One of the problems with being a dad blogger is that sometimes the dad part prevents the blogging part. Often it’s because you’re too busy and there simply isn’t time to write. But the recent gap in my posts has been for a different, but still parenting-related, reason.
Writing about being a parent is generally about pretending to the world that you’re a good one. Not a perfect one – everyone loves the minor disaster story. But the ‘bad parent’ stories are all just a bit of fun really. There’s a right way to be a publicly bad parent.
But recently I’ve been a bad parent in the wrong way. I’ve been too stressed to write and even when I tried I couldn’t think of any of the ‘right’ posts. So I’m going to write the wrong post. The one with the stuff in it that we’re not supposed to admit to.
Bad parenting the wrong way
D has been going through a very difficult phase recently. It’s all fairly minor stuff – not doing as he’s asked, refusing to go to bed, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, this has coincided with me going through a difficult phase as well. I’ve had to re-apply for my job, I’m trying to start up a freelance writing business, I’m keeping this blog going. I also have other projects that I’m working on, as well as the usual life things that need my attention. I won’t pretend otherwise: I’ve been stressed, irritable and grumpy. As you can imagine this hasn’t made for much harmony in the Meech household.
The fact is that three-year-olds – and children in general – can be incredibly annoying. They are expert button-pushers and once they find a weak spot they’ll keep prodding it. This isn’t because they’re malicious or evil, but it can feel like it. Two of my big buttons are rejection and being ignored, and D has been pressing them like a game-addicted teenager for about three weeks now. And I’m the first to admit I haven’t handled it well.
If you’ve ever watched Supernanny or similar programmes then you’ve probably done the same as I have. Namely, you sit there pointing out all the obvious points where the parents’ behaviour is making things worse. As the anger and the volume escalate, you’re thinking about how differently you’d handle it. Yelling at the child obviously isn’t helping. Snapping at your partner definitely isn’t either. Stomping around and slamming doors? Who’s the grown-up in that house?
I’m not proud to admit it but I have been doing all of those things. A lot. I’ve been raging around the house like an angry bull. I’ve really tried to keep my temper but rarely have I managed to. In short, I’ve been a thoroughly unpleasant person to be around.
Why am I telling you this?
Obviously this doesn’t paint me in a great light, so you might be wondering why I’m telling you. Primarily, it’s because I can’t believe that I’m the only parent who sometimes behaves in counter-productive ways. Yes, we’d all love to be the zen, mindful parents who never raise their voice. But sometimes our circumstances, our irritating children and our very human weaknesses conspire against us. It may not be right, it’s certainly not ideal, but it happens. And for all the ‘oh-I’m-such-a-bad-parent’ blog posts you read, very rarely do people admit to totally losing their shit with a child. Because that’s the wrong way to be a bad parent.
The other reason I’m writing about this is that while it happens, and it’s understandable, it’s a mistake to think that it’s fine. If you are repeatedly losing your temper with your children, and arguing with your partner, and probably making yourself unhappy in the process, then you need to do something about it. I wrote a post a while ago about good ways to take a break and relax, which you might find helpful. Speak to someone, look online for ways to manage your anger. Try to spot your particular triggers and work on them. But do something.
The fact is that being angry is exhausting, and stressful, and it makes you feel rubbish. When you’re in a shouting match with a three-year-old there isn’t going to be a winner, just two miserable people. If stress is causing you to be angry, anger certainly isn’t going to reduce your stress. Of course, you probably know all this. I’ve said it to myself countless times over the past couple of weeks. But only when you really tell yourself that enough is enough will it actually change. So if that sounds like you, maybe now is the time.
Feeding the positives
As I mentioned at the start of this post, for a while I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be writing. I was too stressed and angry. But all it took to change it, and to make me able to think more clearly about it all, was one good morning with D. I think he was being a bit more co-operative, and I managed to back away from a couple of potential flashpoints by not being stubborn. Because we were getting on, we enjoyed each other’s company, which meant that we were both less likely to kick off. This meant we were both happier and more relaxed, and enjoyed each other’s company more. It was a kind of virtuous circle.
This too, then, is worth remembering. However bad things may feel, it only takes a small thing to put it back on track. Be constantly on the lookout for something positive and when you spot one, grab it. Focus on it, hold onto it and feed it. Just five happy minutes can easily become six, then ten, and so on. If you do lose your temper, don’t make it worse by punishing yourself and dwelling on it. By all means, try to stop it happening again, but don’t let a bad episode spoil everything that follows it. Because really, there’s only one wrong way to be a bad parent. And that’s to not try to be a better one.