Parenting Your Kids’ Spirit Animals

The recurrent theme in my soon-to-be-released book, “Parenting from Out of Bounds, “ is tips and ideas that helped me change many of the mistakes I was making as a parent. The idea at the onset was to create a “parenting handbook.” 

When Nikki and I would get into challenging situations or, more often, learn from mistakes, I would often joke to Nikki, “This should be in a parenting handbook somewhere. I would have liked to know about this before…Now.“

This article is one of those. 

Our oldest was just one of those incredibly simple kids. He’d wake up in a good mood and, for the most part, has remained “Steady Eddy” regarding parenting. He was very curious in life, quick to learn anything, and pretty much self-taught. I don’t remember ever sitting down and doing a lot of extra to teach him.  Math, Reading, developing humor, Sports… It just seemed to happen naturally. 

His baby and toddler years were just…easy.

As a first-time parent, it was natural to assume that would be how it was for all of our kids. Our perspective at that point being only what we experienced with our first child. I suppose that’s how it was for everybody. “I can’t see what the fuss is about. Parenting seems pretty straightforward.”

Life became so hectic and crazy with the twins that we just sort of sling-shotted through it all.  

It was with the youngest that things just sort of unraveled with me.  Parenting became highly challenging.  I stressed.  A lot. Internally especially.  I would describe my life to my mom as, “We’re all going one direction, and then we have this one kid at a direct 90 degrees.”  

Looking back on it now, it shouldn’t come as a shock, but we just didn’t have the awareness that every kid is different. And I’m not just talking about the kids in my family. I’m talking about all kinds of kids from all over the world. Heck, just the changes in seasons and going from summertime to school time and during the Holidays -kids change. They react. They get tired and excited.  They are humans, just like us, and live “emotionally charged.”   That’s what personality is. That is literally the definition!

Nikki put together photos of our family mirroring animals a few years back just to create a silly Facebook post. Even before this idea of a book or “The Texas Zoo Crew” social media, we were “the zoo crew.” All our family is in love with nature, especially animals.  Nikki had found these pictures that she thought represented the kids’ attitudes and who they were and brought out these animal qualities that she matched.

It’s still is one of my favorite collections she has ever put together. 

It popped up in my memories a week ago, and I just had to redo it.

It still fits so well. It makes me smile beyond the surface.  The only thing that’s changed is my “spirit animal.”  I’ve never really felt that I had a spirit animal. It was just me. The initial picture was a bald eagle.  As the patriarch of the family and a guy with no hair, it fits well enough. But, over the last couple of years, as we’ve discussed “spirit animals,” I seem to better relate with a “pack mule.” 

Nikki does most of our planning and adventure-making. I pack the crap and haul it.   Also, let’s get real. I’m the jackass of the family. There’s no one better suited in our family to make mistakes, stay stubborn despite the obvious wrongness, shake it off and eventually laugh at himself. I’m very comfortable being the butt of my jokes. If I did stand-up comedy, I think it would be like Gaffigan, laughing at my own life. Finding humor in the experiences that we all go through.

I think that’s what I love about this picture series so much.  It makes me smile while reminding me of a lesson.

At the heart of this article is the idea that each kid, in fact, each family member, truly has these different personalities. They wake up differently. They see the world uniquely. They react to the same stimulus in varying ways.

If I were to add an addendum to my parenting handbook, it would be just that. Go into Parenting Life knowing that each of these kids will see the world in slightly distinct ways. Innately, they are each wired to interact with the universe unalike anyone else.  Looking back through the lens of time, it’s obvious how true this is. Even my identical twins, who are so similar in nearly every aspect of life, still need to be parented non-identically.

Understanding that my raccoon gets grouchy and says and does stuff outside his norm when he is hungry/tired has been a tremendous parenting change for me. And the humor of him as a “trash-panda” helps take the edge off it. 

But the reality is, I struggled with this for a few years. “Why is my youngest one so difficult?” “Why does he act so differently?”  It added a considerable stressor to me. He is why I would call my mom late at night on the verge of tears, thinking I was a failure as a parent.  But seeing this picture, of our family with animal counterparts changed that.   This picture helped me look at parenting differently. It changed what I felt as stress and tension into nothing more than a slight head shake and chuckle of, “I’ll bet he just needs a little time to himself and a snack.”

It’s made my world and, subsequently, my relationship with my raccoon much better.

I could give you hundreds of examples for each kid, myself and my wife, but you get it- the idea is to see your family uniquely.  It just might help.

It put me in the role of the zookeeper, who I am sure has learned much over the last decade of dealing with animals.  I’m sure he doesn’t treat the hippos the same way he treats the peacocks and okapis daily.  As a zookeeper- time, experience, and perspective have made him better at his job and allowed his effectiveness, efficiency, and well-being to improve.

It certainly has mine!   

There has also been an added benefit of this picture. It is fun to watch my family change through time. I love watching them grow and go through different phases of life. It is so satisfying to see how things have changed and yet some qualities remain the same. 

My dad was spot on years ago when after describing parenthood as a roller coaster.  He said, “You’re riding the big rides now Babe. Parenthood Rocks!”

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