Okay, so this post is mistitled. I was originally going to write about the pitfalls of child comparison. Alas, that will have to wait for another time.
Instead, tonight’s episode comes to you from my seat on the so-called “man chair” in the living room as I listen to my daughter cry out in the next room. She’s been at it but a couple of minutes, enmeshed in what I like to call “moderate alarm throes”, and wife’s already prepared to throw in the towel and console her. It’s almost scary how effortlessly I demand that we leave her to work it out: “Come on, what happened to sleep training!? Can we at least wait 10 minutes?” To follow up to my proclamation, in true lazy-dad fashion I send wife a facebook message rather than shout or walk down the hall. “11:40”. Surely we can handle a 10 minute bawl session! Right?
The answer is no on all counts. Wife enters the room, picks the child up. Crying intensifies, almost in protest. Let sleeping/crying babies lie, I think? Now it’s calming down. Thanks to the bottle and a soft bosom. So now I’m left with my thoughts and a derailed post.
As a kid, I always just sort of assumed that being a mischiefmaker nerdy video game and fun loving type, that it would translate into me being the permissive parent. After all, I’m much less of a worrywart than my wife, and in general try to live in a very optimistic and carefree fashion. So I find myself wondering almost daily how it is that I have become the voice of reason, the voice of authority, the bad cop.
Interlude: wife just told me she had to wake munchers up because she was having a nightmare. Compassionate? Yes. Life or death? Hardly. Nightmares suck, but they make you tough, and they’re certainly not always worth an intervention. Unless it’s Nightmare on Elm Street, in which case they make you dead. But I digress.
Now that peace has been restored I sit in my comfy chair, alone with my rambling thoughts. How the hell did I become Bad Cop? I’m supposed to be mister silly fun easy going care free laid back (insert more cool superlatives) dad! Instead, here I am telling my partner to ignore our clearly distressed child. While my heart does ache to hear her sob, the selfish part of me knows that we need to get the kid back on a regular sleep schedule. That selfish part is what speaks up, demanding that we let her fend for herself.
And maybe that’s what it is. At the end of the day, I’m just more selfish. Who’s kidding who, being a parent is all about sacrifice. We all knew it going in, but nobody prepares you for the depths of how close to the edge that can push you. And it’s perhaps my desperation to maintain some sense of control, normality, and a desire to raise smart and self sufficient children, that really pushes me to lay down the law. I seem to recall a jest about how we’d all be extinct if kids weren’t so damned cute? It’s so true. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a toddler steamroll my rare slivers of adult time with her tantrums, nightmares, machinations and manipulations. I refuse. I’m the adult here dammit.
Oh God. There it is. It’s out. I’m the adult. Nobody prepared me for this. I’m just putting on a show. Asserting authority like I know how to wield it. Are my children bound to see through it? I mean, let’s be honest, based on tonight’s exercise, it’s clear that just because I put on the Bad Cop badge, doesn’t mean anyone gives a hoot. It’s like someone just handed me the keys to some really complex piece of machinery without any sort of instruction manual and said, “you’re in charge now. Don’t fuck it up.”
My wife often recounts how her childhood was not filled with rules, spankings, or serious discipline. Instead, both she and her sister were well behaved by a deep-seated and crippling fear that if they did anything to displease their parents, there would be no hesitation to be completely and entirely deprived of any parental love. That kind of strict rule of parent law has its own emotional consequences, but it surely resulted in obedient, capable and independent children. How do I find a way to emulate that but without the part that leaves my children with self-esteem issues? Questions beget more questions.
So I’m doing the best I can. I don’t want a spoon fed coddled little girl who expects the world to be her oyster. The world sucks sometimes. I want to protect her from that, but I know I can’t. So in my head I tell myself that being a tough dad sometimes means, hopefully, producing a child who is also tough enough to endure and triumph over all the challenges life will throw at her. Maybe I’m just expecting too much from a toddler and need to relax. Either way, in my mind I know that if I don’t step up, nobody’s going to do it for me.
Or maybe it’s simply time to dust off that book…”positive discipline” and attempt to strike a balance between iron fisted rule and complete toddler anarchy. Control and stability are just illusions anyway. The sooner I get used to that, the better.