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The Eight Commandments for Gen X Dads

How to raise teens without losing your freaking mind

A figure appearing to look like Moses with an arm around a teenage daughter is holding a tablet that states, "Thou Shalt Raise Teens (Without Losing My Mind)
Paul Spella

No offense meant to younger parents, but you guys have it easy. Taking care of a baby is easy. You’ve got three rules: Feed it, clean it and don’t kill it. But by the time you end up with preteens or teens, things get more complicated.

I’ve been there and come out the other side, and I’ve figured out the rules. Think of me as your Moses, but less judgy. I bring to you these eight commandments on how to be a great dad after 50.

I. Thou shalt need to relearn math

Nothing prepares a parent for when your child comes home, asks for help with simple multiplication and then proceeds to tell you that you are doing it wrong. Someone, somewhere, decided that math needed to be changed.

II. Thou shalt buy a sensible vehicle

At some point, your child will get her license and need to borrow the car. The simple process of handing your daughter the keys to your Hyundai Elantra instead of your Dodge Viper will add years to your life.

III. Thou shalt accept that your kids have potty mouths

Your children will swear. You can’t stop it, but you can set some base rules. Keep it in the house, only use curses as punctuation (and not as an adjective to describe how great your coffee is), and keep it clean when relatives are around to preserve the illusion that you’re not a dysfunctional family.

IV. Remember thy family dinner

The traditional sit-down family dinner is an amazing place to find out what your kids are up to, discuss current topics going on in the world or with each of you, and find out if they can follow Commandment III when you tell your daughter that you aren’t a fan of her nose piercing.

V. Thou shalt find a common interest with each of your kids

As your entire family gets older, interests change. You used to watch Barney & Friends with your son when he was little. Now you can binge Tarantino movies together. Your daughter may not be your little girl anymore, but you can find out what she likes — music, movies, anime, drawing — and at least pretend to be interested.

VI. Thou shalt buy family streaming services

If you’re subscribed to anything like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, Spotify, SiriusXM, etc., check into any offers for family plans. I have four children — one who has graduated from college, one currently in college and another attending as a freshman next year — and I get notifications that someone has signed into an account roughly every three minutes. 

Luckily, most of these services have family or multiuser plans, so I’m able to avoid all of my kids sharing one Netflix account and getting texts like, “Why do you have 37 Rob Schneider movies saved in your watch list?”

VII. Thou shalt show, not do

We all know the saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” I don’t like fish, so I never really understood the saying, mainly because I would starve to death, but the premise is spot-on. Whenever my kids need something done, I teach them how to do it. 

Taxes? Sit with me so I can teach you to hate doing them as much as I do. Car repair? Let me show you how to open your hood and stare at the engine before we call a mechanic to fix it. Laundry? Actually, check with your mom on this one because she’s still mad at me from the last time I did her laundry.

VIII. Thou shalt let them go

If you’ve been abiding by the Commandments thus far, you have a kid who can do math without swearing at the dinner table they just set themselves. What you’ve been doing through this process is weaning them off your proverbial teat. (If you’re a man in his 50s, you may call your teats “moobs.”) 

Your son will eat dinner in a hurry and then leave for his friend's house. Your daughter may ask to borrow the Lamborghini (OK, it’s clear you skipped Commandment II), and then head off to a party. Let them go. Trust they will do the right things.

My son left for his second semester of college this morning. As we finished packing up his car, he turned to me and hugged me hard. He’s 19, super independent, smart, funny and — like all of my kids — knows how much I love him. Did I cry into a pillow for an hour after he left? None of your goddamn business.

Follow Article Topics: Family-&-Fatherhood