Parenting: Who is Raising Whom?
In Search of That Elusive Parenting Manual
by Joe Gandolfo, M.A., LPC

“Successful Parenting is not about being Perfect!
Successful Parenting is about being as present as You possibly can in Your Mind, Heart & Soul – in every encounter with Your children!”

Let The Parenting Begin …..

We brought our first son home on Monday, Labor Day 1996.  Labor Day!  No pun intended.

Exhausted, we pulled into our driveway that evening about the time the sun was setting.  I parked the car and helped my wife into the house, she sat on the couch in our living room. I hurriedly went back to the car to get our newborn son.  He was strapped into one of those car seats, sleeping, and my first challenge with a newborn occurred.  I could not get the baby basket to release from its base.  Tugging, pulling and flabbergasted – I was finally able to get the baby basket to release.  “Boy it’s been a challenge getting this baby home” I thought.

He was asleep in the basket and I brought him into the house and set the basket on the floor in front of my wife.  I sat on the couch alongside her.  We both looked at each other and smiled.  In a non-scripted unison we turned to look at our newborn son to see his eyes wide open looking back at us.  In the instant my eyes met with the eyes of this little human being, my excitement and exhaustion quickly turned to a contained panic.  “What do you do now ….. Dad?” I thought.

During the first 6 months our newborn son taught us how to parent him, letting us know what he needed.  He would let us know through his laughs, tears, cries, hollers, coos, awakenings at night, his smiles – we learned to respond. By being attentive, my wife and I learned how to take care of him.  He taught us what he needed and we were learning to be parents.  But just when we thought we had the parenting thing down, the little guy started to crawl and crawl all over he did.  It all CHANGED!

Where is that darn parenting manual?  When we had our second son in January 2001 there still was no parenting manual given out.  For sure parents should receive a manual once having a second child, come on, help a parent out!  “There is no parenting manual that comes with kids”, I have heard that statement many times ….. or is there a manual after all?

Fear & the Other Side

The four of us went camping over the 2003 spring break holidays.  We camped at a beautiful State Park — Falls Creek Falls — in Tennessee.  It is a wonderful place to visit and explore with breathtaking views, hiking trails, and waterfalls.

Some of the hiking trails have suspension bridges connecting the trails over vast gorges, some bridges being more than 100 feet high.  Much like the one in the Indiana Jones movie.  As my wife, two boys and I approached a very long bridge suspended at least 150 feet high and 100 yards long (yes, the fish was that big!), my oldest son quickly took off across the bridge and yelled for the rest of us to join him.

As I approached the bridge, while he was crossing, I yelled out to him the typical parent concerns – “Be careful!” “Hang onto the rail!” “Walk slow!” “If the bridge breaks….”  What was I thinking?  What was I feeling?  What was I saying?

I became acutely aware of an enormous amount of fear in me, and a fear for him while he was crossing this high bridge.  When he got to the other side, he turned, waved and yelled, “Come On Dad”!  As I walked slowly across the bridge noticing the incredible amount of fear and runaway thinking happening within me, and which had me considering not going forward.  My son was on the other side and I had a CHOICE, to let the fear stop me or not.

As I walked across the bridge the fear inside of me amplified until I got to the other side.  Once I was over the bridge, my son and I high-fived and walked back across the bridge in a matter of seconds.  As we walked back across the bridge I profoundly experienced no fear.  “What happened to the fear?”  I wondered.

That experience highlighted this point.  There are times in our lives when we want to do something – be a better parent, improve our personal or work lives, go for our dreams – but fear can creep up inside of us and we become unsure of ourselves.  Unsure if we can achieve getting to “the other side”.

“Most of the fear that stops us from achieving what we truly desire
in our lives is nothing more than irrational thinking and self-limiting beliefs.”

If I had been on my own, I may have very well turned back.  My 6 year old was the catalyst which caused me to choose to keep going forward – to go for it – despite my fear.  He offered me a lesson about fear, doubt and self-limiting beliefs.  I needed to be reminded that fear is only a feeling created by a thought – many times an irrational thought(s) to be understood and to be overcome.  An obstacle that is limiting at best and paralyzing at worst.  Can we learn to parent with no fear?

The Game of Life – Chutes and Ladders

My youngest son, now 17 and age 4 at the time, came to me one morning and asked if I wanted to play.  Being a part-time stay-at-home Dad in those days mixed with the responsibility of growing a company, I was torn like an old faded pair of jeans.  The difference was that I was not comfortable with this simple request.

“Yes, I wanted to play” part of me thought. “No! You must work and grow your company” was the conflicting thought. Back and forth in my mind these two thoughts raced. In a moment as quick as the request was offered to me, I looked at my boy and said “yes, let’s play”.

“Cool Dad” he stated, “let’s play Chutes and Ladders”.  “You have got to be kidding me – CHUTES and LADDERS, come on little buddy how about poker”, I thought.  With a hesitant smile I was off with him to play Chutes and Ladders.  He opened the box, we set up the board and put two of those extremely happy people pieces on square #1.  I could not remember when I last played THIS GAME, I tried to be as happy as the people pieces looked.

