The vast majority of my running buddies have never been invited to put their hands in my mouth.
A smaller number of my running buddies and I have breakfast together Thursday mornings, a tradition dating back 38 years. But some members of the group were in nursery school when Coach Halpo and I first started plodding along together all those sweaty miles ago. Those folks now have to get home after the run to get their kids up and take them to school. They can’t connect for coffee and conversation. They are at a different stage of life.
Many of my running buddies and I agree about inflammatory topics, but the group isn’t perfectly homogenous. So those of us who are strongly in favor of an issue or policy or supreme court decision don’t mention our opinions to those who hold contrary views.
My running buddies and I have a common purpose—motivating one another to stumble out of bed at oh dark hundred and focus on our cardio-vascular health for a bit. Beyond this shared vision of fitness, I have more to talk about with some in the community than others. Indeed, I suspect that only some of my running buddies enjoy my incessant math jokes. (Why are four and six angry with five? Because five is mean to them.)
I certainly don’t disparage the 40-year-olds who drive morning carpool. Maybe ten years from now when their kids are grown and gone, they can come to breakfast. And I’m not disappointed that no one in the group but one is allowed to put their hands in my mouth. Only my good friend, brilliant dentist, and running buddy of over a decade does that.
We can’t be all things to all people. Why would we expect our children to please us in every way? Love languages vary. And your influence over your kids is not 100%. You can encourage your children to share your passions. You can model for your children what you enjoy and hope they will have similar appreciations. But even a master potter doesn’t have perfect control over the finished bowl or mug. And unlike the artist, parents can’t start over with a new lump of clay.
So, your adolescent children might like to read books with you or watch the Dolphin game with you or work out at the gym with you or bake cookies with you or get lost in the woods with you and spend the afternoon avoiding being eaten by a bear. And I hope said kids will want to engage in these activities with you because there are few joys greater than knowing your kids have found meaning in that which is important to you. But if your kid had a broken leg you wouldn’t force her to join you for a hike and if your kid had cognitive impairments you wouldn’t force her to enjoy your every math joke. (What did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt.)
I don't argue with my running buddies with whom I disagree not only because we have a shared purpose and because I don't value unpleasantness before daybreak, but also because it seems unlikely that I am going to have a marked effect. Oh, now I see your point of view on this contentious issue. I will change my political affiliation and rethink my position entirely, thank you so much. Words no adult ever spoke. Similarly, you can't win arguments with your kids. Once their opinions have formed, the horse is out of the barn. And at the risk of beating the metaphor to death--the horse ain't comin' back.
Remember Aesop's fable about the competition between the North Wind and The Sun? The North Wind boasts that he can force a traveler to remove his coat. The North Wind rages and threatens, howls and blows. Of course the traveler only wraps his cloak more tightly around him. The Sun takes a different approach. Sending gentle beams of pleasant warmth, the sun soon convinces the traveler to disrobe. A similar story is told about flies, honey, and vinegar. I am unsure under what circumstances you would want to prove a point by encouraging a traveler to disrobe and I don't know what anyone would want with flies--annoying insects, certainly--but the point remains. You might be able to force your kids to do something by arguing with them. Maybe. But bringing them around to your point of view is going to emphasize modeling and gentleness rather than thundering and gesticulating. After all, screaming is about you. Listening is about your children.
Indeed shouldn’t the emphasis in bringing up kids be about shared purpose with any luck at all and on enjoyment no matter what? Because your connection to your kids is unlike your relationship to anything or anyone else in the world. And just like there is only one person in my running group who is allowed to put their hands in my mouth, there is no one in my running group to whom I get to read Winnie the Pooh. Because before you can say, I’d rather be having breakfast with my running buddies than rushing around, making lunches, looking for backpacks, and driving to school, you will indeed be free for a leisurely morning meal.
And those incandescent days of being there for your kids and being with your kids will not come again.