Friday, January 23, 2015

Two Minds, One Parent

Last time I talked about my relatively recent revelation about the way my brain works.  That is, I have two personalities that I call Passion and The Director which swap control back and forth.  (I don't exhibit any of the problematic or destructive traits often associated with multiple personalities though, so no worries.)  I have been thinking about how this dichotomy impacts the way that I function as a parent.  The short answer is that I make a great parent to some kids but Elli and I in particular have real issues.

Back before we had a kid Wendy and I went on a honeymoon to Manitoulin Island.  We set up our stuff on a nice sandy beach and Wendy decided to go off for a walk.  When she came back she couldn't find me and was initially concerned.  Then she noticed a giant pile of kids working together to dam the river that ran through the beach... and one large man feverishly working alongside the children stacking logs and rocks and mud onto the dam.  She was suddenly struck by the impression that I would be a great father given that I had apparently organized all the children on the beach into an impromptu engineering project.

Pretty clearly I was Passion while building the dam.  Running back and forth stretching my physical limits against the unstoppable force of water building up, knowing that defeat is inevitable but that my job is to hurl my body into an impossible task... this is what Passion loves.  Winning is irrelevant, the adrenalin rush of competition is everything.  It wasn't that I was organizing the children or encouraging them so much as I was doing something super fun and they joined in.  In many ways that is a great model for parenting because I wasn't controlling them, forcing them to participate, or even giving them a goal.  I was just doing things with them, letting them figure out their own how they wanted to help, and giving them free rein to be creative in their solutions.  Obviously a parent can't be Passion all the time but that seems like a great thing to be sometimes and it is certainly a way to generate good memories.

The trouble with Passion is that he isn't interested in being held back, standing still, or doing things that are trivial.  Elli isn't the sort of child that wants to hurl herself into things alongside others and see what happens because she desperately wants to be in control, to decide how every move will play out, and be sure to find a way that she can 'win'.  When I try to stretch myself, to let Passion out, she gets agitated and angry that I am doing things she can't match and she demands that I stop doing whatever it is I am interested in so she can inform me of all the rules I must follow.  I have the choice to simply continue doing what I am doing, keep Passion in charge, and have her blow a gasket and stomp off in a rage or I can stop cold, The Director can take over, and I can let her control everything.

Trouble is that The Director is great at following orders and keeping a lid on things but he is useless at engaging with a kid.  He is only interested in theory, in abstract, in mental challenges and eight year olds aren't great at generating that.  The Director can sit around while Elli issues orders and play along but he will never, ever be interested or excited about it.  I am stuck with the choice between an explosive meltdown on Elli's part or crushing boredom on my part and there doesn't seem to be any middle ground.  If Elli was eager to just join in someone else's game and player her own part then it would work but she isn't that sort of kid.

I suspect this problem will lessen as time goes by.  As Elli gets older she will get better at challenging me mentally and our discussions will get dramatically more interesting so The Director will enjoy spending time with her more.  Also she will hopefully get to the point where she can play more advanced games with me and that will be a wonderful thing we can do together.  It may be challenging to find ways in which Passion can interact with her but it should get easier as she gets older and me operating at maximum physical exertion is something she can keep up with.  I think that we will find things we can do together that allow me the freedom to push myself to my limits without making her feel left behind.

One really interesting footnote is that I have discussed this subject with Elli in general terms and she is utterly fascinated by it.  She has been continually asking me "Daddy, are you in your thinky mode now, or in your body mode?"  She understands that I am nearly always in my thinky mode but she is extremely curious what body mode looks like.  I wonder what she thinks she will see when the shift happens.  Probably she will be disappointed when all that happens is I rush off to run, lift, climb, and smash.  All the roars of fury and screams of defiance are generally just echoing around inside my brain rather than actually articulated.

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