We began to take turns spinning the number spinner and moving our pieces.  I explained to him how to move his people piece back and forth along the rows, the goal being to climb the ladders and to avoid sliding down the slides. I pointed to the final square, THE ULTIMATE GOAL, the winning square with the blue ribbon and the gold numbers 1 – 0 – 0.

“This is the square you want to get to my son to WIN THE GAME” I told him.  As he spun the number spinner, I showed him which direction to move.  It was not long before he landed on a ladder, I gladly showed him how to climb the ladder.  “Climbing the ladder my son moves you closer to the top” I told him.  We took a few turns back and forth moving our pieces along the rows.  I hit a slide and down I went thinking only about how this game may take longer than I wished it would take to finish.  Work was on my mind.

As he was climbing he landed on a space with a slide and as he slid down the slide he threw his hands above his head his head and hollered out a “whoooooooooo”.  I looked at him puzzled, taken by his joyful response.  We kept playing, taking turns moving our game pieces, climbing ladders with me repeatedly pointing out to my son the ULTIMATE GOAL.  “Remember, you want to get to this space here with the blue ribbon and the gold numbers 1 – 0 – 0, that is the space you want to get to too WIN!”

A voice went off in my head – “WIN SON WIN! Climb the ladders of life son, you can DO IT!  Climb …… WIN!”

It was then that he was close to the final square, but he landed on the space with the largest slide in the game.  As he slid down the slide he again threw up his arms and bellowed out another joyous “whoooooooo”.  I could not believe it, this game was going to continue, OH NOOOOOO I thought ……….. then it struck me.  He was having more fun sliding down the slides than he was climbing the ladders.

This game I wanted him to win so bad, this game I wanted to be over sooner rather than later, this game I turned into a life lesson of climbing to the top to WIN SON WIN! – is not what was most important.  He just wanted to PLAY.

He reminded me that climbing the ladders of life is not what is most important.  He reminded me to enjoy the slides of life and that the slides do come to an end.  He reminded me to play, holler, laugh and enjoy.  I have asked him many times since if he wanted to play Chutes and Ladders.

Change & Mr. Put-It-Together

After Christmas 2004, during the remainder of the holidays, I transformed into “Mr. Put-It-Together” around our house.  I had many items to assemble for my boys, my wife and myself.  Initially, that was just fine with me.  Like most guys, whether we are or are not – we believe we are the best fit for these assembly jobs.  Off to my new toolbox.

We all like, and need, to feel needed.  As the week of assembling began, I understood in one way, the importance I have to my family.  As the 5 days of assembling progressed I ended the week with a trampoline in front of my eyes, and yes it had a net too!  At this point in the week, I had my fair share of being important and valued as “Mr. Put-It-Together”.

While assembling the trampoline, my oldest son who was eight years young was playing in the backyard with a friend.  To keep myself from going over the edge after a week of “being important” – I was being a goofball. I was hooting, hollering and singing – just plain trying to lighten up.

It was during my goofiness that my 8 year young son came over to me and politely asked “Dad, can you stop that, you are embarrassing me”.  “Embarrassing? Don’t we do this together at times?” I thought.  That was the first time I had ever heard those words from my now 8 year OLD son.  At first I was most surprised by those words, but sadly after a moment or two, I was not surprised at all.

In that moment I realized my oldest was at the beginning of a very important shift in his life.  He no longer saw everything that I did …. as cool.  It was about time!  The way that he had related to me and needed me over the first 8 years of his life was changing.  Ah, the truth comes out again.  My value and importance to him was not ceasing just because I now at times “embarrass him”, it’s just CHANGING.  He’s changing and growing as he should be, and I must shift and change the way I relate to him, parent him and support him!

Again I was reminded, as I grudgingly was assembling the trampoline, that “Mr. Put-It-Together” does more than put stuff together as his children grow, he also is needed to help his growing children put there life together long after the bikes, legos, trampolines and such have been assembled.  I wanted to continue to have importance and value in his life.  I sometimes, again, just want to be “Mr. Put-It-Together” – to just assemble bikes, basketball goals, legos and trampolines.  Ah, those were the days!

“The greatest challenge of parenting is …
that our children are constantly changing.”

The evolution of parenting our infants who change into toddlers, who change into kids, who change into teenagers, who change into young adults – is on the one hand the same experience for all parents.  We, you, are not alone! Although we may feel alone in this endeavor at times.

On the other hand, OUR individual adventure, experience and journey of parenting is a unique endeavor all unto ourselves.  Understand that the not-knowing, the unknown, confusion, ineptness, fear, disconnect and challenges are loaded with valuable GIFTS of deep powerful learning and enormous growth opportunities for a parent.  Please open these GIFTS for inside, there are miracles waiting for you!

There is no shame, guilt or regret for which a parent should hold on too … regarding the adventure we call Parenting.

Know that Parenting is physically demanding when children are young, mentally demanding when they are older and always emotionally charged because they are our flesh and blood.  Darn, I thought I had this parenting thing down. WHERE IS THAT ELUSIVE PARENTING MANUAL?  THEY are the Manual!  Who is Raising Whom?


© 2015 Joseph Gandolfo, M.A., LPC