Win or Lose, Weíre Fathers
If your toddler is anything like mine, and I suspect he or she is, you are constantly being challenged by your little person to react. You probably find yourself asking the question ďIs he trying to piss me off?Ē The short answer is yes. Your kid does want to see you angry, and agitated. But he also wants to see you laugh and smile. Basically they donít care much about what the reaction is, positive or negative, they just want a reaction. Itís part of their way of discovering the world and you. Trust me, I understand that this idea is not comforting when your two year old is standing in front of you with sweat and tears stream down his face, screaming his lungs out with such force that he pukes on your work shoes. All because he wanted to drag an Elmo doll, a Thomas the Train toy, and a piano to the car when all you wanted to do was pick up dinner.
In that situation, which is oddly similar to one I was in not too long ago, you have a choice to make. You can a.) join in the madness and try to intimidate her into stopping the screaming with a bit of screaming of your own. You are louder and stronger than her arenít you? You could b.) try to reason with him, and explain why you canít bring so many toys on such a brief outing. You are smarter than him, right? Or, you could c.) put your foot down and not go pick up dinner at all. You donít have to eat every night, do you? Gandhi often fasted in protest and he was one of the greatest men that ever lived. Obviously none of these are very good options. In fact Iím not convinced that there is a good option. All I know is that some battles are not worth fighting and this may be one of them. You have to let it ride out until your little menace tires herself out or gives up, so long as her safety and the safety of those around her are not in any way compromised. My son likes to throw anything that he can get his little hands on when heís angry, so I clear the area of possible projectiles and hope for the best.
I must admit that I am a bit surprised by how my wife and I handled my sonís most recent and by far most disturbing tantrum. Letís just say that we ended up with all three toys in the car and a toddler that was totally unaware that there was a problem with how he achieved his goal. We, however, were acutely aware of the fact that we had lost the battle and it was in part because we were not prepared to fight it.
We have never seen ourselves as the type of parents that would let our child get the best of us like all those quote unquote ďbad parentsĒ out there, although somehow he did. After five long days of working and commuting we just didnít have it in us to go to battle with a professional toddler. One of the most button-pushing parts of the ordeal was that by the time we reached the car he was talking and laughing and pointing at the buses and cars up the block. It was like nothing ever happened.
The problem with that is that something did happen. Two year olds have very good memories, although theyíd like you to believe they donít, and if something worked once you had better believe they will try it again. And Iíll be ready when mine tries it again. The next time he loses his little baby mind I am not going to give in no matter what. He will be ignored better than anyone has ever been ignored before. Puke on my shoes? Go for it kid, Iím a rock. Scream as loud as your little body will allow? Be my guest little guy, I brought earplugs.
The worst part of it all was that his tantrum actually did a number on our moderately good moods. He shifted us from the relief of finally making it to the weekend, to despair and hopelessness because we had no interest in dealing with his behavior and we didnít really know how to. Like you, I fully understand that parenting is a 24hour job, and like our 9 to 5 jobs that we get paid to do, we sometimes find ourselves dealing with problems that we would rather not deal with. But Iíll tell you, on a Friday night that feeling is amplified 100 times.
You start telling yourself that you didnít sign on for this but you know that you did and you wonder if it will ever be easier and you know that it will. Itís parenting and it isnít the easiest job in the world, but it is arguably the most fulfilling. So after a bit of silence and pondering our lives my wife and I opted to enjoy the rest of the evening and move on to the food and wine that we had planned on finishing out our week with in the first place. The reality was we would live to battle with the boy another day and that would have to be good enough.
When it was all said and done none of us held a grudge. My son talked to us. And we talked back, for the most part. We were reluctant at first to forgive him for his behavior, thinking that he had to be punished in some way for it; however we knew that ignoring a two year old is kind of mean. I admit that we were slow to warm up, but by the time we got home we were all friends again. Somewhere during the evening between the vomit and a round of Old McDonald we decided to give up on the idea of an elaborate meal and grabbed a pizza instead. He ate along with us and afterwards I read him the Cat in the Hat. When he put his head on my shoulder as we watched the same dragon cartoon that he loves for the one millionth time, I quickly remembered why I loved being a father.
I guess my point is that we are the adults. We can choose how to handle even the most annoying situation. We can be consistent and unflinching with our demands as long as we are also reasonable and patient. We can also be conscious of our own feelings and not allow our children to stress us out or make us want to strangle them in anger. That, my friends, would be very, very bad. Our kids are works in progress and so are we. I recently told a friend of mine about this little podcast show and she says to me in all seriousness and sincerity that I must be a great dad. My reply was ďIím actually a terrible father; I just want to be a great father.Ē I am sure that you guys out there know exactly what I mean. October, 2005