Monday, October 7, 2013

'I'm just doing what you do!'

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
We were driving home from church Sunday, moderately rocking out to Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark,” which is, for a variety of reasons, very popular in our house. Even Charlie knows the chorus, and he and Max were in the back seat singling along and bopping their heads happily.

Our of nowhere, and for no apparent reason, Charlie started crying. My best bet is maybe he bit his tongue a bit while letting his freak flag fly, but the reason isn’t important. I turned down the radio to try to see if he could or would tell me the problem. Jack decided he would contribute by screaming, “Charlie!” as if that would make things better.

I tried, as calmly as possible at the time, to tell Jack that was not helpful. His retort was quick and cutting: “I’m just doing what you do!”

I let that one marinate for a while, turned my attention to the little guy and eventually he soothed himself. After a few more deep breaths, I reminded everyone in the car, politely, it doesn’t do any good to scream at a crying toddler. As expected, Jack took that bait and restated his position, reminding me I have been known to yell at him.

He’s right, of course. I raise my voice. Certainly more than I should, but I am sincerely trying to cut back, especially since we’re about to have a baby in the house and I’d rather he not think of me as just “Tall Loud Guy.” However, as I explained to my oldest and most contrarian son, sometimes when his parents try speaking to him, he acts as if he cannot hear us. When we feel we’re being ignored, we raise our voices until we get a response.

My main point, which I am sure was heard but cannot be certain was understood, is that far too often our children will act disrespectfully, fueling parental frustration, and then act completely dumbfounded when we lose our temper. There is no way to calculate how many times I have asked them how it can be possible they have no sense of when they’re fraying our nerves. Sometimes I’ll come right out and say something like, “Do you need me to yell at you so you understand I’m serious?”

I don’t like yelling at them. I generally get mad at myself for doing so, which only serves to compound my frustration on top of whatever it was that got me riled up in the first place. I accept I need to do a much better job of setting an example for them to follow, and I actually appreciate it when Jack’s brutal, blunt honesty holds me accountable for actions I’d like to correct. I’ve yet to find anything more effective at instigating inward reflection and analysis.

That said, I’m on a constant crusade for a method that will communicate my intent to the kids effectively. I want them to know they’re being treated with respect, but I realize it’s all too easy for them to perceive muted language and delivery as a permissive attitude that more or less communicates a lack of parental seriousness. Maybe I dug that hole for myself over several years of speaking (often loudly) before thinking, but I can’t undo any of that, I can only make things better going forward.

Every day is its own challenge. And just because something works Monday through Thursday is no guarantee it’ll have any effect on Friday. Parenting is a constantly, rapidly evolving task, but these kids make me want to be a better person. I want to inspire them to walk proudly the paths I have not always been able to follow, and that requires me to force myself to try harder than I ever would on my own. Fatherhood is a blessing and a responsibility, and I am trying to do my best to handle both aspects appropriately. God, give me the strength.

A prayer for October 7:

Lord, help me follow your example. I know I’m imperfect, prone to mistakes and quick to stray from the path you set before me. I need you to draw me back to you, to have patience with me and to keep me pointed in the right direction. I need to be a better husband and father, and I need for my family to see in me a person who is truly transformed by your love and grace. Help me break down my stubbornness and impulses and rebuild me fully in your image, answering your call without fail. Guide me, love me and forgive me. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. When my dearie is serious and upset, he gets pointedly calm and quiet. Keep in mind that each kid and each situation is different. Make parenting all the more fun. You can explain that to Jack and perhaps at a calm time, you could ask him to help you think if ideas about ways to help some scenarios.
    On a side note... while once visiting a family with seven kids, one youngster inadvertently hurt another youngster. Their mom stopped our conversation briefly and advised the one who harmed to comfort the one in tears. I admired that she did not try to fix it herself, but put the responsibility on the pair. This become more of a necessity for large families to run smoothly, but the attitude is one that I think would work for anyone. How great to encourage personal responsibility and empathy.