THE PROBLEM: Being a dad is hard for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids (I’ve got 3), but I don’t always know how to talk to them—or play with them. When they’re all together, I usually end up getting annoyed (OK, sometimes yelling), because they act so immature. But they are immature—they’re 3, 7, and 9. I can’t expect them to act like adults, can I? Mostly I think there’s something wrong with ME, wondering why I can’t be more patient and just enjoy them. When I look at them at night after they fall asleep my heart wants to explode. Both because they’re so precious to me and because I probably lost my temper at least once during the day. How can I be a different kind of dad?
MARY SAYS: I’m not sure I’ve ever met a parent who isn’t hard on themselves about something, myself included. So for starters, go easy on yourself. You’re exactly the right dad for those three ‘precious’ kids, and they’re exactly the right kids for you. You’ve already identified that you want to be more patient and enjoy them, and now you’re asking: “How?”
If you’re willing to be humble, your children can teach you.
Parenting is two-way. Our kids learn from us, and we learn from them. Rather than showing up for your kids as a reactive, slightly-edgy ‘person in charge,’ try stepping outside your dad-role into that of student.
You mentioned how you feel when your kids are together as a group, so begin to focus more on each of them, one-on-one. Be curious! Find out what they like about school, their siblings, the tent they built in the backyard. Watch how they interact with other kids at the bus stop or on the little league team. What does each of them like to read? What scares them? What do their little bodies do when they’re feeling insecure? How do they show up with confidence?
Responding to anybody through the lens of the ‘group’ invites judgments, labels, and conditioned responses. (They’re LOUD, silly, immature.) Once you get to know each of the group members individually, it’s hard to unsee how unique each of them is. Almost overnight, you will celebrate your shy child when she acts silly or loud. You’ll love that your son lets loose, acts immature to offload the tension he’s feeling at school.
And because you’re a mere observer, you’ll no longer find yourself trying to control things—and reacting to them. Just imagine what a superpower this will be for you! Your ability to see people for who they are will change your relationships all over the place: at work, in the neighborhood, and most of all, with those little ones who make your heart feel like it’s going to explode.
ERIKA SAYS: First, you’re not alone on this journey! Being a dad or mom is hard for most, if not all, parents. Raising children isn’t easy, not even when you have the easiest of children. The art of parenting does come naturally to some parents, but that’s not to say they’re any better at being a dad than you are. Even on my best days, I run out of patience, grow frustrated, or lose my temper. And I only have one child driving me bonkers! I can’t imagine how full your hands must be with three. Regardless of how often your patience wears thin, your children still know you love them.
If you find it challenging to regulate your emotions, figure out why a particular situation triggers you. Does it happen at a particular time of day? If so, what can you do or change to create peace during those times of chaos?
In our household, I became aware that our bedtime routine wasn’t working. It was stressful to repeatedly tell my son to get ready for bed. He would call suddenly to ask for snacks and drinks, which in turn, would delay bedtime. I would grow frustrated and turn into a very upset mama.
Why was this so upsetting to me? Because on most days, I’m ready to shower and get to bed by eight. My days begin early and consist of work, caring for the house, and tending to my son. Typically, by bedtime, I’m exhausted and overstimulated. The solution was pretty simple. I adjusted my son’s sleep schedule and pushed up the time we started our routine so I could have quiet time to decompress after he was asleep.
I also had to put myself in my son’s position. Why was he always stalling at bedtime? When I realized that all he wanted to do was hang out with me, I was able to extend the grace he needed on those difficult nights.
Create a game plan and stick to it. If the reason for your frustration is that your children start to fight with each other, then send everyone off to play by themselves, rather than let the fighting get out of control.
Walking away to decompress is an excellent tool for kids to learn, and the best way they can learn this is through you. When you begin to feel upset, tell them you’re taking a ‘timeout’ to breathe and calm down, and that you’ll return shortly to talk about it.
And if you do lose your cool, apologize. Children deserve apologies, too.
You’re a significant role model in your child’s life. They watch how you solve problems, interact with others, and treat yourself and those around you. We’re all human, and adults make mistakes. You can say, “I had a tough day, so I took my frustration out on you, but that’s no excuse, and I’m sorry for yelling at you. You didn’t deserve that. Can we try again?”
By doing this, you’re teaching your children how to own up to their mistakes. Don’t avoid these conversations with them because you think they won’t understand, or because you don’t feel comfortable expressing your feelings. Children understand more than we give them credit for. I make an effort to talk to my son in a mature way, and if he has questions, I answer them to the best of my ability until he gets it.
Your kiddos will only be children once; they’ll be grown and gone before you know it. I used to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day, but sometimes it’s okay to go off gears and enjoy the moment. The kids are having a pillow fight with the couch pillows, but you have to get dinner going; okay, how often does this happen? Dinner can wait, jump in, and enjoy. It will create the sweetest of memories that you’ll all treasure for years to come.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.