Sometimes as parents we have to witness an event to truly appreciate how many times we have faced the same thing and, possibly, just how poorly we reacted under the same circumstances.
This last weekend I was camping with my son for Cub Scouts. It was pretty uneventful until we went to the archery range. My son and I were in the first group of Robin Hood wannabes, but it was the second group that provided an observational lesson for me.
At Camp Eagle the archery range has eight stations, with each station providing six arrows for one boy to shoot. Now, the boys at this camp were between ages 6 and 9, so you can imagine that the skill level varied from never-touched-a-bow-in-his-life to self-proclaimed-expert-so-you-all-better-duck.
After my son’s group finished and the second group began shooting their arrows, I noticed one boy after another setting their bows down to signal that they were done until just one boy remained. And he still had six arrows in front of him.
His father was patiently coaching him on how to properly shoot the arrow, but those directions weren’t really registering with the first-time archer who, like the rest of us, was probably already exhausted by the weekend. So there they sat, taking their time and trying to complete the station.
And then it began.
As the others finished the crowd noise behind the boy began to rise. I looked at the father and could tell that he was feeling the pressure to hurry up and finish. His blood pressure was rising and the speed of his speech increasing with each passing moment. The boy grew more and more uncomfortable, ensuring that an already difficult task was becoming even more so.
Other fathers took note of the delay and began to offer other coaching tips to the dad and boy, each one convinced that he could explain it better, put it differently, make it easier for the boy to understand what he was supposed to be doing. While well-intentioned, this new chorus of voices further overwhelmed both boy and father until the boy finally, albeit unsuccessfully, got through all six arrows, never shooting one more than a few feet in front of him.
As I watched, I recognized that I have been that father… more than once.
I’ve been the father who couldn’t turn off the outside voices, the one who let the outside influences dictate how I interacted with my children.
Sometimes it is a friend or a familial group and other times it’s a purported parenting expert, but either way I have let those outside voices unduly influence my parenting – almost always to the detriment of the experience.
I’ve also probably been that other guy, too, the one who thought he was helping but was only adding unnecessary stress to an already tense moment.
On one hand, I have been afraid to ignore the noise around me and, on the other hand, I have added to that noise for others.
It’s not often that I offer direct advice (more of a funny story kind of guy), but this time I will say this, “Don’t let outside voices dictate what is best for you or your child, only you can determine that.”
Sure, take good advice when it comes, but know when to trust your own instincts.
And, if you find yourself a member of the peanut gallery behind someone else’s tense moment, remember that sometimes the best support is to do nothing at all.
Chris Donnelly is a working dad with four children.
You can read him every Thursday on momaha.com
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