There was a time in my life when watching the “The Tonight Show” when it aired was normal. Forcing my eyelids to stay open wasn’t even an issue. Those days are gone. These days, we record “The Tonight Show” and watch the previous night’s episode the next day, or week—or let them stockpile in our DVR until we have about thirty to choose from.
Several weeks ago, we went through the buffet of “The Tonight Show” options we had recorded and watched one that featured Vice President Joe Biden. Politics in my late night television is not something I like to watch. Unless it’s an SNL skit. But actual politics? Not so much. So I was a little wary when the interview started. But Jimmy Fallon is a pro and managed to steer the interview into something not nearly as divisive as political views.
See, Joe Biden is a dad and a grandfather. And while the people in the audience didn’t necessarily vote for his ticket in the past presidential elections, or agree with his critiques this election, when the politics are put aside, it’s easier to see him as a person—a parent, who has a few more years on us, a lifetime of experiences to glean from, and who is willing and pass along some of the things he’s learned to those of us in the thick of it.
Below are lessons I learned in parenting from the Vice President.
1. “Every important thing your child will say to you will be off script.”
Isn’t that the truth? I get questions about God and Heaven as I’m trying to close the bedroom door for the night and am desperate for some quiet. I’m pulled into conversations about the different colors of skin God made while driving to school in the morning. Kids are no respecter of convenience, time, or schedules. When they have something important to say, they say it. As parents, we know when we would prefer to have the big “talks”. We build in our minds the moments we want to make matter. We plan the quality moments in advance. But our kids will have nothing of it. They work on their own timetable and at their own pace. They create the quality moments, not us. It’s up to us to be ready, to be available for when our kids go off script at the most unlikely times. In this way, the quality of moments only happen when we’re around for a large quantity of moments.
2. “Kids can hold an idea for 12 or 14 hours and after that, it’s gone.”
“In a minute.” “Maybe tomorrow.” “Not right now.” These are parenting catch phrases. We say them without even realizing it. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “Hold on,” only to come back to them and find they forgot what they were going to say, or ask me to do. I don’t think that means we indulge every thought they have, or let them interrupt every conversation, or give the impression this whole big world revolves around them. I just think when we begin parenting knowing our kids’ best ideas and most insightful observations are flashes in a pan that even they can’t get back once they’re gone, we may be more likely to stop what we are doing, and engage better.
3. “Hold them tight. It goes quickly.”
Any of us who have been in the Target checkout line with screaming toddlers and grabby pre-schoolers have heard this well-intentioned advice from the older ladies in line behind us who seem to have memory loss when it comes to the sheer exhaustion—physical, mental and emotional—parenting creates. Those ladies drive us crazy. And that’s who Joe Biden sounds like. But I wonder something. I wonder if those words make us so mad. In part, because, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL, would it be so bad to wish past the tantrums??? But also because there is a small part of us that knows it’s true. Because when we come face to face with the grandmother decades beyond us, age spots on her hands, crows feet around her eyes, her honesty, her transparency, her ache for what’s gone, it reminds us that yes, parenting is hard. It just is. And it urges us to just keep going when sometimes it would be easier to quit and when it’s tempting to lock ourselves in the bathroom and do some deep breathing. There are so many parenting moments we could do without, that cherishing them feels near impossible. But those who are older and wiser in the generation before us remind us the days we are knee-deep in diapers and Friday folders, time-outs and pureed baby food, eye rolling, and messy rooms, are important. They matter. And they too shall pass. And as hard as those days were—or are—we are never quite ready for them to be gone. Not completely. Which is why thirty years from now, we’ll be the ones teary-eyed in Target lamenting to a haggard mom over the speed at which these days go by. It’s just the way of things. We may not fully appreciate them now, but anytime someone years beyond us tries to catch our attention, we can inwardly cringe, but then maybe pause. Because it’s possible they may be on to something.
So. What did I learn from Joe Biden? That when it comes to parenting we are all just doing the best we can. That those further along than us can drive us crazy with their rose colored glasses—but also give us a perspective we might have otherwise have missed. And that parenting advice can come from the most unlikely places. Even from politicians.
What’s the best parenting advice you received? And the one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?