Kidswapping: Parenting’s Reset Button
Here’s something you should try once in a while, parents. This past weekend found me in New York City to visit a friend running the famous marathon. More than 10 years ago, the same friend had been watching me slog through this bizarre and compelling “bucket-list” ritual. Now, I went alone, leaving my wife and daughters to navigate the daily hustle to get school, swoop in and out of after-school activities, feed themselves, and do homework. And since my friend’s wife was out of town, I spent most of my time with his kids aged 7 and 4.
Kid-swapping! I recommend this to everyone for several reasons.
It puts you on your best parenting behaviour.
It’s good to step out of your own situation as a parent and re-learn the patience and kindness that lurk at your core, but somehow gets lost in a morning scuffle with your own children. I was clearly not going to shout at my friend’s children. Instead, I was much calmer and more relaxed even as we confronted various activities. Of course, my friend’s kids are very cute and nice. But they have their moments, as do all kids, and learning that you can rediscover your peaceful state of mind as a parent is a reminder that we can “reset” with own kids.
It makes you value your own kids more.
Also, for parents who do not spend time away from their own children, it also shows you how strong your bonds to your kids really are. This is something that can disappear into the background when you’re with your kids on a daily basis. For example, recall that the end of October concludes with the great American Halloween ritual of “trick-or-treating”, when kids go from home to home in costumes asking for candy. This year, I went with my friend and his children from place to place. In the thick of it, I realized how much I wanted to see my own children in their costumes and be with them. The feeling came from a strangely deep place and made me feel a little sadness at missing this event.
It gives you a new, outside-the-family perspective on, well, family.
Kid-swapping with a close friend also helps you pass along the ties that you have with your friends to the next generation. This is different from swapping with a brother or sister because chances are you already spend time with your family in these contexts. When you swap with a friend, you really get to see the process from a different perspective and discover strange and interesting things about your friend’s children. For example, I enjoyed watching an entire English football game on TV with my friend’s son, and learned his daughter, who was a bit shy, likes making paper airplanes and sneaking a little extra Halloween candy. These little moments became an opportunity to bond with both children and to feel a closer connection to one of my best friends.
It makes you face hard truths.
So, what did I learn this weekend? I learned that I am probably too hard on my own kids! I need to lighten up. We’re so concerned about making sure they can make it in the world that we tend to be tough on them. We want them to be able to survive the difficult and sometimes unpleasant “real world.”
Some people might say that you can accomplish this same kind of parenting introspection by volunteering in school or helping underprivileged children. But my friend and I have known each other for almost 30 years. There is a depth of understanding with him and, by extension, his children that simply isn’t present when I am with my daughters’ school friends.
So the next time you find yourself at the end of your rope with your own kids, and you think you would trade them with any other kids, give a swap a try! It’ll change your perspective, shake up your normal routine and remind you that you’re probably a better parent than you think you are.