Reflections of a (Not So) ‘Very Cool Dad’

I was in the grocery store with my kids recently, and in an effort to get them to take a break from trying to kill each other long enough for me to check out, I decided to ask them directly: “Please take a break from killing each other so I can check out.” It didn’t really work, but it did catch the attention of a young woman passing by, who turned to me with a big smile and told me I was a “very cool dad.” Of that I am not sure, but the interjection was enough to somehow silence my kids long enough to allow me to pay and flee. Mission accomplished.

Of course, my first instinct was to figure out how I’d write about the anecdote. That’s what we journalists do, and for the past seven years—the last two-plus at NYMetroParents—my career, and my passion, has focused on parenting magazines and websites. Now, as I say goodbye to the beat and begin a new chapter, I am feeling wistful but am also looking forward to my return to being a parenting civilian rather than a professional. 

When people hear I work in parenting media, they tend to ask for the best piece of advice I’ve learned, or make some comment about how I must be a great parent because of my job. Underlying the question or comment is the assumption that there is some Secret to Perfect Parenting lying somewhere waiting to be unlocked. Of course, there is not, and the articles I’ve published would never claim there is. Ask me instead about the safest way to put a baby to sleep or whether kids’ allowance should be dependent on doing their chores, and then we can have an in-depth conversation.

Parenting media, like parenting itself, is usually focused on the micro and the mundane—on solving the specific challenge or achieving the unique goal of the moment. In short, it strives to aid in the day-to-day struggles and adventures of modern parenting, rather than propose a Perfect Parenting Plan. That said, I have picked up a few lessons here and there, from the content I’ve edited and my own decade of experience as a parent. What are those? Here are just a few highlights:

1. Kids’ moods will change in a heartbeat. The child throwing an epic tantrum will shrug it off and move on, while the siblings at war will suddenly be playing and laughing together—all while we adults continue to fume and shake, feeling the effects of the conflict long after our kids have forgotten about it. There is a saying about certain cities that if you don’t like the weather, wait a little while and it will change; so, too, for kids’ moods and behaviors. If you have the wherewithal to wait it out, this rough moment will certainly pass.  

2. There is no substitute for being present. The best gift we can give our kids is time and attention. Unfortunately, there is the not-small matter of careers and income, and this is one of the harder things for many of us to give, especially in our commute-crazy metro area. At the very least, we can make sure to make the most of the time we do have during the week with our kids and on the weekends, being present not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. Which means: Put down that phone (advice I preach better than I practice).

3. There is nothing more important than raising your kids to be kind. Resilience, academic success, social skills—these things are all important. But I’d give anything to know my kids will live lives of empathy, generosity, and kindness. The greatest moments I can recall as a parent? When I see one of my kids going out of her way to help a sister, friend, or occasionally, my wife or me.

4. Fart jokes are always funny. This is a universal truth that transcends age, gender, or interest. It just is. And that is a fact that can come in handy when stress levels get high and anxiety needs to be released.

A bonus of working in parenting media is the free swag—and I must give a shout-out to all the companies that shipped toys and books and baby products that have enriched our lives and occasionally merited a review or mention. My kids, to be clear, are devastated that I am leaving. And there is so much I will miss, too, and not just the goodies. The true reward has been in digging into the issues that matter so much to our lives as parents, learning and growing from the content we’ve published, and sharing it with you to help all of us be the best parents we can be. I look forward to continuing to be part of this community, as a parenting civilian and a reader.