Here’s what I remember. I was making a parenting mistake and not even realizing it. This was a typical day for me as a stay at home dad. Great moments intertwined with sudden bursts of chaos in an estuary of dirty diapers and Play-Doh. This is my life. And I absolutely am grateful for it and love the opportunity that I have. But apparently, I wasn’t feeling too grateful for it that day. And honestly, I can’t tell you why except I was stressed.
Here’s the thing, I don’t really remember why I was so on edge. I think I’m usually pretty good at staying calm. And for the most part, I am. But that moment was not going to be an accomplishment listed on my plaque when I’m inducted into the Great Dads Hall of Fame.
As I was taking a moment for myself my daughter walks in and says something so insignificant that it escapes me now.
I snapped and yelled.
What did I yell? Thankfully that’s lost to history too. I have no clue.
She got upset and rightfully so.
First, her pretty blue eyes started to water then her lips started to purse and quiver.
She said, “Daddy, don’t be mean.”
I wasn’t being mean, was I?
No. I was parenting.
No. I wasn’t. I was being an ass.
It didn’t matter how the message was delivered, it was delivered poorly; it mattered how she interpreted it.
And she interpreted meanness.
And even if I wasn’t, she associated me raising my voice with being mean and not corrective.
I felt the lowest of low. She’s doorknob height and at that moment I would’ve been able to walk comfortably under her sandal.
I instantly ran to pick her up and apologize. I was human scum not worthy of her sassiness and sweetness and love.
Luckily, I was able to get her calm and back to playing and happy.
I was left to pick up the pieces of myself. What was I doing? Why did she respond like this?
It was time to do some soul searching and have an honest conversation with myself about what I was doing wrong.
How Did This Happen
This was not something I was modeling from my parents. I didn’t grow up in a house where people yelled a lot. My parents were strict but not overly so and I don’t think they yelled much at all.
Honestly, I don’t know for sure and I’ve spent hours thinking about it.
Here’s what I did come up with though.
At some point, I yelled at my kids and it got the reaction I wanted so I went to it way too many times.
And since I’m a stay at home dad, I didn’t have my wife there to say “hey, cut the crap.” I had no check and balance.
It became my first resort instead of my last. That’s bad parenting. Plain and simple. Terrible parenting. Parenting mistakes 101.
I don’t want to be a yeller and I don’t want my kids to think of me as one either; so I worked on stopping.
And you know what, it was pretty easy to do.
I still think about that moment – a lot. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I think it is.
And my kids don’t let me forget either. They say “daddy, don’t be mean” every now and then. But now I know that they think I’m being mean by making them do something they don’t want to do instead of my yelling. It hurts a little. A lot. But I can live with it. It’s a reminder.
So what do I know?
Well, I just try not to yell. Easy right? Kinda.
I’m just about the biggest, most important person my kids see every day. When I speak they usually listen. I have to repeat myself more than I want to sometimes but that’s okay. They’re 3 and have the attention span of, well, a 3-year-old.
It doesn’t always work and that’s fine too. I’m not perfect, as my daughter reminded me, but I’m trying.
But I think just as important is that my kids aren’t perfect either. They’re 3 trying to figure everything out as they go with a little help from their old man. I shouldn’t try to hold them to a different standard than being just amazing 3-year-olds.
So what if they can’t process their feelings like an adult and instead of working through it they just snap and bite or hit?
Well as we’ve seen sometimes I’m not any better.
They’re trying and I am too.