Why Every Mom and Dad Needs Parenting Boot Camp

Josh Farnsworth
I feel like the lessons I’ve learned have paid dividends.

It was probably about the fourth time the door went flying open.

Definitely by the fifth, but more likely the fourth.

As I sat in my familiar home office seat, a cackling bunch of boys scuttled up the stairs once more. They pushed open the closed door and began to serenade me with Sonic the Hedgehog factoids so trivial that I doubt the blue video game character himself had the correct answer. 

This was mere moments after being asked to stay out of the room, unless it was an emergency. And that was about five minutes after the last reminder. And that was after… OK, you get the picture.

It was also explained that “emergency” in this situation is defined as either someone is hurt, you think the house may be in danger of collapsing in on itself or strange individuals were trying to break down the door. Apparently, fun facts about the former Sega character was deemed “house-is-about-to-collapse” levels of concern.

So there they were, not-so-strange individuals breaking down my door once again.

“That’s it! I’ve told you a few times already. Daddy is working! Get out of here!”

The truth is, dad was really the one who needed to get out of here. 

Badly.

I stared at my calendar and saw a few days until I was to fly away to visit a friend I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. It was to be my first few days away from my goofballs in several years. I knew I would miss them, but as I heard them start to approach the stairs once again, the heartache was not palpable enough to cancel my flight tickets.

My heart raced with giddy anticipation as I drove away for the airport and embraced the prospect of 72 kidless hours. Well, my kidless hours. The friend I was visiting has two kids, but surely that would be a whole different kettle of fish, right?

For the most part, yes. However, I was able to have a front row seat to a different parenting style. I was able to witness the whole range of parenting, but from a different vantage point. 

I returned from the trip feeling rejuvenated. I had more energy once the jetlag wore off. Plus, their youngest (about the age of my sons) is my new taco-loving, hoops-shooting buddy. And who doesn’t want a new taco buddy?

The parents were much more patient with complaints and quicker to offer a calm solution (as opposed to the exclamatory statement aforementioned earlier with the door swinging open a bunch of times). I also learned from the kids. Detached from having to parent them, I could see them trying to do good, seeing them…well…do kid things from a different lens.

As I returned home - with a couple small gifts (I was instructed that the locks may be changed if I did not reward them for my weekend away; not sure how that works), I had an epiphany. The trip has led me to one definitive conclusion: all parents should take an annual “onsite parenting boot camp.” In other words, visit and stay with friends who have kids approximately your own kids’ age.

You don’t need to hop on a plane or go to another state entirely. You simply need to get away and observe. To do this right and really get an immersive experience, there are a few rules you must follow…

Rules for boot camp

  1.  You are not there to judge. No other rule comes close to the top of the list.
  2. The main objective is a good time with those willing to put you up. You are getting out of begging your children to give you five minutes of peace, so being grateful is a must here.
  3. It must last at least 36 hours. A quick overnight stay won’t allow you to fully study the matter and have your glorious aha moment.
  4. No, you kids can’t come. You are there to learn.
  5. Your spouse can’t come either. I believe, in this particular scenario, it is best to arrive at your own conclusions. Make sure your spouse, however, also gets a crack at a weekend like this of his or her own. It’s only fair.
  6. Don’t bring a clipboard. It’ll just feel like you are there to judge (see rule #1) and not have a good time (see rule #2). Plus, talk about uncool vibes. Don’t expect an invite back soon if you pull this move.
  7. The experience must have some time on the road and some significant time at their home. You must strike a balance. Too much time going out and doing fun activities the entire time does not give you an accurate flavor for how life is typically spent. Too much time in the house and miss the opportunity to see the kids melt down over a trip to the zoo? Pull up a chair and some popcorn and watch.

It’s been a few weeks since I returned home, but I do feel like the lessons I’ve learned have paid dividends. I am focused on being patient when my kids step out of line and try not to verbally snap as much as I do.

The experience gave me a great chance to understand how much kids are alike when it comes to the important things in life. And how I am not always right with how I believe I should parent. I learned that I need to reinforce boundaries, but a Sonic fact or two is something to embrace, not shun.

So, consider booking your time across town - or across the country - and see what you find. You may just learn a thing or two. You’ll definitely appreciate your own kids once you return. Just remember to bring that token gift.

Thanks host family for this incredible gift. Thanks for putting me up. And thanks for that jolt all parents need from time to time. 

Thanks to you, too,  taco buddy. 

Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at josh.farnsworth@yahoo.com.