Let Me Count the Ways

By Michael

Stephanie was having a bad day, or a bad week, maybe it was a bad month, but she mostly thought it was a bad life. I don’t remember all the details, but she was feeling bad about things and mom couldn’t make a dent, so it was my job to help her.

I was stymied. First, everything she was concerned about seemed silly and transient and not very important in the grand scheme of things. At least, it seemed that way to me, since I had already finished grade school long before I became a dad. With the wisdom that comes from being very, very olllllddd, I knew that all the stuff that bothered me in elementary school—back in the old days when we had REAL problems—was truly unimportant.

None of it was unimportant to her, though. It was her life and it sucked. Period. She was right, too. Her life sucked because she thought it did and, when it comes to happiness, thinking makes it so.

Telling her to forget about it didn’t work. It never works.

“Gee, dad, I’m feeling terrible and the best you can come up with is, ‘Don’t.’ Golly, you’re swell!!”

Telling her it was no big deal didn’t help, because it was a big deal to HER and a good dad wouldn’t minimize her pain. The best I could come up with was a list; a list of all the good things about Stephanie. We included big things about being a good friend and small stuff like knowing how to tie her shoes. All of it was good, though, and it showed that you could find something to be proud of—or 50 somethings—if you looked hard enough.

Immediately, she became blissfully happy. The clouds parted, the sun shone brightly and fairy dust sprinkled down on her forehead. The next day, she was elected class president, homecoming queen and Teacher’s Pet.

Okay, I’m lying. There was no fairy dust.

And there was no visual response. Her face didn’t change, she didn’t jump up and down and hug me and tell me how I’m the bestest dad evah or that she was so much better than all those kids who only had 47 good things on their lists. In fact, she didn’t’ seem to be responding at all.

One thing about Stephanie: she absorbs it all. She took it all in and the conversation didn’t repeat for a while. I was tempted to ask, maybe once or a thousand times, whether she had read the list or re-read it or if it helped or if it changed her life and didn’t she think her dad was just so smart for coming up with this idea.

Can’t do that with Stephanie, though. Tell her once and she gets it. Tell her twice and the resistance sets in. So I let it go, as I remember the situation. (She might remember it a bit differently—she usually does—but this is my blog, not hers.)

Meanwhile, I did take the time to ask her about the experience as I was writing this. Yes, it helped and, yes, more than ten years later, she still has the list.

Michael Rosenbaum is 5 Minutes for Parenting’s first dadblogger. He is a business consultant, playwright and author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

Michael blogs on life issues at Your Name Here Guide to Life and manages the Adult Conversation discussion group on Linked-In.

6 Responses to Let Me Count the Ways
  1. Elisa | blissfulE
    December 22, 2009 | 3:17 am

    I did a similar thing for a friend my freshman year in college. She wrote me later and told me how much it had helped.

  2. Kelly
    December 22, 2009 | 5:43 pm

    I really like that you are writing with the wisdom of having slightly older kids, Michael. It gives me hope that lessons DO stick, that they aren’t sieves, that we can have an impact. Some days, at the stage of parenting young kids like I am, I lose sight of the goal. I just want them to STOP FIGHTING and PICK UP THE TOYS and BE KIND.

  3. Michael
    December 22, 2009 | 5:57 pm

    Until I was sure they turned out okay, I didn’t want to give myself credit for any parenting wisdom. You can find me listed in Guiness for holding my breath for more than a decade. Now, of course, I can act like I had it all planned and under control from the beginning. Right, that’s exactly what I did. Of the three things you listed, it’s easiest to teach them to be kind. Probably the best, anyway.

    as for picking up the toys, years from now you’ll be thrilled at how new and fresh your carpet will be after being protected by a laminate of Legos.

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