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Here's why you should take time to be a parent today

Kris Kerzman Photo courtesy Britta Trygstad

"Take time to be a dad each day."

I read this tagline on a billboard somewhere around Fargo not too long ago. At first I thought it was a good notion but, ultimately, a bit pointless.

I mean, how can you forget to be a parent when the realities of parenthood are brutally merciless? There's the constant worry. There's the everyday hassle of mealtimes and bedtimes and getting out the door. There's the constant mess to clean up and the vague, looming threat of "paying for college".

If anything, there should be a billboard that says "Look, try not to be a parent once a day, if you can and if you think you can do so in good conscience, because it's probably better for your mental health if you can attempt to reclaim a sliver of your own time and identity away from the screaming chaos of parenthood."

I suppose that wouldn't make safe billboard reading, but you get the idea. You could argue that parental self-care is probably going to be better, in the long run, for your whole family, because it's probably better for your family if you don't suddenly sell the kids to the circus after a particularly strenuous bathtime that leaves every square inch of the bathroom sopping wet.

But that tagline, sponsored by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, nagged at me for a while. It wouldn't come to me when parenting was hard. It would come to me when my role as a parent was, frankly, boring. Those times on weekend afternoons when you have nothing planned, or those moments when, without intervention, each member of the household would drift away from the dinner table with a different device in a different room of the house watching a different TV show.

Those are the times when I feel like I need to be a dad. In times like those, being a dad means offering my best self to my kids. Sometimes it means letting kids do something they want to do, sometimes it's showing them something I like to do. Sometimes it means getting outside and sometimes it means hooking up an old video game console.

I'll relax the rules a little bit and laugh more. We'll maybe compete or work together on a project and learn how to be on a team. Maybe we'll call it an adventure and go nosing around in a bunch of trees to ignite our curiosity. Maybe we'll watch a dumb comedy.

No matter the activity, or who directs it, I understand it to be time intentionally spent together and outside our normal day-to-day. It's a different mindset than my default parent modes of Rule Enforcer and Manners Cop. It's about the relationship between us as extremely special people in each others' lives.

And this type of thing doesn't even need to be a structured activity. Sometimes it's as simple as drawing for a few minutes with your kids, or playing trucks, or pretending with them.

To me, these are the types of things that make everything else easier. Selfishly, I can say that these are simply ways to enjoy the company of your kids. I have fun with them. But, it's also a way to make the rest of the parenting day a bit more bearable — your kids aren't just Need Machines.

The best effect I can imagine, though, is on our kids. They grow knowing us as parents, yes, but also as people with interests and things we enjoy. They learn to structure their time in a meaningful way, explore their world and find things that challenge and delight them.

It sounds hard, but it really isn't. It's the stuff that, when you think about it, really matters. You just have to remember to be a dad (or a mom) at least once a day.

Kris Kerzman is father to 8-year-old Edith and 3-year-old Anton.

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