Look, being a parent is not what you expect or think it is

This article entered my media stream a little while ago and it may surprise you, it annoyed me. I was surprised when I read the comments on the post how people were affected by the post and how they felt it was so true.

The article gives off about a scene the blogger witnessed:

As Noah and I stood in line to make a return, I watched as a little boy (he couldn’t have been older than six) looked up at his dad and asked very timidly if they could buy some ice cream when they were done. The father glared him down, and through clenched teeth, growled at the boy to “leave him alone and be quiet”. The boy quickly cowered to the wall where he stood motionless and hurt for some time.

The line slowly progressed and the child eventually shuffled back to his father as he quietly hummed a childish tune, seemingly having forgotten the anger his father had just shown. The father again turned and scolded the boy for making too much noise. The boy again shrunk back and cowered against the wall, wilted.

We were three from the front now, and the boy started to come towards his dad yet again. His dad immediately stepped out of the line, jammed his fingers into his son’s collar bones until he winced in pain, and threatened him. “If you so much as make a sound or come off of that wall again, I promise you’re going to get it when we get home.” The boy again cowered against the wall. This time, he didn’t move. He didn’t make a sound. His beautiful face pointed down, locked to the floor and expressionless. He had been broken. And that’s how his father wanted it. He didn’t want to deal with him, and breaking him was the easiest way.

Now as a father myself I have a big issue with anyone that uses any sort of physical punishment. I believe that slapping is never required. That father should not have jammed his finger like that. That’s not what the article is about or rather not exactly, because it goes on, saying what fathers should be.

Damn it. I don’t understand that, and I’ll never understand that. Loving my son, building my son, touching my son, playing with my son, being with my son… these aren’t tasks that only super dads can perform. These are tasks that every dad should perform. Always. Without fail. There is nothing special about me. I am a dad who loves his son and would literally do anything for his well-being, safety, and health. I would gladly take a rake in the face or a jackhammer to my feet before I cut my own son down or make him feel small.

“Without fail”, huh? Really? Okay, by that standard I’m not even a good Dad! I love my kids, I’ll do anything for them. But I’m human and I shout at my kids, way more than I like. They make me angry. I’m tired.

Dads. Wake up! These precious souls that have been put into your care are unique and so very sensitive. Everything you say or don’t say will impact their ability, success, and happiness throughout their entire lives.

I understand the sentiment of the article, I do. I can’t justify physical abuse of any kind against children. But then saying that Dads have to be perfect beings, all the time, that a single moment of failure will affect your child forever, isn’t helping! It’s quite the opposite, it’s setting you up for failure. Aspire to perfection and if you can’t make it or you slip, even a little, well you’ve just broken your child. Forever. That’s putting more stress on top of already stressful work, that’s the last thing you need to do. It’s not what you want to tell parents. Let me explain further.

It’s only 9pm in the evening when I start writing this, my kids are finally in bed, hopefully asleep. I’m struggling to write this post as I’m fighting the tiredness, seriously, it’s only 9pm and I could crawl up to bed right now and be asleep in minutes. It’s Thursday nearly the end of the week, but it’s not like the weekends are particularly restful with the kids activities and their inability to sleep past 7am. I’ve been up since 6am, getting the kids up, dressed and ready to school, then work for 8 hours (or more), late lunch, then picked up the kids (my wife brought them to school) who seemed to be bouncing off the walls with energy this evening. I then struggled to get their dinner and get them bathed by myself (as my wife has to work later than usual). My son is still potting training, so in the middle of this balancing act I had to clean poo from his trousers and his legs while he refuses to stand in one place (he thinks it’s a game, to run off with poo on his legs and he’s feck’in fast!). And that isn’t the half of it. My point? It’s not easy. It’s barely fun.

I’ve practiced meditation for years, but I’d have to be a zen master to keep calm all the time. Thankfully my wife and myself tag team. When it gets too much, I walk away from the kids and calm down and my wife takes over. And vice-versa. The article writer is right, getting angry with your kid doesn’t help the kid, but it also doesn’t help you. Anger begets anger, something I learned recently thanks to the Internet again, it’s better to calm down and defocus.

On the other side, my son babbled to me about a new game he did in school and my daughter decided that my new hair cut is super soft and kept trying to rub my head. I read my son a story about Fionn, a Celtic mythic hero, and a dragon and my daughter decided she would call me her “fuzzy bear”. We listened as my daughter tried reading from a reading-along book. These are wonderful, joyful, moments. More important than poo on trousers.

I came across a phrase that describes parenting pretty well: “All Joy and No fun”. It’s hard work and we modern parents have a tendency to stress ourselves out much more than our parents did. I got this phrase from the title of this article, one which I think gives a very good idea of what modern parenting is like. Really, read it. Parents are not happier than non-parents, it’s a myth to think parents are happier because they have kids, one I find very hard to understand why people believe it. We may feel more content in one way, but not happier. Do you know, we spend more time with our kids than our parents did with us, yet we still think it’s not enough?

Take this scene described in that article:

’m going to count to three.”

