My Daughters, My Teachers

It happened twice over the course of one week. Both times my wife told me that she needed to talk to me, that preface that almost never means an enjoyable conversation is to follow. Our daughters had approached her – separately and totally independent of each other – and asked her to talk to me for them. They hadn’t wanted to come to me themselves, but they needed me to know something.

They told her that I am mean.

There were, of course, other ideas communicated and details to follow, but the overarching premise was that I am mean to them. I’m grumpy and angry and mean. And they were afraid of talking to me about this themselves.

A lot of emotion and thought goes into parenting. When something like this happens – twice – the waves of feelings and the reflection on all of it weigh heavy and fly in all different directions.

Parenthood is humbling. And it is the greatest education I’ve ever had.

When my wife talked to me about the first daughter coming to her, I was rigid. Of course she said that, I thought. Of course she didn’t like whatever I had said to prompt such a discussion with her mom. I was sure she didn’t like some discipline I had doled out or some answer I had given her that wasn’t just a big, sparkly “Yes, you can do whatever you want!” She didn’t like my boundaries or my rules or my sense of responsibility and so she didn’t like me. And now she was going to run to mommy and play her against me. I probably even heard this first conversation with a dismissive smirk.

Not for a second did I hear what my daughter was trying to communicate. My ego was just too loud.

I justified my defiance to this news in all kinds of ways. They don’t like me as much because I’m the stay at home parent. I’m the dad and so I don’t have that natural, biological bond that they have with their mom. I’m not supposed to be popular. I’m their father, damn it (whatever that means).

I threw the internalized, middle-aged man version of a temper tantrum.

Still, the conversation my wife and I had stuck with me. It didn’t, however, deliver me to the point of reflection that I clearly needed to reach. I didn’t hear what my daughter said as a commentary from a valid source on the overall climate I was creating. Instead, I dismissed it as a one-time, unsubstantiated reaction from a kid. My ego had set up a solid defense and being called mean once just wasn’t going to make it over the castle walls.

Thankfully, the universe (and my daughters) weren’t going to make it so easy for my ego to maintain the status quo.

As much as I rationalized the first conversation, it still hung heavy on me. I couldn’t help but consider that my daughter is unhappy with me, unhappy around me and afraid to talk to me about it. At best – and I talked myself into all the best case scenarios I could – this was not good.

When I heard of the second conversation, I could feel those walls that initially held firm come crumbling down. And I came down with it. Hard.

I try to be kind and happy and loving. I want to create a safe space for my daughters in which the light that shines from me will show them how to nurture their own. In the face of mounting evidence, I could see that I was failing.

And I can’t say I didn’t know.

I have been kind of a miserable bastard lately. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve been a miserable bastard for quite a while now. The causes of all of this are inconsequential to the story, though. If I would have written this in the immediate aftermath of my daughters approaching my wife, I might have dug into all of that a bit. But there is no need. That isn’t the point.

Wallowing in what I may think has gone wrong or what I’m not happy about is meaningless. That is the past. I can choose to pay attention to what is behind me or I can see what is in front of me in this moment. Looking behind you, whether it be at success or failure, stops forward progress. Learn the lessons and move on. I got stuck looking back and became inwardly miserable and outwardly a complete asshole. I lost my joy because I lost my perspective.

And I poured that out onto my children.

My daughters didn’t attack me – they gave me a gift. In a way that was so gentle and strong, they showed me my own suffering and showed me how it was causing them to suffer as well.  I am blown away by what these two little people are capable of.

The three of us sat down a few days after they had talked to their mom and we talked. I told them a story. We talked about how they felt and how I felt and what we were going to do about it. We talked about how lucky we are and how much we love each other. I told them I was sorry. And I told them I was proud of them. They told me they were proud of me, too.

It is always in the quiet moments that we can learn the most. When the air becomes polluted by the noise of the past or the roar of the ego, important lessons get lost. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am that these two powerful people that I get to call my daughters took it upon themselves to create the silence that I needed to bring myself back into alignment.

They are wonderful mirrors, our children. I don’t think I will forget this lesson for a very long time. When I inevitably do, though, I know I can count on my girls to show me the way.

About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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17 Responses to My Daughters, My Teachers

  1. Meka says:

    Our conversation about this really stuck with me and i have thought about it often. These things need to happen. It makes everyone involved grow. I feel by us,the parent, saying we are sorry it is a huge impact on them. We are vulnerable too. We need to feel safe talking with our mini me’s. When they realize that i think they feel valid and strong and needed. So often i think i create this space that I’m the parent and I’m in charge. What i want to create is” i am here for you to guide, love and yes sometimes be mean.but you are here for me to.love, guide and yes sometimes be mean. We work together”

    I think you set an amazing example for them. They are so remarkable because they have remarkable parents. It takes a lot to share what you did and i am grateful.

