Learning for the Future
A few days had strung together consisting of our three-year-old, Ellis, becoming what I like to refer to as a demon child. For some reason, this demon seems to appear as soon as I get home from work. I understand that it’s the end of the day and she is tired, which definitely has a huge control over any kid’s behavior. What I began to realize, however, is the way it can control my own behavior. It instantly puts me in a bad mood, frustrated from being at work all day, driving in traffic, excited to see the wife and kids, yet having to now deal with her attitude. It’s my own attitude that has led me down the path of spending my evening hours correcting her behavior and putting her on timeouts or threatening that some toy would be taken away. There’s no way to reason with a pissed off toddler, no matter how calm you are as a dad, especially when they are just as stubborn and strong-willed as you are.
As the week wore on and my spirits continued to dwindle, I kept trying to figure out what I could do to fix the situation because it seemed as though this attitude is only directed towards me. Maybe it’s because I have to constantly punish her for her behavior after not seeing her all day? Maybe it’s another reason? Should I not smother her with hugs and kisses as soon as I walk through the door? Is it just a phase, or does she really not want anything to do with me right now? It hurt spending my few short hours each day after work before bedtime in a constant battle with her. I began to blame myself for whatever I could grasp as a reason for her behavior. I started feeling sorry for myself and sad that daddy’s sweet girl wasn’t so sweet with him.
It was the end of the week, and I was exhausted thinking about what I was going to have to deal with next as I turned the corner to pick her up from preschool after work. 45 minutes in traffic can allow your mind to wander. She greeted me at the door and was so excited I was there. It filled my heart, but it didn’t last. As soon as I started buckling her into her car seat, the demon was back. She was mad we were leaving, mad that mommy wasn’t going to be home from work yet, mad I told her the sunset was pretty, and mad we couldn’t drive faster because of traffic. I stopped arguing with her to have a better attitude. When we got inside, she was crying on the floor while I set my things down. I picked her up, took a deep breath, and asked her what was wrong in a soft and concerned voice. I noticed as I get more frustrated, her spiral into this pit would get worse. She kept crying. She cuddled on my chest like she did as a baby and I began to think of those moments from the past when she would fall asleep so safe in the same spot, listening to my heart beat. She cried on my chest for a few minutes and I allowed myself to not say a word or try to fix what was bothering her until she fell asleep.
As we cuddled on the couch, I analyzed what just happened. She didn’t need me to fix the situation. She didn’t need me to unload questions to investigate what was bothering her. All she needed was for me to be there to hold her and comfort her regardless of the situation. She felt safe in this familiar place on my chest, just as she did as an infant. I learned this moment can apply to the rest of her life. When she’s a teenager and some boy breaks her heart, I don’t need to figure out how to fix the problem or tell her it’s his loss. When she’s crying because someone started a rumor about her at school, I don’t need to tell her those girls aren’t worth it and she’ll find better friends. My job is to be there to let her cry on my shoulder, without me saying anything at all, without judgement. I need to allow her to feel hurt and remind myself I can’t always fix it for her. Sometimes it’s okay to take a break from trying to teach a lesson or correct behavior and focus on being what your kids need in that moment. And in this moment, Ellis just needed me to hold her. And in this last week, she just needed me to give her positive attention, rather than spending my short hours before bedtime correcting her behavior. Maybe if I did that more often, there wouldn’t be as much behavior to correct.
Today’s guest post is by Jeff Engelage from The Fatherly Collective. On his blog, Jeff shares some of the struggles he’s gone through in hopes others will feel comforted and that they’re not alone in this journey of being a dad. Make sure to follow him on Instagram @fatherlycollective.