It’s a weekday evening, and the mother in this videotape, a trim brunette with her hair in a bun and glasses propped up on her head, has already worked a full day and made dinner. Now she is approaching her 8-year-old son, the oldest of two, who’s seated at the computer in the den, absorbed in a movie. At issue is his homework, which he still hasn’t done.

“One. Two …”

“I have to get it to the part and then pause it,” says the boy.

“No,” says his mother. “You do that after you do your homework.”

Tamar Kremer-Sadlik, the director of research in this study, has watched this scene many times. The reason she believes it’s so powerful is because it shows how painfully parents experience the pressure of making their children do their schoolwork. They seem to feel this pressure even more acutely than their children feel it themselves.

The boy starts to shout. “It’s not going to take that long!”

His mother stops the movie. “I’m telling you no,” she says. “You’re not hearing me. I will not let you watch this now.”

He starts up the movie again.

“No,” she repeats, her voice rising. She places her hand firmly under her son’s arm and starts to yank. “I will not have this— ”

Been there (though I would not do the physical pulling part). Been there every morning when it’s 7.30am and I know if we leave just 5 minutes later we’ll be 20 minutes late (stupid Dublin traffic), yet my son doesn’t want to go because he’s started playing with his cars. I’ve got them dressed, brushed their teeth, got breakfast ready for them, readied their bags and got their coats and winter hats ready. I’m running at 100mph, but my son is at 0mph wanting to play with his cars. It’s like running into a glass door. But I shouldn’t get angry right? I should cherish this moment, I wouldn’t want to break my child right?

It’s easy the first time to not get upset. You change the routine the next day, give more time to the kids in the morning. Get up even earlier. Prep the stuff in the evening first, biting into that precious, child-free-time. And so on, but there is only so much you can do. And every day you’re rushing at 100mph and some morning, one of the kids won’t want to rush. Hey, they’re kids. Or instead they’ve woken up in the middle of the night, so you only get two chunks of a few hours sleep or they wake up an hour before you have to get up. That’s a real killer. How can you not get angry and annoyed at this point? Please tell me how? I have a tendency to just shut-down when I get so exasperated about it. My energy just goes out of me. It’s not the kids fault, but you can’t keep emotions under check all the time, you aren’t Spock. I just wonder how anyone can be such a “good” Dad (or Mom) 24/7? Parents are people.

My wife and myself use to watch “Law and Order SVU” a lot, not at all now. I remember one episode about a baby that had been shaken and had died. Lots of twisty turns and it ends up the single mother did it and tried to blame it on the babysitter. The mother couldn’t handle the baby crying all the time (this was before Facebook/Farmville was the excuse). But it was at the end of the episode that had an impact on me, when Detective Elliot describes a moment when his child wouldn’t shut up crying in the middle of the night and he found himself about to shake his child. The inference was that any parent, give the “right” circumstances, could be pushed to the edge. Of course, being an entertainment show, it little more than pure fear-mongering. But there is a grain of truth in there.

I have different advice for parents.

Dads (and Moms too of course), enjoy every moment you can with your child. There is no such thing as “quality time”, all time is “quality time”. Cherish them, cherish the memory. Love them every way you can. Make them your priority over everything else. Enjoy them for who they are and who they’ll become. Because this will get you over the dark times. The times when you’re tired and can’t handle it. The times, in the middle of the night, when the baby is screaming and you haven’t slept properly in weeks. The times when the family is so tired and stressed out wandering around a shopping mall that getting a coffee seems like an insurmountable chore and your son is demanding (or at least to your stress-addled brain it appears that they are demanding) something you told them they can’t have 10 minutes ago.

Dads. Play with them when you can and when you can’t. It’s often when you don’t feel up to playing with them that they can make you the happiest. Understand that they just want your attention and your love. Even when they do “bold” things, they do it because they want you.

Dads. Know that you will get angry. Know that you will get depressed. Frustrated. Know that you will not be happy. Just don’t take it out on your children. Walk away, take a breath. Let chaos happen for a while. It’ll pass. Make sure you have things to keep you sane, be it’s friends, gaming or writing a blog. Remember that you’re still a human being.

Dads. Understand there are other ways to discipline your child. In this day and age there are enough books, TV shows and courses that slapping should be completely unnecessary. Don’t let anger cloud your judgement because you are much stronger than your kids, more than you probably realise. Catch yourself before you do something. It’s the kids job to push their boundaries, which means pushing your buttons. And believe me, they get good at it quickly.

Dads. Don’t expect your child to be perfect. Don’t expect your child to be a genius. They’ll be who they’ll be and know they won’t always do what you want them to or be what you want them to be. When you can, go at their pace. It may be slow, but it’ll be worth it.

Dads. Try to be good parents. It’s hard, but make sure there is more good than bad. Be there. And yes, what you do will affect your child, often in ways you can’t perceive yet. Try to be better, because they’ll learn from you even the things you try to hide from them. But that’s important too.

And Dads, you’re not alone.

I could probably write more, but lets leave it that.

Now I’m in work, the next morning, considering hitting the publish button. I have my doubts I should post this. The kids were great this morning, up and full of energy. Running around like bulls in a plastic shop. My daughter got dressed herself and my younger son was full of hugs and play. I love my kids and would do anything for them. But I’m also not just a parent and neither is my wife. The kids were at school early this morning.

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