A friend of mine once described the way a person walked into a room as projecting either “round” or “square” energy. Round energy was embracing and open to connection, while square energy set up clear boundaries and was more concerned with announcing, “I’m here!” Perhaps not surprisingly, this friend’s experience was the women more often entered a room with round energy, men with square.
I’ve come to believe that there is something of an analog in parenting. Any parent—at least, any parent I’ve ever met—has a combination of what I call “warm” energy and “cool” energy. It’s not that hard to figure out what they mean: “Warm energy” is the nurturing, huggy, caretaking side of the parent. “Cool energy” is the structuring, disciplining, motivating toward self-sufficiency side. And similar to my friend’s categories, it would be easy to assign these energies based on gender. But my (admittedly limited) experience tells me otherwise: I know a ton of dads who have way more warm energy than the other kind, and vice versa for a lot of moms.
- If your kid gets hurt on the playground, warm energy puts the kid in your lap, gives kid a hug, asks if it hurts, and kisses it. Cool energy asks how it happened, makes sure the scrape is clean, and helps to put the band-aid on correctly.
- If you’re going out for a grown-up dinner, warm energy makes sure that there is food prepared for the kids, leaves a list of instructions and contact numbers for the sitter, and calls to check in a few times to make sure everything is OK. Cool energy reminds the kids what they can and cannot do while the parent is out, tells them to clean up after eating, and instructs them to “work it out” if any problems come up, unless it is an emergency. An emergency consists of robbery, fire, and little else.
Being—I thought—a pretty touchy-feely California guy, I have been surprised to learn that where my kids are concerned, I have way more cool energy than warm energy. Over the years I have certainly hugged them a lot, but as often as not it has been in the context of a wrestling match. Our time together is more “fun” and “goofy” than “warm” or “emotional.” I remember a friend once telling me that his wife related better to their daughters when they were younger and needed her more (warm energy loves to be needed); he related better to the girls when they were older and needed him less (cool energy loves to be pals). Guess which stage is working better for me with my two?
I sometimes feel a little—guilty isn’t the right word—maybe “concerned” that I haven’t given my guys everything they need by my lack of warm-ness. I haven’t done much in the “Aww, you have an ow-ee, wet me kiss it” department. I’ve kissed plenty of scraped knees, but as likely as not I did it in character as Scooby-Doo and made it a big sloppy dog tongue kiss. Which, if nothing else, at least got everybody giggling.
I hope giggling counts. I also hope that if my kids ever need me to turn down the fun and games and just give them a legit hug and a smooch, that they won’t hesitate to ask.