These are strange times.
Like most strange times, they were forced upon us quickly. COVID-19 has generated a lot of interesting stuff; conspiracy theories, doomsday preppers, and a lotta conversations that begin with “I just read this article…..”
But the unifying thing it did do was to consolidate households very quickly. Surprise! You’re working from home….for months .
Also….surprise! Your kids are home – for an indeterminate period of time. Parents – you’re also teachers now, so any parenting insecurities you did have are now magnified.
Suddenly everyone is in the house. It is loud. And messy. Everyone is fried. We are feeling insecure. I’m on edge. My wife is on edge. The kids are acting out. The cats are running away at every opportunity.
A lot of men are not used to this dynamic of everyone being at home all day. Yes, there are a lot of dudes who have been working remotely before this. But most of them opted into those jobs and had a runway to prepare. They also didn’t start home schooling their kids at the same time. Now that we are all home, there are a lot of feelings to contend with. The house is full of a lot of pinball-style energy and as a father and a husband, I feel like I have lost equity. My daughter rolls her eyes a lot at me.
Men, at the risk of generalization, are not the most patient bunch. When people describe me, they don’t say “oh yeah, he’s that real patient guy.” And being at home with my loving family has been one long challenge to my patience. The single biggest task has been learning to pause, listen and breathe through all the stuff I have not been attuned to in day-to-day life, because I haven’t had to be attuned to it. I’m at work all day on a team with all other dudes. Conversations are quick.
I am good at Dad stuff. My six-year-old daughter takes boxing classes and has a mean left hook. My three-year old son has boxing gloves, too. We do a lot of wrestling in the backyard. I have that roughhouse piece down and it’s good for our collective physical and mental health. But not everything can be fixed with focus pads. A lot of stuff involves wading through whining and childhood hyperbole. I have had to learn a new skill set because all this stellar parenting has shifted my nervous system into overdrive.
Patience has been the thing which has most improved my overall health these last months. It has gotten me light years ahead of where I was when we all moved into this pandemic bunker I call my house.
This Covidian sequester has taught me that my job as a father and as a husband is to pause, listen and validate. This has improved my health in two ways:
- I am forced to pause. I am forced to be calm. That lowers my blood pressure in the moment.
- I will probably avoid a future thing as well. I’ll have low blood pressure now and later.
My daughter does not get into bed the millisecond I ask her to. Pre-COVID Brian would have not been pleased. But COVID Brian just realized it’s because she has super long hair. She needs to braid it before bed because if not, she’ll look like Damian Marley in the morning. Those three minutes I waited resulted in not only the avoidance of nagging, but the validation of a process that is of paramount importance to her. She needs to know that the things that matter to her matter to me.
Look, my heart rate is decreasing, and my pupils are not dilated anymore.
My son does not pick up his Legos the nanosecond I requested him to do so. Pre-COVID Brian would be revving up the car to take all those Legos to Goodwill. COVID Brian has seen that it’s because he’s building this super cool Lego helicopter-barn-tower for me. He worked a long time on that enormous mess. He’s three – he doesn’t get to control stuff in his life and this thing is his magnum opus. He needs his effort validated and his accomplishment praised.
Look, I’m breathing like a person again and my jaw isn’t clenched.
I am not suggesting that, if your natural speed is caffeinated and frenetic, you attempt to suddenly become a chakra-and-herbal-tea guy. The world needs guys who push through their internal regulators. That’s what Army Special Forces Guys are.
But Special Forces Guys also go through intensive training on the language and culture of the place they are operating in. They wear civilian clothes and have shaggy beards because being fitting in and building trust is of paramount importance. That’s what learning to be an effective dad and husband is like; take your special forces skills and adjust it to your context. Pause, listen, empathize and build trust. Put in the time now to avoid a problem later. That is also the basis of primary prevention – the basic tenant of public health. Establish small, healthy patterns now so there will not be big, unhealthy patterns later.
So, the next time your daughter asks you “Dad…what’s a sedimentary rock?”
Don’t give your knee-jerk answer of: “Baby….it doesn’t matter. I haven’t even said the word “sedimentary” in 30 years. You’ll be completely fine never learning this.”
Take three minutes. Sit down, look her in the eyes and validate her sedimentary rock first grade experience. She isn’t asking you to be a geologist. She is asking you to be present, interested and engaged. Let her know that she is the most important thing in the world to you at this moment. She’ll feel better and you’ll be physically healthier.
It is good for your health. It is good for her health. It is good for the health of your household. Be the emissary of good health for your clan.