This is a tough post to write but I’m going ahead with it because one of the reasons I started this blog about being a Stay At Home Dad was to use it as a way to be reflective about what I’m doing as a parent. To learn from both the successes and the failures. Over the 14 years I’ve been a SAHD (and the six years before that as a middle school teacher) I’ve done a pretty decent job of keeping my cool. I’m a pretty laid-back guy and I try my best to be patient with everyone, especially my children. Any parent knows that kids can really test you and pester you and do stuff that shouldn’t get on your nerves, but it still does. It’s my experience that this is exacerbated for the at-home parent of small children who often deals with the seemingly endless requests to do this or that from the moment the little ones wake up until the moment they (finally!) go to sleep. Sure, I try to get my little ones to learn patience but, well, herding cats sometimes seems like it might be easier.
Well, rewind to a few days ago, Thursday, to be exact. It was a routine Spring day for us that was highlighted by a trip to a local park to enjoy some of the nice weather.
We had an early dinner without my wife, who stayed late to work, so we could be on time to meet her at my 15 year old daughter’s high school water polo game at 6:20 pm. Even though my M, four year old, very thoughtfully served some spaghetti to J, her 22 month old sister, while I finished cooking dinner (yeah, that onesie may not ever come clean), we were on target to leave the house to be, gasp!, ten minutes early for the game. The final hurdle to conquer was changing the J’s diaper. Piece of cake for this seasoned veteran. Or so I thought. As I laid J down on the changing table I noticed M trying to climb up the end of it. I asked her to please get down. Moments later M was standing bedside me at the changing table, trying to tickle her sister. I asked her to please stop. (I’m patient and well-mannered, thankyouverymuch!) Within the next 30 seconds as I was trying to wipe J’s butt and place the clean diaper under her I must have asked M three or four more times to please stop poking, tickling or otherwise prodding her sister because every time she did that her sister would twist her body impossibly as only toddlers on changing tables can do and I’d have to rearrange the diaper all over again. Exhale. I could feel myself getting a little worked up as I asked, for the sixth time in about a minute and a half, for M to Please. Stop. Touching. Her.
That’s what I did to her hand as she reached to poke, tickle or prod her sister that one last time. It wasn’t a “hit”, but it might as well have been. And in that moment of frustration I lost my patience with my adorable four year old and violated one of my cardinal rules of parenting: never, ever, under any circumstances, lay a hand on my child in anger or frustration. I felt like smelly poo. How could I have done this to my child? She pulled her hand back and looked into my eyes, giant tears already forming in her eyes. Not as much from the physical pain but more from the fact that I’d swatted her hand out of frustration. I dropped to a knee to be at her eye level and immediately told her how very wrong it was for me to do that to her and I asked her earnestly to forgive me. Through her tears she nodded yes and, as we embraced, hot tears flowed from my eyes as they burned my cheeks. We talked about it some more right then as I finished getting the diaper on J and while we headed to the car.
It’s been just over 48 hours since I became, in my own mind at least, the Sultan of Swat. And I’ve been beating myself up over my lack of self-control and momentary lapse the whole time. It cannot happen again. Period. There is no room to justify my actions by thinking, “If she had listened in the first place…” Nope. Not even remotely an excuse. Yet, I have to be able to forgive myself in order to move on. M forgave me so now I need to do the same. Yet, I can still learn from this experience. While I am a pretty patient parent, I need to realize that I do, indeed, have a breaking point. If/when I feel myself approaching that point I need to do an internal “lemon squeeze” like my kids were taught in elementary school or slowly count to ten. Looking back on this particular incident, I should have counted M using the 1-2-3 Magic discipline system that we’ve used with all of our children for the last 15+ years. (I think I’m going to reread that book this week.) Had I done that, the situation would not have escalated and there would have been no swat. In the end, I have to learn from this mistake, forgive myself and remember that I’m not perfect. After all, imperfection is part of the human condition.