No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere.
Nothing in life is easy. Nothing. Especially the things that are good. Even things that are supposed to be natural, like parenthood.
Life is stressful enough without adding kids into the mix, and patience is always in limited reserves. Like any scarce resource, patience must be judiciously managed so that one doesn’t spend the last few hours of the waking day a simmering cauldron of rage.
This affects parents, no doubt. But this is not necessarily what has been affecting me. I am generally even-keeled and tend not to let my emotions overtake me, whether I’m at work or involved in something personal. This isn’t my natural disposition, though, but one borne through almost two decades of managing a legendarily short fuse.
And yet, I find myself getting angry at my son a lot lately.
He is four-and-a-half, very funny, and very energetic. This energy has difficulty being dispersed by nature of our having moved recently to a much smaller place in the city. This will change soon, hopefully, but I’m not making any guesses as to when.
So in lieu of being able to play outside, he has to deal with “indoor” stuff, particularly at night, when there are no playgrounds or parks or backyards nearby. And the indoor stuff soon gets boring for a kid who loves nothing more than being out in the open air.
You can see where this is going.
It never used to bother me as much as it does now, especially the sleeping (or lack of) situation. And so I find myself snapping. Or sometimes–worse–yelling. This is bad enough, but what makes it worse are my remarks, sarcastic and cutting, which I know go over my son’s head, but I am sure he can pick up on their tone.
It hurts to admit this, but there you go.
But more than this, more shameful and reflecting on my abilities as a father and a model of how a man should be, is the fact that he is doing the same thing. Our kids are nothing more than little reflections of us, after all. And my little reflection has been growing quick to anger, to threaten, and to say things back to me that he’s heard me say:
- “I’m getting really sick of this!”
- “Enough of your fooling around!”
- “What’s wrong with you?!”
And I have to ask myself: Am I really asking my four-year-old what’s wrong with him? And if so, what’s wrong with me?
This revelation hit like like a ten-ton weight. After all, my father was not a yeller himself, and he had three kids. So where had I picked up on this from?
I’ll tell you where. From my own insecurities as a father.
From the fact that, for whatever reason, I expect my son to behave like a little adult, even though he hasn’t developed adult faculties yet.
And I view this as a reflection on my ability to maintain order and discipline in my house. If my kid can’t even get dressed or go to bed or eat lunch without a struggle, then clearly I’m the one doing something wrong.
Hence the fatherly rage. And hence the son acting like the father.
When this revelation hit, I actually felt a sense of peace, and of control.
It’s all in my hands after all. And the answer is simple. All I really have to do is just . . . not get mad.
First: I put myself in my son’s shoes. He is tall for his age–already four-feet–but I am six-foot-two, 240, and built kind of like a running back. When I raise my voice, it must be terrifying to him.
Second: None of my histrionics have an effect anymore; he laughs at them. Do I really want to be seen as a buffoon? No.
Third: I think about what I want the end state to be, and why. I want my son to behave a certain way, not just for my benefit, but for his. And in addition to correcting the behavior that needs corrected, I don’t need him to also be a bloviating ball of rage.
Fourth: While one can only reason with a four-year-old so much, it does help to talk. Sometimes the reason for his misbehavior is just something I’m missing or that he’s unable to fully articulate, or both.
Fifth: Your mileage may vary here, but something I try to keep in mind is the role that God the Father serves as a model for how we treat our children and order our families.
Yeah, yeah, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, I know, I know. But on the whole the God-Man/Father-Children relationship is a good base for where to begin: Do not act with caprice or in rage. Keep all promises you make. And discipline with mercy and a purpose. The Almighty hasn’t wiped us all out yet, and we sure seem to deserve it some/most/nearly all of the time. Why can’t I be merciful with my own children?
So this past week has been a lot more enjoyable. I like not yelling and screaming, and view this all as a problem-solving exercise as opposed to a referendum on my abilities as a father. And better, I think my son has calmed down. And he’s listening more.
There are still issues, as to be expected with such a big life change (going on two years now, to be honest), but he’s a trooper.
As an aside, I wish I could put photos of the kid on here. He’s hilarious. But I have a few rules about family stuff, and they are 1) NO PHOTOS OF PEOPLE WHO DON’T EXPLICITLY CONSENT TO THEM and 2) NOTHING ABOUT MY KIDS
Parenthood is a journey, and if we don’t examine all of the ugly stuff within us, all we’ll succeed in doing is downloading our own fears and insecurities and troubles onto our childrens’ pristine little minds.
And who the hell wants to do that?
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