I remember when my own children were little (that’s about 18 years ago, somehow!). I was a stay-at-home dad in those days, with two little ones. I could not possibly have adored my babies any more than I did! And I did the lot – tot groups, outings, walks, swimming – The. Lot. But in the back of my mind, what I really wanted to get at was my paintings. Yes I was and still am an artist too, and what with the babies, running the house and all that goes with it, I was a thoroughly tortured artist!
I must admit, I never squared that circle very well in those days. I would love to say I went serenely along, accepting that I would get my own time when it was possible. But in reality, I was pretty torn.
And the irony of it all? It was only ever me paying the price! My children never lacked for any love or attention, but I found it so hard to just chill out and accept things as they were. When I was with them I was often wishing to be in the studio, and when I was painting, I felt bad for not being a better dad! Perfect!
Bring it all up to date, and my lot are all grown up now and doing their own thing. But for me, my wife and her three children (my step children), the challenges are the same only different. For one thing, there’s the usual school/family life/work situation to juggle. And when you consider that two of the three children have an ASD, that’s quite a full-on family picture!
So have I learned anything at all from my earlier experiences? Not much, if truth be told! I still feel that when I’m working, I should be painting, and when I’m painting, I should be taking the children somewhere to free up my wife Toni’s time.
Toni, on the other hand, isn’t the slow learner I am! She actually began the Tootsie Toes casting business specifically because she wanted to balance caring for her children with earning a living, without having to feel bad about not being there for them.
Back in 2001 when she started the business, we didn’t have the ASD diagnoses for two of her little ones which we now have. She just wanted to be there for them at home, but looking back, it would have been tougher for those little guys if she hadn’t made the wise decision to work from home. All the doctors and hospital appointment which you need to attend for a diagnosis would have been much harder to arrange. They were tricky enough fitting it around Tootsie Toes! We really do admire working parents who manage to fit it all in. It isn’t easy.
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that Toni doesn’t think of herself as the paragon of parenting that I’ve made her out to be! She pretty much feels the way I did, and still do about giving her children enough quality time. How much or how often is enough? Would it make us feel any better if we did more anyway? Is it just a parent’s lot to feel a bit guilty about their children?
All the angsting gets you nowhere, but what’s really funny about it all is this – when we suggest things to do together, they look at us like we’ve got two heads! You can say all you like about the perils of their devices and social media, but it really is a major part of how kids communicate these days.
They may play the occasional game, but for the most part, our lot are either watching films or chatting/face timing with their friends. That’s friendships in the 21st century. They’re happy with it that way.
I’ve discussed all of this endlessly with my sister, who’s a psychotherapist, in an attempt to get over it and enjoy life a bit more. She always tells me the same thing, but for some reason, it always seems like new information every time I hear it. So I ask her, ‘What do you think I could do to feel a bit better about meeting the children’s needs?’ She says ‘Have you tried asking them? Maybe they’ll tell you.’ Good one! I’ll let you know how that works out for me.