    • Meka, you touched on something that I keep coming back to as I learn from all of this. I think the part of all of this that has been most valuable to my girls and I was when I apologized to them. We all fail. If we can own that failure to these people whom we are trying to teach to be responsible and thoughtful, it’s like handing them a road map of how to be that person. I may have been an a-hole, but I think rectifying it with them left a much stronger impression than my assholery did.

      And thank you for your kind words, my friend.

  2. Camille says:

    Reminds me when Pooh, Rabbit and Piglet were lost. Once Rabbit shut up, Pooh could hear the honey pot at home calling him and could find the way home.

  3. Brett says:

    I cried… beautiful learning moment… I am reading Madeline Levine’s book “Teach your Children Well” about parenting…She has such a level-headed awesome approach to parenting!!! I don’t know the age of your children, but there is a period of time she said when the girls attach to their moms more, even if you are the main caregiver, it may not matter… but the beauty of girls is they often tell you how they are “feeling” so take advantage of that!

    • I try to take advantage of the fact that they communicate their feelings so well. I (we) feel very lucky that they are able to do that. They are 4 and nearly 6 and have a capacity for understanding and sharing their feelings that I don’t see in a lot of adults. And they are very connected with their mother, which may be a byproduct of their ages, but I think it is more that their mother is just an incredibly powerful woman, generous with herself, kind and a wonderful mother. They are very lucky little girls that way. When I manage to get my ego to stay quiet, I see my less popular position to be a very good thing in many ways. And the more I learn, the more I feel that way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, sir.

  4. Wolf Pascoe says:

    My kid says I’m mean sometimes, and it’s usually after I’ve enforced some limit, and then I need to look at how I enforced it. I think the word “enforce” is the clue I’ve gone wrong.

  5. Brother Father says:

    Brother Father, My first response to your presentation is honest to goodness “goosebumps”. Not sure why; maybe it strikes a chord I have experienced. I will have to contemplate on this a little. In the meantime, thanks for sharing.

  6. dorkdad says:

    I must say I deal with this on a regular basis. Whether it’s because I’m exhausted from work when I come home and spend a couple short hours with her before bed, or whether it’s because I see in her, unrefined, so many of the things in myself I have spent a lifetime refining, I catch myself more often than I am comfortable with being too short, too impatient with my daughter. I catch myself and I worry that when she thinks of me, she thinks of the impatient, frusterated me. I worry that that is how she remembers me. It kills me because if I could tell her how much I love her, how much she means to me (it’s not that I don’t try, it’s that words can’t even come close to describing what I feel) she would know better. But she’s 6. I’m an adult. I’m large and loud and an authority figure. She can’t compete with that, and it’s not fair for me to use those tools any more than I genuinely have to.

    Sometimes, as with you, it takes an epiphany. Sometimes it’s purely an act of will. But however we do it, we have to teach our daughters what it is for a man to love them, because they will look for exactly that when they become adults. It’s an awesome responsibility, and the fear of failure is very real (as it should be). But it’s a responsibility we must shoulder fully, for the sake of our daughters.

    -DD

    • Your point about us being the example for what it is they will look for in a man (should that be their path) resonates deeply with me. I hope I am providing them with a solid model in both how I treat them and their mother and, maybe more importantly, how I handle it when I fail. If I allow being mean to be acceptable, then they probably will, too. If I instead acknowledge that I have made mistakes and move to correct that – involving them in the epiphany and the solutions – then I think I can teach them something very important about their own value as individuals.

      Thank you so much for sharing, DD. I truly appreciate it.

  7. Ray Colon says:

    Hi Mitchell,

    I started reading this post the Internet way — reading quickly just to get a gist of the post, then I stopped. “Hm, this man is saying something here. Let me begin again.”

    As a father of two daughters, 12 and 20, I experienced a similar situation about eight years ago, so I know that the realization that we are ‘doing it wrong’ can come as a complete surprise. In my case, trying to stick-it-out with a company that I should have left long before then was the cause of my troubles. We think that we can shield our families from how adverse conditions affect us, but we cannot. Whether it’s a problem with a job, finances, or any other issues from the outside world that we take upon ourselves to resolve, the inevitable consequence is that these things will affect us — even if we can’t see it.

    The path from rationalization, to listening, reflection, acceptance, and change may not come quickly, (or easily) but we are fortunate if we make it all the way to the end — with a little help from our little ones.

    I enjoyed reading this thoughtful post.

    • Thank you so much, Ray, for sharing your thoughts. You are absolutely right about not being able to shield our families from the difficult external things that affect our lives. One of the greatest lessons I learned from this episode was that when I let my little girls in on the basics (they are 4 and 6, after all), I was so much more at peace with it, which led to them being more at peace. Our kids know when something is wrong – when we don’t include them in a part of our lives that is important enough to have such an affect then I think it comes off as distant at best and dishonest at worst. And if I can talk to them about my life, it can only encourage them to talk to me about theirs. Well, hopefully.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, sir.

  8. Snapfairy says:

    This is a great post and one many parents can relate to…this journey we call parenthood. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. Pingback: I’m Not Heisenberg | Ray's Blog

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