I have had the same dream often.
It starts with a camera sweep of a live studio audience, cheering at a frantic pitch. The camera moves to an excited but contemplative Maury Povich. He settles the crowd and turns to his guest. The guest is an adult with blonde, spiked hair, wearing motorcycle leathers and a teardrop tattoo on his left cheek and looking disturbingly like my son.
Maury begins his questioning:
“So, tell me… ” This is the point in the dream when I realize it is actually one of my sons.
“What led you to conduct what some are calling ‘the crime spree to end all crime sprees’?”
“That is personal Maury.”
“Personal? You robbed a convent and were lewd at a dog show… please elaborate.”
“Well, my dad never spent enough time with me or even had a clue about what I needed.”
And there it is. The root of my parental fear masquerading as a bad dream.
I wake with a start and once again ask myself the real question.
Are my children getting all that they need from me?
Early on in my parenting adventures, I equated need with equality. I thought that if I just gave my kids the same thing then they’d both be happy. One kid got a toy, the other got a toy. One kid got a solo trip to the store, the other kid got a solo trip to the store. You see the pattern.
Well, time and more kids has shown me that I was pretty wrong.
As an example, each of my boys gets a one-on-one camping trip with me when they are entering Cub Scouts. Kind of a coming-of-age thing.
My oldest son and I went last year, and I quickly saw that what he wanted most was to experience everything that the camp had to offer with me, each and every event, as scheduled. He needed my time (and timeliness).
His little brother was a completely different experience this year. My second son was content to stop and look at bugs on every path and turtles in every pond, completely indifferent to the clock. He didn’t need the camp’s scheduled experiences (or even the quantity of my time) that his brother did. He simply needed my undivided attention for those brief moments to share something that excited him.
Both times the needs were met, albeit in very different ways.
A very wise neighbor once told us that it’s important to try to give children what they need. This same neighbor, himself a father of five, was also quick to point out that children’s needs will seldom be the same and will almost never be equal. And that’s OK.
There is only so much of me to give, I know that, but now when I wake up from that bad dream I remind myself to look for each child’s individual needs and start there.
Well that and to avoid convents and dog shows.
Chris Donnelly is a working dad with four children.
You can read him every Thursday on momaha.com
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