Holiday time is game on. Parenting gets more hands-on and the pressure to keep the kids happy intensifies. As a dad, you need to bring your A game.
Let’s be clear: fatherhood is not a game. But let’s be even clearer: we’re dads, and sometimes things are a lot easier to understand when they’re about sport. And the fact is, fatherhood has a lot in common with sport. To be successful in both you need to be disciplined, hard-working, self-sacrificing, and not mind occasionally getting vomit on your shirt.
Also, just as in sport, the tough stuff always comes at the end of the year. The holiday season is the finals of fatherhood, the time when your fathering skills come under the most pressure, the time when you face the acid test that could make or break your fatherhood.
OK, that might be a bit much: after all, there’s always next year. But the end-of-year holidays will test you as a dad like no other time.
The fact is, there are moments during a ‘dadding’ season when we coast a little bit. Maybe we take refuge in our work, using the job as an excuse to dodge the odd bit of parenting time.
Maybe we drop the kids off at daycare and breathe a sigh of relief as we drive away, thankful that we’ll be kid-free for most of the day. Whether it’s partners or professionals, there are people to pick up the slack.
Come holiday time, a lot of those outs aren’t available. You’ve got more time at home, the kids aren’t going to daycare, and you’re in close contact for a much greater percentage of the time.
Like a footballer who clocked off late in games or took the odd rest day during the regular season, it’s suddenly up to you to be on your game the whole time.
Your stamina will be tested. Your concentration will be tested. Your tolerance for reading the same picture book a hundred times a day will be tested.
And just as a single mistake in a final can destroy the whole season, so you’ll find that if you let yourself lose your temper for a moment — or if you fob a child off with an excuse one time — the tranquillity of your home may be shattered, and the holidays will be marred by the sound of the rugrats’ unhappy wails.
You don’t just have to be more present and attentive during holiday season: you have to show your fathering mettle more obviously.
Every sportsman knows that during the season it’s sometimes enough to do the basics well, but in the big games you need to bring your A game. The footballer needs to hit every target, the batsman needs to combat a wider range of tricky deliveries, the tennis player will need to his shots with greater precision and skill than he did in the early rounds.
It’s the same with the fathering finals. You’re going to have to be the most entertaining dad you’ll ever be: with long days full of free time, the kids will be looking to you to avoid the boredom that can come upon a small child if they spend so much as eight seconds inactive at a time.
You better be ready to be funny, interesting, and tirelessly into games if you want these kids to stay occupied.
“Your stamina will be tested. Your concentration will be tested. Your tolerance for reading the same picture book a hundred times a day will be tested.”
You’re also going to have to be the wisest dad you’ll ever be. If you have multiple kids (with some older siblings), the holidays are the time when fights will break out more frequently and your ears will be constantly on high alert for screams, yells and squawking accusations.
It’s going to fall to you to smooth over disputes, nip brawls in the bud, and deliver Solomon-like judgement in intractable playroom turf wars.
Like I said, you’re going to have to bring your A game, because the challenges are going to come thick and fast.
When a player is in the finals, they find it harder than ever to keep a clear head.
It might be tough lining up for goal at the best of times, but the task becomes exponentially more difficult when you know how many eyes are on you and how great are the consequences of failure. At finals time all your insecurities and worries come to the surface, and you have to quell them if you’re to keep a calm head.
Holidays are the same for a thoughtful dad. One of the biggest stresses for any parent is money, and at holiday time money is a bigger concern than ever.
You want to give the kids a great time (babies don’t count), and you want them to get at least some stuff from Santa (even if they don’t know who he is). The expectation on you is that you’ll provide a satisfactory holiday for the whole family, and do it with a smile on your face.
To be a good dad you’re going to have to carry out all those vital fathering tasks while juggling thoughts of expenses and credit card repayments in your head.
Sometimes, you’re going to have to find a way to improvise, to please the kids despite not having all the resources you’d like to do so. You’ll be like an injured player who isn’t at full capacity, but has to find a way to perform because it’s the finals and failure isn’t an option.
There’s the rub: at finals time the top player always finds a way to perform, because it’s the most important time of the year, the time when you find out who the true greats are.
At holiday time, you’ll find out just how good a dad you are. And you’ll relish it, because just like a player in the finals, this is exactly where you want to be.
For all the pressure, all the insecurities, all the trials and tribulations, the holidays will be the best time of your fathering life, for the exact same reasons they’re the most difficult.
Face them with pride, with gusto, and the odd painkilling injection, and you’ll be a champion dad.
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