Thursday, May 28, 2009

What I learned about parenting from Tom Cruise

I never thought I would write the words that couch-jumping, arguably misogynist Tom Cruise taught me something about parenting. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. I really learned my parenting lesson from Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr., and Tony Scott. If you aren't a movie trivia buff, you may not know that Cash and Epps wrote and Scott directed that 1980s classic movie Top Gun.

So what could I possibly learn from a movie about an arrogant military pilot what earns the nickname Maverick because he doesn't listen to advice and he insists on doing things his way? Sure, he's battling the memory of his father, but that's not what I learned.

I don't have the father issues Cruise's character, Lt. Pete Mitchell, has. In fact I'm fortunate that my father is a pretty good role model for fatherhood. What I don't have is a tremendous amount of patience. And with children, particularly small ones, patience is a must. Some might assume that the patience required involves simply waiting for small children to get in the car, settle down for bed, eat. Yes, all of those things are true and waiting in those moments does take tremendous patience for me and many other parents I've talked to. But the thing I learned from Lt. Pete Mitchell is this: Don't leave your wingman.

Patience with children, I've learned, is more than simply waiting without doing something for your child or constantly saying to hurry up. Don't leave your wingman is standing and waiting patiently while the child performs the task, and occasionally reminding the child what he or she is supposed to be doing. So instead of telling a child to go to the bathroom and waiting until he does. Don't leave your wingman. Go with the child to the bathroom and wait while he goes. Don't do anything else while he is going, either. Don't turn your back, don't wipe down the kitchen counter, don't pick up a magazine, don't chase a Soviet fighter jet. Focus on the child and wait, redirecting when necessary. It's best for the child and best for the parent. There is more learning and less yelling -- on both parts.

As an impatient multitasker, waiting has been a hard lesson to learn. But many of those moments, while waiting for a son to read a word or to solve a puzzle or to get dressed, are some of the most tender I have had with my children. With patience comes the ability to see my children as humans growing and learning. For that I thank Tom Cruise.

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