This week marked International Day of Happiness and, as I swiped through the tsunami of cute animal pictures on Twitter that sported the hashtag, I pondered what happiness actually means to me as a dad in 2023.
While I am aware that this blog can include a lot of grumpy dad talk, mostly triggered by my complete lack of authority in my own house, I am also aware that I don’t spend long enough talking about the happy parenting moments that bring me joy. So, to redress the balance, I’ve come up with 10 moments of parenting magic that are the most special to me.
Here, in the first of a two part post, are moments one to five:
1. Watching my kids swim
Leaving my kids anywhere near water used to utterly terrify me. Swimming when they were tiny was always nerve wracking and – after spending hours painfully navigating the changing rooms and lockers – would essentially involve standing in shallow water getting cold, while supporting one or other of them to thrash around for half an hour.
While the kids were clearly loving it at that young age, my wife and I were exhausted within about 10 minutes. The mix of physical exertion and mental strain, brought about by the realisation that one moment of distraction could see the lifeguards called into action, meant visits to the swimming pool were never relaxing.
Today, however, after years of swimming lessons, they are now both far better at swimming than I am and watching them, from the comfort of the spectators’ gallery, is joyous.
Seeing them swim so effortlessly and expertly makes me feel incredibly proud, that my wife and I stuck with the lessons and that they have developed a genuine life-saving skill that will stay with them forever.
The thought of them being well equipped to cope with any situation in which they may find themselves thrown into deep water, in their pyjamas, brings me genuine happiness.
Mind you, no longer having to squeeze four of us into a tiny changing room – with bags, towels, coats, clothes and stress – is even more reason to be happy.
2. Family jokes
As they get older, my wife and I have been delighted to discover that our children share the same crazy sense of humour as us.
Now, for instance, we laugh together at the adventures we imagine our neighbours – all of whom have adopted celebrity names – get up to behind closed doors. We are sure Jeremy Irons, two doors down, for example, is a shoe thief, after a new pair once went missing from outside our house.
At home, meanwhile, we have cuddly toys with personalities, including one that offers each of us sarcastic and inappropriate advice. We also all relish the opportunity to take the Mickey out of each others’ quirks and annoying habits – of which there are plenty. And a fart in our house never fails to raise a laugh.
To anyone looking in, it would all seem completely mad. But in our family it’s everyday life, and it makes me happy.
3. Reading with my kids
Ever since they were tiny, I’ve enjoyed reading with both my children. Cuddled up in the evening, after a bath and in their pyjamas, we would read picture book adventures together, with rhyming monsters, talking animals, pirates and princesses.
They were special times that brought us close together and meant that we ended each day with a moment of peace and calm. Of course, I always hoped that those times would instil a love of reading in both my children, but whereas my daughter is a complete bookworm, my son sadly now sees it as a chore.
Nevertheless, reading with them both still brings me great happiness. I enjoy the passion with which my daughter devours books and the great detail she’ll go into when bringing me up to speed with the chapters I’ve missed. With my son, meanwhile, when I do drag him away from the PlayStation for long enough to read, I love the special time we spend together, working our way through whichever book he is reading for school.
If I have my way, they’ll both still be reading with me into adulthood.
4. Making up after arguments
No one enjoys arguing, but when you have two young people who are desperate for independence and surging with hormones, they’re an inevitable part of family life.
However, after every screaming, shouting, door-slamming, stomping-off encounter, there are the moments that follow. I am talking of the times when your children recognise that what they have done is wrong and, however hard it might be for them, they do the right thing and apologise.
Of course, I’m not saying that these moments of high tension and emotion bring me happiness. Rather, it is the calm after the storm, when we come together to reflect, to agree on a new path forward and to make up for what was said, or what was done.
It makes me happy to know that my children can see the wood for the trees, that they can tell right from wrong, that they can listen and that they can change.
I’d like to think that we will never go to sleep or say goodbye on an argument. Even if it’s hard and there are tears, making up and moving on is always the right thing to do.
5. Measuring their heights
Every house has a wall with pencil marks and dates on it. When I was growing up, ours was in the kitchen and I still remember being called to it, my Mum armed with a ruler and a pencil, ready to mark off how much I’ve grown and then stand back in disbelief.
Now, we have our own wall and I love doing exactly the same with our two. There’s something so satisfying about physically recording how much your children have grown and, even though you are always aware of it – the piles of discarded clothes and outgrown shoes are evidence enough – wall measurement day still comes as a shock.
I guarantee that every parent with a height wall does the same thing. You mark off your child’s height, remark how much they have grown since you last did it and then look all the way down to the bottom of the wall in disbelief at how quickly they’ve gone from rug rat to mini-adult.
There’s also something deliciously old school about a height wall. In an age when there is an app for everything, using a pencil and ruler to draw a line on a wall is fantastically analogue.
When my kids stop growing, I’m tempted to continue with the wall routine, if only to measure how much my wife and I shrink into old age.
In part two of this post, find out why the sofa and a specific walk are in my top ten happy parenting moments.