heal himself first. In real estate deals, “there is no good paper with bad people.” In parenting, the greatest gift we can give to our children is to work on ourselves. A little digging can frequently uncover a world of hurt leading to a bunch of healing and a better association with a healthier kid. There's a reason you put on your own oxygen mask first; you're no good to anyone if you're incapacitated.
“My 14-year-old son is spending too much time communicating online and hanging out with virtual friends via text,” mom laments. “I don’t know these people. There’s a group of them, talking at all hours. Why isn't he doing more homework like I did at his age?”
Mom might do well do examine her own insights and anxieties regarding the current state of communication. As it turns out, the kids with whom her son is connecting are the nicest kids in the school. They talk in virtual chat rooms because they don’t want to go to parties overwhelmed by older bullies smoking pot and pressuring younger kids into sex and danger. They spend half the time talking about the robotics club and pre-calculus homework. This online chat is the safest, smartest place to be.
Not all online communication is so positive, of course. But mom should be aware or her own issues: Mom’s ex-husband left her for a woman whom he met online. Mom’s ex-husband was focused on Internet pornography and secrecy. Mom’s ex-husband was not an honorable person.
But mom’s ex-husband’s perfidy does not extend to the next generation. “Get away from that phone, study your Latin, then mow the lawn” will get less traction than “why don’t you invite those friends over for pizza and multiple solitaire?”
Multiple solitaire is frenetically competitive and crazed. Each player has a deck of cards and plays furiously, putting cards from her pack onto the sequences in the middle of the table. Your three of clubs goes on top of my two of clubs. There are readers who will think that nine screaming children and adults swearing at each other and throwing cards across the room laughing so hard they can barely breathe is unlikely. I can only assure you that this magnificent madness is easily achieved. In this family, when our fingers hurt it’s only because we have been slapping cards on top on one another. Having fun with your kids is the most healing any of us can do.
Being angry with and yelling at your kids for the sins of their other parent can not compete with multiple solitaire. Love languages can include silent hikes and views of the valley; watching your kids play soccer can be a love language; generations of beloved family members playing multiple solitaire is almost certainly a love language. Whereas yelling at your kids, obsessing about homework, ruining everything, and wallowing in misplaced sorrow is not.
This time of year, many traditions speak of miracles. What could be more wonderful than resolving to make family game night as the first priority for the year to come?