I received a call that frustrated me the other day. Someone was telling me how to raise my boys without my input. After seeing the results, I’m glad they did.
A Frustrating Phone Call
I was a little upset to receive a call from my son’s mother the other day. She had decided that Joseph was playing video games too much and he needed to buckle down.
You have to understand that Joseph is one of the most diligent and hard working kids I know. He paints, he draws, he writes songs, plays two instruments, gets straight A’s, writes movie scripts, and I will simply stop the list here before I take up the page. To me the games were valuable; a little time to blow off steam is a good idea.
What’s more, because he lives in Georgia and I live in New York, I don’t get to see him as often as I like, though we do see each other about a week every month. Online games are our way to fill in the gaps and spend time together. We don’t play for long, but we do get time to laugh and talk several days a week.
This decision to limit his playtime directly affected his time with me. What’s more, his mother made it without consulting me, but she asked me to honor it.
A Delayed Realization
Despite my frustration, I listened to her position. It made sense to me, but it still didn’t sit right with me. I agreed to hold him to the agreement, but asked her in the future to include me in the decision.
After a couple of days I realized why I felt uneasy. The focus was not quite right. She was focusing Joseph not on what she wanted him to accomplish, but what she wanted him to avoid. Much like any successful person who has set goals will tell you, you focus your goal on what you want, not what you don’t want. For instance, you don’t have a goal to “stop smoking” but instead have a goal to “breath only clean air”.
Additionally, I was worried that this would cut into my time with my son. Very difficult circumstances had separated us, but we had found a way to bridge the gap. Now, this decision was possibly going to undo that fix.
A Reluctant Compromise
After I realized the issue, I called his mother. I explained to her my concern. I shared with her that we should focus him on what we did want and not what we didn’t want.
That’s when she explained her reasoning more deeply. In the past she had seen that when he starts playing games too much, his creativity suffers. When he’s limited, he will draw and come up with new ideas, stories, games, etc.
At the same time she saw my points. She realized that perhaps the limit she gave was too much. Instead, she suggested we could limit his time until he had finished all his other projects and tasks for the day – reading, practicing his trumpet, prepping for college, etc. Then he might be able to extend it if he asked.
Although I felt marginalized in the original decision, it did seem like a valid approach. I agreed. A few days later, Joseph flew up to spend time with me for a few weeks.
A Positive Outcome
Joseph held up his end of the deal well. He limited his playtime. He did his work. He asked for extended time when he was done and never complained.
After a few days I noticed something. I noticed him on his computer drawing, or sketching in a sketchbook, or writing scripts. These were all things he had done before, but he took them up without issue and for longer stretches.
And I saw more. After seeing Joseph, I saw my youngest son wanting to play around with a 3D modeling program he hadn’t used in awhile and my middle son working extra hard on Blender, a different 3D modeling program. My boys were finding more time to be creative, simply because they saw the option.
After a few more days I called Joseph’s mother and thanked her. I told her that what she had come up with was a good idea and I was using it with Tristan and Evan too.
A Creative Future
I believe there are two major things we can do in this world: use the things that someone has created or create things that benefit ourselves and others. Creativity is learning, growing, and finding ways to contribute to improving lives. Fostering that leads to a better world.
If there is anything you can do to increase the creativity of yourself or those around you, put it into practice. Limiting things that take away from that time can help us become more successful. I may have had to tell my kids “no”, but they said “yes” to a whole lot more.