Today I got in a big power struggle with O. over leaving the park in a timely fashion. We were throwing a foam chuck glider around for over an hour, and mostly having fun. But when it came time to go home, I was met with dozens of diversions, excuses, unreasonable requests, and, eventually, public tantrums.
Two and three year olds live in what seems like a perpetual state of war for their independence. They will use hitting, rudeness, public misbehaviour, and temper tantrums to get their way. Followed by whining and crying as a backup strategy.
The first set of tactics can be aggravating, frustrating, or even infuriating. The second set of tactics can be heartbreaking. And, they are completely understandable. Babies only have crying and whimpering in their tool set. They have no other way of expressing themselves. It takes a long time for a child to learn at a reason, negotiate, and use manners to get what they need. A good father does his best to clamp down on his feelings of frustration, as well as his desire to soothe and comfort his crying child, and treat every one of these conflicts like a opportunity to coach his children on how to find better ways to communicate.
I have tried my best to use that principle. I have not always succeeded. I am human, and therefore flawed. Some days I lose my temper and I raise my voice before I can calm myself down and apply more effective and compassionate parenting tactics. Every time that I do, I mark it as a failure on my end. I am getting better every day at finding ways to deploy compassionate and peaceful parenting tools over expressing my frustration. I have discovered I had a lot of maturing to do as a father, and still do.
I have learned that I have to be a somewhat harder man than I wanted to be. At first I was very quick to give into crying, and focus more on comforting you and finding ways to make you happier. Then trying to teach afterwards. But, this is put me in a situation where the answer of “No” is not immediately accepted and not given as often as it should. Often, when I try to make a bargain and reason with you, I find that I am met with tears and interruptions. As if you hope that crying and whining enough will make me stop trying to teach you and just give you what you want. I hope I have not done that too often.
At the end of the day, I have come to realize that being a father sometimes involves being a hard man. Sometimes I’m even harder than I need to be. It was not a part of fatherhood that I expected, or really enjoy. I prefer to cuddle you and tell you I love you, than to take away privileges, take away toys that have been misused, and make hard deals with you. But my job is so much more than showing you that I love you… It is raising you to go into the world boldly, and to have every chance at happiness, prosperity, and success.
I sometimes have to push back hard on power struggles so that I can teach you one day to be truly empowered. Sometimes I have be harsh and may feel less loving, because I love you too much to let you behave badly. What an odd paradox that can be.