How Do You Want Your Child to Feel?
When I first became a dad, I was very strict with my oldest and even my second child because, well, that’s how I was raised.
You didn’t talk back.
You didn’t question your parents.
You did what you were told, the first time you were told to do it, and you did it exactly how you were told to do it.
It’s been a constant struggle to stop myself from getting too carried away and intense because it’s simply ingrained in me that that’s how parenting is done. But I really don’t like being that way. My son is super sensitive and emotional and if I even speak firmly with him – without even raising my voice, but using my Dad Voice – he’ll pout, act like a beaten puppy, or sometimes will just start tearing up. It kills me to see that transformation take place right in front of my eyes. I feel like I’ve progressed a lot in the past several years, but nobody is perfect and I know I still have areas to improve upon to be the kind of father I want to be.
But what really kills me is when I’m out in public and I see how other parents treat their children. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones who talk to their kids like they’re idiots and sub-human. They bark and snip at them like alpha dogs instilling fear into a weaker dog at the dog park. All the while, you can just see the disappointment on the child’s face and you can almost feel their heartbreak, when clearly all they want is some love and compassion from their parent.
At my new office, my windows look down at a busy street corner and I can see everyone who walks by or stands at the cross walks waiting to cross the street. Earlier this morning, a dad walked by with two little boys – each maybe 6 or 7 years old – and all three were dressed like they were going to church. One of the little boys was trying to keep up with his dad’s long strides while the second boy was lagging behind, sipping on a drink, when his foot caught part of the sidewalk, causing him to stumble and spill whatever he was drinking on the front of his shirt.
The dad whipped around, snatched the drink from his hand and tossed it in nearby bushes, then screamed at the boy about not listening or doing what he’s told. He was shouting at the little boy so loud that I could clearly hear him in my office upstairs, over the contractors that were drilling in the walls, and over the music I had playing. Both boys took a step back from their dad and both looked scared at the reaction.
Obviously I don’t know what they were going to do, how much stress the father is under, or what the day had already doled out to them, but it was crushing to see that situation unfold and to watch how the straggler boy just wanted to be close to his dad. He kept reaching out for his dad’s hand but his father was too busy yelling at him to notice or care.
I guess this rambling diatribe is just to say this: As parents, let’s all try to be more aware of how we make our kids feel when we interact with them. I want my kids to feel loved, instead of judged, in fear, or like perpetual screw-ups.
Photo credit: Jack Mallon