I think of myself as a pretty introspective person. I value rationality and reason and would like to believe that my behavior is dictated by sensible consideration rather than careless reaction. I suppose myself to be a thinker. I even went so far as to name my blog ‘Thoughtful Pop’, for cryin’ out loud.
Pretty arrogant, huh?
While there may be some accuracy in there, I think the arrogance speaks clearly, which is illustrative of just how far I really have to go on this ‘Thoughtful’ journey. It wasn’t that long ago that I remember actually saying to a friend “I think I’ve got life pretty well figured out”. No shit – I really said that. Well, I would bet etched in stone somewhere in the Himalayas is the saying “If you ever feel like you have it figured out, you don’t” or something to that effect. My journey, clearly, is still in its infancy.
Thankfully, I have two very wise, albeit short, gurus to guide me.
There are few things in my life as a stay at home dad that could be considered invariable, but conflict is one of them. It is a rock-solid guarantee that over the course of a day I will have some sort of confrontation with one or both of my daughters. Obviously, I’m not looking for that to happen, but my job is not to simply appease them. My job is, at least in part, to provide them with structure and boundaries regardless of the effect that role has on the peacefulness of the house. People, particularly small children, don’t like to be told ‘no’ and I get all no-y on those two all the time. Such a stance can really paint me the tyrant and confrontation ensues.
Every parent knows this reality of confrontation and, after a while, you become accustomed to the inevitability and the din. Just part of the gig. There are valuable life lessons about patience and fortitude within this part of parenthood, but, for me, one of the greatest lessons has been unexpected, as is maybe the nature of great lessons.
The scene usually plays out like this: some standard rule violation is followed by some standard consequence, which may or may not trigger an emotional reaction but does conclude with my standard progenical debriefing, complete with my signature squatted stance and definition of the rule violated. Then, six seconds later, as I bask in another triumphant parenting moment, the very same rule is violated again in the very same way. The second offense receives the same response save for the fact that I, being the fascist that I have discovered myself to be, perceive the offender to be mocking my regime and descend into my own despotic tantrum of teeth clenching, muttering and generally storming about.
After the second offense has been dealt with, the girls move on without any residual emotional baggage. There may have been tears or screaming or stomping, but that’s over now. They go back to doing whatever it was that they were doing, singing the same songs, playing the same games like the confrontation never happened. They afford it the proper gravity and let it fade into the past. I, on the other hand, stay rigidly entrenched in my sense of entitlement, feeling injured and disregarded. I can’t let it go as they do and almost encourage it to fester. I exit the confrontation still mad.
Who’s the adult here?
Clearly, I don’t have things, as I once announced, “pretty well figured out”. I do put a lot of thought into my parenting and into my life, but realizations such as these go a long way toward showing me the reality. And showing me just how wise youth can be if you really pay attention to it.
By holding onto the perceived insult to my authority I am only intensifying the situation rather than being the catalyst for a solution, as a parent should be. By perceiving it as an insult in the first place I am both misunderstanding the nature of my children and creating an adversarial situation. Further, whatever predisposition I have that allows me to even perceive this as insult, I’m sure, is inviting the confrontation, so how inevitable is it really? Then, by perceiving myself as simply an authority rather than an authoritative guide I am falling short of what my daughters deserve and disrespecting the idea of a forward thinking father. And finally, by being reactionary I am being lazy and we are all suffering because of it.
As are so many lessons that come with parenting, this one has been difficult to learn, and humbling. Neither of those things are bad, though. My daughters deserve a father that is willing to admit that he has fallen and then gets back up, as all kids do. This skinned knee will serve me well on my ‘Thoughtful’ journey. And my little gurus, too.