How Writing Makes Me a Better Parent

Laptop Writing Stock.jpg

Parenting is hard. It’s physically and emotionally draining. The days can feel endless, and perhaps even worse, the nights can feel even longer. Is there something longer than endless? Yes. Webster’s defines “longer than endless” as nights spent with children who don’t sleep and also the amount of time it takes for children under age seven to get dressed in the morning.

I know I’m not breaking any news here, but when you’re a parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent whose primary function is to care for children all day, the tedium and routine can obscure larger truths. Children are remarkable. Being the parent of children is remarkable. I’ve been a parent for more than seven years, I have three children, and when I take a moment to think about how far we’ve come together, I’m still amazed.

These little people who are growing and learning and flourishing in front of my eyes are part of me. They are funny and charming. They consistently surprise me with their insightfulness. However, all these good qualities can get lost in the frustration of crayons being dumped on the floor and intractable stubbornness at dinner time.

Sometimes I can go days without appreciating what I have. Instead, I focus on completing tasks and checking them off my mental list. Wake up. Get the kids out of bed and fed. Get them dressed. Get them to school. Pick them up. Get them to do something that doesn’t involve a screen. Snacks. Do homework. Play. Dinner. Baths. Pajamas. Bed time. Dishes. Laundry. Go to sleep. Repeat.

Because I’m a task-completion junkie, any hitches in the routine can leave me aggravated. And so, if I’m not careful, I’m aggravated a lot. I get annoyed because my kids won’t get dressed quickly enough or won’t eat or won’t stop watching TV. I get annoyed when they get too dirty playing outside or refuse to come inside when a sudden Florida rainstorm rolls in. I often realize in the moment that I’m getting frustrated for no good reason, but recognition isn’t enough. The frustration persists even when I can put a name to it.

Telling myself to do better doesn’t help. What does help? Writing.

I write mostly at night, long after the kids are in bed. I stay up too late, so I’m always tired, but it’s worth it because writing allows me to process the events of the day and to recalibrate. The little annoyances I experience usually seem funny when I write about them. And the sweet moments that hardly register as they are happening often make me tear up when I’m putting them into words, typing them into my laptop, and protecting them from the vagaries of an unreliable memory.

When I write, even if it’s just a hundred words, a quick anecdote or notes about a day lived, I feel different. Better. Stronger. The next morning when my day starts, I’m usually a little more patient. A little less vulnerable to the creeping demons of annoyance and frustration. Well, at least for a few hours. Writing doesn’t convert me into an enlightened yogi, it just helps me remember there is a forest and not just trees. And despite all the tedium, when I’m with my kids, I am experiencing something transcendent. Even when there are crayons all over the floor and forgotten bananas hiding in the play room.

When parenting gets you down, maybe try to write it out. Or if writing doesn’t do it for you, find that thing that helps you see more clearly. You’ll be better for it. And your kids will be better for it, too.

If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available at Amazon. And if you haven’t, don’t forget to like my Facebook page and sign up for the email list to get updates right in your inbox.