Don’t Do Things Like I Do

I can’t do anything without my seven year-old questioning my motives. I know he’s just trying to figure out how the world works and what motivates people, but his curiosity is forcing me to analyze my own behavior, and it’s hard enough to admit to myself that I grabbed the 1% milk instead of the whole milk because I’m tired and it was closer, but now I’m stuck admitting to him that so many of the decisions I make are driven by convenience and sloth.

Sometimes he’ll ask questions that require sage fatherly advice, like “Do we believe in God?” and though I’m up to that task, the majority of his inquiries still pivot on banalities that I’m shamefully unprepared to answer. “Daddy, why after you wake up do you lay around for so long?” “Well, I don’t really feel good and awake until I have coffee.” “Why do you need coffee?” “Some people just need coffee I guess. It helps me feel more awake.” And then, instead of explaining the nature of addiction, I change the subject, “Hey, what pants are you going to wear today?” Since he’s the sweetest boy in the world, he asks me if I need coffee, like he’s my hospice nurse. “No, I don’t drink coffee this late because it would keep me up all night, and then I’m tired in the morning and need more and more coffee, and OH MY GOD I NEED TO GET MY LIFE TOGETHER!”

He monitors me like a tiny organic Nanny Cam. I heard Britney Spears hired someone to hang out with her and make sure she didn’t do any drugs. Did she not know that her children will do that for free without her even asking? When an adult questions your day-to-day decisions, it can be maddening and make you defensive. But when your child does it, you have no choice but to face the fact that you’re completely ridiculous and, despite having lived for forty-two years, discipline is as elusive as ever.

I want to set a good example for him because I know he’s much more likely to model my behavior than he is to follow explicit instructions. When I look up from my phone to tell him he’s logged too much screen time today, even he — a five year-old — can sense the hypocrisy. “Well, you’re always looking at your phone, and that’s a screen.” “That’s true, but I’m an adult and can make my own decisions. Plus, sometimes when daddy’s looking at his phone he’s doing work.” That’s right, Facebook, Twitter and Swords and Poker—they all pay me a nice monthly salary.

Our kids just assume we do everything correctly, and while I can maybe explain why I do some of the big things wrong, those aren’t what he’s asking about. It occurs to me, though, that maybe there aren’t really any big things. Who we are is a composite of the little decisions we make. If I want him to be a mindful, happy, and productive person, I have to start by taking the time and effort, no matter how tired I am or whether or not I’ve had my coffee yet, to move the grape juice out of the way so I can reach the whole milk.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

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