Thursday, 2 April 2020

Dad Impostor Syndrome and clinging on to the bedtime book - This Week's #ReadItTorial

"Robot Dad" - Ever feel like you're faking it?
Maybe I think too much. As George Ezra is currently singing "What a terrible time to be an over-thinker".

I'm pretty sure I always have been one, but sometimes when my inner monologue gets shouty and loud, it takes a touch of wisdom from my wife to put things into perspective.

There are so many moments when, as a parent, particularly as a dad in fact, that you'll feel like you're stuffing up. Sometimes you do things that are meant to be funny but fall horribly flat. Sometimes you say things that you instantly regret, chastising your kids for doing things that you know full well you did yourself when you were of a similar age.

Sometimes you worry that whatever you do to instil in your kids a strong moral compass, a decent grip on what's right and what's wrong,  they will still do things that make you wonder whether they take in your advice to steer them away from danger or threat, and ignore it just to tick you off.

I'd been having a lot of this sort of thing going on in my head for a long time, and it came to a head a couple of weekends ago when I made a decision for a day out that rapidly went south, and ended up with everyone having a massive grump at each other.

It took a couple of days for things to calm down but there were a lot of shouty exchanges, and I just felt like I did the very thing I always hated in my parents and grandparents - I didn't listen.

Listening to your kids is one of the most important skills any parent can learn, and it pays off in many different ways. If your kids tell you that they'd rather talk to a teacher than you, something's going horribly wrong.

Thankfully in this instance we all managed to talk out the annoyances and frustrations of the 'gone wrong' weekend. It was a massive relief to feel like the house was getting back to normal, and then there was an added bonus. I'd assumed that as C progressed further into tweendom that the bedtime book had finally died. Most of the time in the evening we're all wrapped up in our own winding down, I'm usually scribbling away or writing the blog, and the girls are usually on their phones. Tonight though, C came in and asked (in a very sweet way) for a bedtime book.

I was slightly taken aback, but we still have a lot of picture books around the house (though middle grade stuff is slowly taking over) - and so I let her choose. She chose Jonny Duddle's "The Pirates of Scurvy Sands" - a truly brilliant picture book that is filled with the sort of illustrations that both C and I can't get enough of. So many details to share a moment over, so many nods to other books by Jonny that we've enjoyed again and again, and some truly brilliant / awful rhymes that make us giggle and groan equally.

I've often written about what it feels like when your kids get older. There are kidlit bloggers out there with much younger kids than C who are still coasting on those golden times when they bond over books, and sometimes I find myself feeling envious. No wait, correct that, I'm insanely jealous, but with the best of well-meaning intentions.

Yet you get to trade those lost times with new experiences and at the moment the 'gain' is talking to a brainbox of a girl who is rapidly finding her own direction in the world and has her own strong views, her own amazing personality, and of course her own tastes and preferences when it comes to books which sometimes align with mine, and sometimes run off at a complete tangent.

I find myself listening to her talking about books she's enjoying and reading that really aren't my cup of tea, and likewise we trade thoughts on the (dwindling number of) picture books we still cover.

Quite often with chapter books I'll pick up ones she's finished that I've previously ignored, and can understand what she sees in them and why it's rocky ground sometimes as an adult when you're reviewing children's books and assuming that you can assess them with as much insight and expertise as the audience they're really written for (see the #ReadItTorial on 'ugly modern children's books' from a few weeks ago for more on that particular quirk of adult behaviour).

One final thing is that as time passes, C starts to dig into books I'd previously kept well away from her. Still screening out the unsavoury stuff of course, but letting her loose on chapter books, comics and graphic novels that she can now decode and understand, and develop an appreciation for. I recently let her read through "The Guardians" by John Christopher - one of my favourite books of all time - and was secretly thrilled to see her really taking to it (even though she was extremely grumpy about the fairly flat ending).

I'm under no illusion that this blog is living on borrowed time. As I mentioned last week it's becoming really hard to concentrate on it, to give children's books the love and attention and the fanfare they so richly deserve when all you can think about is how crazy the world is now.

But we're not done just yet. As far as being an 'impostor' dad goes though, I'm lifted up by a couple of things my wife said to bring me back to my senses. C has bits of both of us, the good and the bad, and (as far as I know) we're not evil despots or nasty pieces of work so we shouldn't assume she will turn out to be one.

The other thing she said is that even when it feels like we're stuffing up sometimes, no parent (particularly parents of only children) can ever dismiss their own ability to be a GOOD parent based on the observations of how amazing / terrible other parents are doing.