Dad discovers parenting is a team sport

by Bill Scholl

Maybe you’ve been blessed, like me, with a wife who minds the details of household, homework, practices, games, concerts, and the like.

But I’m also blessed with a woman who gives it to me straight, and one day she said, “Bill, you need to talk to your son!” It’s never good when “our” child becomes “my” child. But it turns out I’d been treating him as “her” child.

Last year at this time, our oldest, Sebastian, was met at the door of 5th grade with a bulk-sized load of homework. Not too surprisingly, he was reluctant to take up the new challenge.

What did surprise us, however, was that Mom’s parenting kung fu was no match for his tween procrastinating kung fu.

Right out of the gate, the kid was floundering. My wife told me I needed to step in.

I started out by dedicating an hour each night to working with Sebastian on his homework. The fact that I was taking an interest in what he was studying made it more interesting to him almost immediately. The message I was trying to send was that it was OK to make mistakes, but he had to try to get it right.

To make sure he understood the math concepts that had been introduced that day, we’d make up extra problems for him to work through. And as we began to discuss science and astronomy and social studies on a regular basis — and beyond the scope of his homework — topics of interest began to spill over into dinner conversations with the entire family.

Instead of fighting me, Sebastian seemed to eventually look forward to this special “Dad time.” When we started out, studying with my son was the last thing in the world I wanted to be doing. But when after six weeks or so he no longer needed as much help from me, I didn’t bow out of that part of his life. I’d discovered that I really enjoyed working with him!

I’d discovered that parenting is a team sport. As Dad, you’re on the field all the time, and you need to be ready to take the ball at any time. So here are some tips I’ve learned to keep me on my game — especially now as a new school year is under way.

Husband/ father are Job One!

Remember what God has called you to do. No matter your career, if your kids don’t grow up to be competent and functional, your success won’t matter. When you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to be saying, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Commit to making the investment in you child’s academic success and it will translate into a better relationship all around — and give you the avenue you will need to talk with him about other things: values, friendships, and the faith.

Save some of your “A” game

As dads, we’ve usually got two jobs: One job helps support the family financially and the other helps support the family spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Thinking this way enables me to manage my energy level during the day so I can have some steam left when I arrive home to be present to the ones I love most in the world.

My wife and I have agreed that I get a half-hour break when I first get home from my “day job,” and then it’s time for the “second shift.”

Show, don’t just tell

Like most fathers, I work hard to make sure my boys can catch a baseball and kick the soccer ball without falling down. But I need to work just as hard to ensure that my sons can read well aloud and do math problems without counting on fingers and toes.

Just like we show and encourage them to do sports, we’ve got to show them how to do the academic stuff. The verdict is in: Reading with and to your kids gives them a huge advantage in school. Dads need to model for kids that reading is important by being conspicuous readers themselves. Let them see you reading the paper or a book and talk to them about what you’re reading and what they are reading.

Have a game plan

If you were coaching their team, you’d have a practice schedule and a strategy; do the same with school. Ask your wife to meet with you to plan out a strategy for the school year. If you’ve never done this before, make sure she’s sitting down when you ask her, or she might faint! Work out a daily schedule with times for homework and one-on-ones. Discuss goals with your wife: What skills need improving or where can this child be challenged? Then discuss and get buy-in from your child. Approach it like you’re his coach helping him to go for a medal or a personal best.

Get involved at school

There isn’t a school I know that doesn’t appreciate parent volunteers. It is especially important for kids to see that Dad goes on the occasional field trip or helps with the science fair or takes a morning off to go to the school Mass. Go to the PTO meetings, too. You’ll know what is happening with the school, and your kids will see that it matters to you, too, not just Mom.

Pray at the start of the day

One of my fondest memories of parish sports was when we’d huddle together, pray, and then shout: “Mary, Queen of Victory, PRAY FOR US!” Create some ritual by which your family can start off the day with prayer. It doesn’t have to be formal, and it can even be fun. You want God on your side in all things, so teach your kids to start off their days with him.

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