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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

5 Essential Rules for Parental Time Travel

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor

And you are young and life is long And there is time to kill today

And then one day you find Ten years have got behind you No one told you when to run You missed the starting gun

- Pink Floyd, Time (1974)

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately. And I don’t just mean the trip to New Mexico last June for DCG's inaugural Daddying Film Forum events, or New Orleans with my wife in April for a kid-free spring break, or even our family's end-of-summer beach trip in August. Like all parents of teenagers, I've spent most of this year traveling back and forth through time. Remembering their youth, my own, and envisioning what the future holds for us.

It's been quite a journey.

Eager student gets 1st driving lesson from Dad

Teaching my soon-to-be-16-year-old the finer points (and sheer terror) of DC-area driving, gearing up for a new season of soccer, taking my family to visit the only beach vacation spot I knew as a kid (and my father's final resting place), anticipating the anniversary of my mother's passing (September 5), sifting through old photos as I create social media and blog posts (like this one) celebrating my daughters' August and September birthdays, their ordinary days, or simply reiterating what a joy it is to be their dad.

These are some of the things that sent my mind trekking in 2023.

On this wild ride, I've whiplashed between fond and not-so-fond memories of yesterday and anxious anticipation of what may or may not be in store for tomorrow. How many family vacations are left for us? Halloweens, Thanksgivings, and Christmases? Movie nights?

Taking first-day-of-school photos, with my youngest entering her high-school freshman year and oldest now a junior, felt like the start of a countdown clock, ticking away the time until we're no longer together. It also reminded me how much I wish I could rewind it. I've instinctively calculated the years my kids have left in school, number of available holiday and summer breaks (I say available because both my girls row for a high school team that takes them away for a week-long, crew retreat during spring break – another quality-time opportunity gone), and also the years until I reach the age when my parents died (71).

The numbers dwindle. Time accelerates. My mind races.

Although it has required quite a bit of maintenance recently, thankfully, this ride is still moving and well-fueled. But I am often reminded there's no time to waste.

Heading to the beach (click the slider on right side of frame above to travel back in time)...

All good time-travel movies are governed by sound theoretical physics and logic. A set of practical rules that enable viewers to keep perspective in the midst of an "everything everywhere all at once" frenzy. And so it should be for parents trying to keep up with the increasing speed of changes that accompany the transitions from elementary to middle to high school and beyond. With that in mind, here are my 5 Essential Rules for Parental Time Travel:

1. Create lasting memories with experiences not stuff. Memories forged through shared experience – trips, concerts, theater, outdoor activities, projects, educational activities/classes, etc. – will endure far longer while creating invaluable bonds than any plastic toy could ever provide. Side benefit: our planet will thank you. An exception to this rule: photos and/or small mementos that prompt recall of those experiences are certainly encouraged. We recommend easily transportable fridge magnets or t-shirts. Oh, and also inserting yourself into as many of your kids' selfies as they'll allow!

2. Reminisce but live in moment. I think of myself as our family's historian. One of my essential dad responsibilities. We share these captured, frozen moments of early childhood joy with them often (usually because Facebook Memories reminds us every day) because they wouldn't otherwise remember – 20 or 30 years from now, we may not either. Also, not many photos of my childhood survived my parents' divorce and several moves over the years. The ones that did are some of my favorite time-travel destinations. I think my kids will feel the same way when they're parents and have a treasure trove of images to share with their own kids.

I don't take nearly as many photos now as I used to. Now more than ever, I simply try to "be more present" when spending time with my kids rather than peering at them through my camera's viewfinder. Though tempted to stop time, I've gotten used to the idea of just trying to slow it down.

On our trip to Rehoboth Beach last month, my oldest daughter observed she’d filled her phone with dozens and dozens of photos and lamented how long it would take to sort through them all. I told her, "Now you know what it was like for me when you were little."

Welcome to my world, kiddo.

3. Parenting is a lifelong gig. Just because they’re growing up, it doesn't mean your time together is over. You may need to work a little harder to coordinate schedules, and the reasons and dynamics may be different than when they were toddlers, but your kids will always need you involved in their lives. I figure as long as my kids know I am available, approachable, willing to listen without judgement, or to give them their space, they'll keep coming back. Even when they're adults.

Like all parents of teenagers, I've spent most of this year traveling back and forth through time. Remembering their youth, my own, and envisioning what the future holds for us.

4. Don’t let the past derail your present or future. Writing for the Daddying blog the past 4 years (and Raising Nerd for three years prior to that) has been more than a little therapeutic for me as a dad. Writing has always been an outlet allowing me to work through issues related to my own painful memories. Acknowledging , working through, and looking forward to move ahead. That mindfulness has helped me better define the kind of parent I want/ed to be for my daughters. As Allan always says, it's never too late to become the dad/parent you want to be and your children need you to be. Letting go of regret – e.g., for a mistake or an important event/milestone missed – can be a positive first step forward... and toward needed healing and reconciliation.

5. Take care of yourself. Since my parents passed in 2017 and 2019, my mind has been on two things: my own health and how much quality time I may have left with my kids before they move on to college, careers, and building their own families. Last year, I wrote about how caring for ourselves is the best way for parents to "buy time."

This year, I decided it was finally time to have the follow-up foot surgery that I’d postponed for 15 years. Getting full joint replacement would keep me from most activities for a month or more and that was something I didn’t think I could sacrifice while my kids were toddlers or while coaching their soccer teams, two seasons a year from kindergarten through 9th grade. The minor pain in my foot had been an acceptable tradeoff as long as it wasn't affecting my ability to go about my daily activities.

I could’ve continued kicking that can down the road, but I knew the pain and prospects of a full recovery would only get worse for this 50-something dad. So, I decided the time was right. I want to ensure I'm healthy enough to keep up with my kids and, hopefully, grandkids for the next 20+ years.

My fellow time travelers, none of us can really stop, rewind, or jump ahead in time. But we do often waste it. The best we parents can do is be more cognizant of opportunities that can help create the illusion of slowing it down. That can be as easy as changing the way we look at our everyday interactions with our kids. For instance, there are hundreds of things I’d rather do than drive another soccer or crew carpool. But I now (mostly) embrace even these brief journeys that grant me time for conversation, a laugh, or learning what new music my kids like.

My high schoolers can now both walk to/from school in a few minutes, so they don’t need me to give them rides anymore like they did during middle school. I think I'm going to miss that. So, I now accept the carpools as little joys. Connections. I see them not as mundane or burdensome but as small memory deposits. Gifts of time. And, of course, another sign my teenagers still need me.

When I get older losing my hair Many years from now Will you still be sending me a Valentine Birthday greetings bottle of wine

If I'd been out till quarter to three Would you lock the door Will you still need me, will you still feed me When I'm sixty-four

- The Beatles, When I'm Sixty-Four (1967)

Here's to our family jumping into the future together with both feet!

Rehoboth Beach sunrise with my girls, Aug 2023

Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, imperfect husband of a rock-star mom, free thinker, truth teller, time traveler, purveyor of banned books, Editor of the Daddying blog, and Director of Communications for DCG and D3F. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.


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