Our relationship to children

Two weeks ago my oldest had some fever. Result is he didn't go to school and stayed at home with us. Since Mat went to Paris I was alone with both kids on Thursday. We dropped the youngest at school and then, I spent the whole day with the oldest. There were many scenarios for this specific day. The most common one being: putting the kid under the 'digital nanny' supervision -- aka movies on the laptop -- and trying to work as much as possible in the meantime.

I chose another one: dropping everything I 'had to' do for work and spend the whole day playing, discussing, cooking, exploring with him. We're still early 2024 but I can tell this was my best day of the year so far.

When I bumped into people -- including the other parents at school when my oldest and I came to pick up the youngest -- they were all giving me the same look: grimace on their face and any variation of 'poor you, well, good luck for today, it's hard'. I'm really confused by this. Why is it so hard to spend an entire day with your kid exactly? Playing busy with a meaningless job, this is hard, and sad. Connecting and spending time with one of the people I love the most in this world, well, this is utterly easy and just plainly enjoyable.

What's happening to us? How did we arrive at this set of values? How is it possible that 'bullshit tasks' are perceived to be easier/ more enjoyable than 'spending time with your kid' [or just even: any child]? It left me in disbelief.

I felt it myself. I mean, earlier that day, when I realised my oldest still had a bit of fever and I was about to be alone with him, my first instinctive reaction was: argh fuck, I'll 'lose' that day. It made me sad and I had to intentionally reverse the mood. I asked myself: what matters most to you? and re-read Cynthia's story. It makes it clear to me which type of father I want to be.

I read something recently that resonated deeply. It came from Henrik -- he detailed his thinking-process once he decided to be way more ambitious in 2 areas of his life: as a writer and dad. It took me entirely off-guard.

I think I'm a good enough dad, and it is easy to rest in this. But I really care about my kids, so what if I did even better? I spent more time thinking about which skills I needed to improve. 

I needed to be better at staying present. I practiced that. I sought out people who are really good at talking to children and interviewed them about their mental models and attitude and technique. I practiced that. I read more about parenting, pedagogy. I looked for outliers. 

It wasn't about being more ambitious in a sort of striving way. I think ambition can be toxic if you don’t feel profoundly ok. It was more like being a loving parent to myself. Like, “you are more than ok as you are. But lets explore what lies beyond too: you might underestimate how possible those things are, and how alive.”

How many times have we read such intentions and resolutions lately? I want to be a better dad. No, I want to be a dramatically better dad. I'm not sure what that means but I've already sensed it's all an exciting, fun, challenging and rewarding journey. So let's jump on it without any hesitation.

De Boomhuttenclub

Which made me reflect on our latest holidays. We spent a week in The Hague, Netherlands. Every time we said to people we were going to The Hague post-Xmas they looked at us in a weird way; with their face expressing a kinda 'WTF!'. Truth is: we went there because we were looking for a kids-friendly place. Also as a reaction to the previous holidays where cars ruin everything -- we were looking for both a kids friendly and car-free place. Side note: surprise, surprise, it looks like both might be two sides of the same coin. In retrospect, I'm happy and proud we made a choice with our kids front and center in mind. And The Hague totally delivered on that front. We found what might be the best restaurant ever for both the parents and the kids. The parents: the food is just awesome. The kids: there is the best playground area I've ever seen. Imagine a McDonald type of playground but more beautiful, calmer, more intentional. The combination of the two creates an atmosphere we've rarely encountered. And it felt so great.

Going forward, we intend to take more and more decisions for our kids first. Some friends recently moved to a little unknown kind of town in France for the sole reason that what might be THE best school of the country is located over there. While I understand and support this move, I can tell it's disturbing many people; many parents among them. And I'd like to ask these parents: have you thought enough about your relationship to children?