I am not by nature a confident person.
Socially, professionally, pretty much every other-ally, I’m not one of those people who radiates self-belief the way the Sun radiates heat. Add to that a shy and introverted character, and I’m not so much the kind of person who wouldn’t say no to the proverbial goose as one who would run a mile to avoid the awkwardness of having to make small talk with it.
You’ll know people like me. We’re the ones sitting hunched down at the back of the room. We’re the ones who have to be dragged kicking and screaming on to the dance-floor at the office party. And we’re the ones who will say nothing in a room full of strangers but will happily chat at length in a one-to-one situation on a topic we’re knowledgeable about.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to be confident about. I’ve done well academically. I’m fairly senior at work. I’ve even achieved a measure of success as a blogger. But, although I’ve learned to project confidence when I need to, it’s not something that comes naturally to me.
The confident father
In my role as a father, though, I am confident.
It’s been a gradual process. Before we started our family, I had no idea what to do with babies – the thought of even holding one gave me the screaming heebie-jeebies. Toddlers and pre-teens were a mystery to me. And teenagers were, frankly, terrifying monsters from another planet. (They still are, truth be told.)
But having kids of your own changes all that. Unless you’re going to be a completely hands-off father, you have no choice.
From the moment Isaac was born (in a birthing pool in our dining room), I’ve always loved being involved in our children’s parenting. From nappy changes to sleep training to being home for bedtime to just messing about, I’ve willingly been as big a part of their lives as I can be.
Experience breeds confidence. And, when you’ve had to deliver one of your own children in your own living room without a midwife, everything else seems like a doddle by comparison. Been there, done that.
I’ve had plenty of practice taking care of differing combinations of children, and a couple of years ago I had Isaac and Toby – then five and three years old – for nine days while Heather and Kara flew out to Australia for a family funeral. I survived that experience unscathed, neither boy required hospitalisation – that counts as a win in my book – and, while I would be lying if I said that everything went smoothly, any omissions or mishaps on my part were hiccups rather than catastrophes.
At the end of it, I emerged a better and more confident father, one more assured in his ability to fly solo, if only for a few days. Perhaps more importantly, Heather returned to discover that all was well. Not that she didn’t have confidence in me, but it must have been a relief for her to know that I could cope with her extended absence and hadn’t been scarred for life.
Which is just as well, because next week I’m going to be a temporary single parent and have all three kids to myself for six days while Heather heads to Johannesburg with work.
This time around I’m much less stressed at the prospect of having to cope single-handed. Although I’ll have all three kids rather than just two, the boys are two years older and far more self-sufficient than they were.
Is that confidence genuine or misplaced? I have no doubt that getting them all out of the door in the mornings will prove to be about as straightforward as nailing jelly to a wall and that bedtimes may require a hefty snifter of whisky to calm the nerves. (Mine? Theirs? Both?) But I know that I’ve found ways to cope before, and I should be able to again. Heather knows it too, and I sense she’s consequently less worried too.
That, if anything, is the biggest thing of all. Having confidence in yourself is one thing. Knowing that those closest to you also have confidence in you is bigger still.
That’s a valuable parenting lesson too. Showing confidence in our children and trusting their abilities as they develop reinforces their own self-belief. I may not be a confident person myself, but by giving them enough freedom to build on their own successes (and occasional failures), I can help encourage them to grow up to be confident in themselves. That in itself is one of the best things any parent can do for a child, right?