Every night, I put my kids to bed. But last week everything changed for me. In fact, it was because of this one singular moment in time that I have been changed forever. I had just put my five-year-old son to bed with his nightly story, neck tickle, and hug. I told him how proud I was of him and that I was sorry we had a rough day. Why did we have a rough day?
The morning was tough for us. With the usual morning rush of trying to get the kids out of the door and to their respective destinations, he chose not to listen. Not once, not twice, but three times. The first two times I held it together and tried to be patient. The third time, I lost it. I yelled something at him…I don’t remember, but it was along the lines of “GET DOWN HERE NOW.” He started to walk up the stairs away from me, acting like he was ignoring my commands and then I took his hand and guided him down the stairs. I asked him to look me in the face while I spoke very loudly right in his face, telling him that when I talk to him and ask him to do something, I expect him to do it!
After the moment was over, I could feel that my blood pressure was through the roof. My face was red, I was shaking and the combination of self-disappointment and rage were engulfing my entire body and spirit. I hated the feeling, but I gave myself an out by saying to myself “I can’t believe he does that to me!” After I came back home and talked to my wife about what happened, she looked at me with disappointment. I told her that I did not like what happened, but that I was having a really hard time keeping myself under control. Where was all this anger coming from? Why was I so offended when my young son didn’t listen to me and why on earth did I think it was ok to fight disobedience with anger and yelling…dominance?
Something was all wrong and the only person that could fix it was me.
I was the only person responsible for my behavior. Luckily, a conversation that very same night helped me. We will get there in a bit, but before I do, it is important to understand where all this anger comes from.
Growing up, my father had a similar problem with anger. He suffered from high blood pressure and took medication for it. He struggled with depression and when he was angry, he would speak to me, my sister and my mom in a way that was completely disrespectful and mean. My dad’s father died when he was very young, so he didn’t have much experience going into the whole dad thing. Still, I don’t hold any hard feelings towards my dad for what happened. He was never physical with us but sometimes the verbal lashings hurt just as much. We have a great relationship now that I am an adult, but these demons live inside us both. Mine are lesser to a degree, but they are still there. After growing up in a house that witnessed this type of behavior as a “normal” occurrence, I have somehow continued the behavior now that I have my own family. Sometimes I take a tone with my wife that makes her feel stupid. Sometimes I speak aggressively and angrily to my kids and I am sick of it. They are sick of it. That part of me is over.
That evening I was putting everyone to bed as I mentioned before. I tucked in my little man and said I was sorry and then I headed to my eight-year-old girl’s room to say goodnight. She had already sung a song with Mommy so I decided to do a little snuggle for a minute or two. During the snuggle, I asked her if I was mean. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: So am I a mean Dad?
Her: What?! No way daddy! You are the best dad ever. You just get a little mad sometimes and scream at us.
Me: I know, but when I scream that is unacceptable behavior and you do not deserve to be treated like that. No one in this family does. How can I stop screaming and getting mad?
Her: Well, why don’t you just recognize when you are getting upset and tap out? Ask Mommy to take over and go take a second to focus and breathe and calm down.
Me: Yeah, that’s a good idea, but what about when I am home alone with all three of you guys and I get angry?
Her: Well, I can help you. I will say “Daddy go take a break.” Then you can calm down and come back in.
Me: Ok, so you will help me not yell and not get angry?
Her: Yeah Dad, I got ya.
It was awesome. From that moment on, I decided that I would never again yell at any of my three kids. I know this is a tall order. I know this is something that I preach over and over with food that you should not say to yourself when you start off on a new way of eating. You know the, “I will never eat ________ again” is not a healthy place to start a diet…but this is different. This is my family. And for my family, I will go to the extreme.
I am responsible for teaching my children how to communicate with respect and love.
It has been almost a week since I had that magical conversation with my daughter and it has been a wonderful week. I have a mantra that I say to myself when things get a bit tense or the kids are teaming up on me at the same time with questions, crying, or frustration. My mantra is “no one makes me upset.” As I say those words, I remind myself that I am the only one that controls my upset. I am the only one that can change me and after one simple conversation with my daughter…I am a better person. Kids have the power to motivate, inspire and lift us up in our greatest time of need. Through their eyes, we see hope, compassion and never-ending love. It is up to us as parents to shape their future. Will you join me? Have a great week everyone.