Being a parent: 10 years in.

For a large part of the summer, I’ve been saying my kids are 7 and 10…but the truth is that my youngest turned 7 in July, and my oldest didn’t officially turn 10 until today. I don’t really know why my brain has been set on calling him ten throughout most of the summer, but for some reason it’s just been easier and so it’s just what I’ve been doing.

So anyway - yes today marks his actual birthday. Which also means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years now (essentially ¼th of my entire life).

In reflecting a bit, I’m pretty happy with how it’s been going so far…but I think I still have a long way to go and a lot to still figure out. In fact, I would say the biggest thing I’ve learned is that there really is no clear rules or path…instead, I try to stick to some personal beliefs and mantras I’ve connected with over the years to guide me through the day-to-day. Here are just a few…

It’s about the person, not the potential.

I believe both of my kids have great potential to do just about anything (especially if they put their minds to it)…but I work hard not to focus on that potential and push them into things just because they could be great at it.

Instead, I try to expose them to lots of different things (even things I don’t personally like) and focus on those that they connect with and make them happy…what they really enjoy, and how they like to spend their free time. Those are then the things I try to encourage and push into more productive activities and try to help them excel in.

I’m a supporting cast member, not the star.

I try to do a lot for my kids, and I try to be as involved as possible, but I try to do it all from the sideline or the crowd. I try hard to leave the important decisions that they’ll have to play/live with, up to them. I care about their long term emotional state and approach to life so much more than I do the result of a given event or activity.

Emotionless communication is the key.

I’ve worked really hard to develop this skill myself throughout my life. If you can temporarily remove emotion from most situations, you can have really intelligent and helpful conversations about almost anything.

We acknowledge when we are/were upset with each other, but we try not to let it affect our decisions and our actions…and regardless we talk through and reflect on the decisions and their consequences as much as possible.

I try make sure they understand why I’m doing what I’m doing…sometimes this fails and we still have to go with the tried and true “trust me, it’s for your own good”, but even when it’s exhausting and difficult, I continue to try and explain the ‘why’ behind my parenting to them.

I also don’t censor what my kids are exposed to (my wife doesn’t entirely agree with this one)…instead I try to always communicate with them about the things they are being exposed to. I try to get them to question why someone would say or do the things that they do, to think about the consequences it brings, and to be aware of how others are reacting to it.

Compassion is important.

It’s important to me that my kids care about how they affect others and how they make them feel. In fact, I probably overdo this as neither of my kids are uber-competitive or seem to care that much about winning or losing (they just enjoy playing).

I’m not sure how this will play out long term (I don’t want them to be push overs or taken advantage of throughout life either)…but for now, I’m always super proud of their compassion.

Being a good teammate means losing sometimes.

I don’t always agree with my wife’s decision or approach (and she doesn’t always agree with mine)…when we disagree, I try to default to her decision/approach (and communicate about it when the kids aren’t around).

We both think it’s important to be involved, consistent, and unified. We’re sure we’re making lots of mistakes as we stumble through it all…but we make them together and we’ll deal with the consequences together too.

Finish what you start.

Because I want to let my kids decide what they are interested in and what they focus on, I try to expose them to lots of different things. I want them to learn to explore and try new things, to always search for happiness. But in doing this, I also want them to see things through to the finish…to give them some real time and thought before deciding if it’s for them or not.

So our general rule is you can try just about any activity you want, and we’ll do everything we can to support you for it, but once you start you have to commit and go a whole season/session or whatever. We try hard to make sure they attend every practice, do all the required work, and fully participate (I don’t know why, but in our experience, we are more rigid on this than most other parents).

Set clear goals.

At the end of the day, my goal since first becoming a parent was to provide an environment where my kids could grow to become happy and productive members of society. That’s it.

They don’t need to be super stars. They don’t need to be rich or doctors or lawyers. They just need to be happy and productive members of society.

I’ve communicated this personal goal with them many times (and will continue to repeat it for many years to come).

I also try to use this as an example for them, that in everything they do (big or small), goal setting is a useful tool. Honestly, it’s been a struggle to get them to believe and trust in this one, but as they get older I think (hope) it will start to connect more.

This brings up another thought and that is that parenting so far hasn’t really been all that 'hard’…but it’s also not always fun and things often don’t go according to plan.

Our kids aren’t always perfect. They do things that upset us. They do things that sometimes disappoint or embarrass us (usually because of our own issues, insecurities, and dreams).

Sometimes we have to punish them…and figuring out the proper, effective, way to punish them is always a struggle for us. Usually it means taking away something we really wanted to give them, something we were really looking forward to having them experience, or just something that makes the day harder on us personally.

But in order to help my kids grow into 'happy and productive members of society’ sometimes means having to do things, and make decisions, I don’t really want to…because it’s what’s right for the long term growth of my kids.

To me that’s just parenting.

Catherine and I know we are making mistakes. Usually we don’t know what those mistakes are, and probably won’t until years from now (but we know they will be completely different mistakes than those our parents made).

And I often have moments of self-doubt and worry that I’m not making them struggle enough…or maybe too much. That I’m not pushing them hard enough…or maybe too much. That I’m focusing on the wrong lessons, exposing them to the wrong things, or messing up their future in some other major way.

But again, to me that’s just parenting.

Regardless, it’s been a fun, educational, and always exciting 10 years…and I’m really looking forward to what the next ten and beyond will bring!

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).