It’s Sunday, 6:00 AM, post-Hamilton midnight bedtime. I’m tired. I haven’t been spending much time with kids. And they’re showing it.
Lot’s of mouthy, disrespectful, anxious-type behavior.
If I can manage to engage – connect in a way that’s meaningful for them, they’ll settle down, today at least.
I don’t want to. Hanging out with kids is boring, and when I’m tired, boring is depressing.
But alas, I can at least cognitively assent to the fact that my kids’ mental and emotional health rests on whether or not they’re getting enough time with me. And if I’m not at least functional in the way I engage them, they’ll unravel. They get anxious, struggle at school, struggle with self control.
In short, they become “bad” kids.
So we punish them, which works until they become teenagers. Then they pay us back with interest. Read more →
When my wife said, “I think we should take the kids to Disney,” I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to go. The flight alone would be thousands of dollars, and we didn’t have enough to stay at a Disney resort – we wouldn’t be able to come home in the afternoon to rest.
This meant 8+ hours a day, no breaks, five days straight, at one of the most crowded places on the planet, with our three children. We did it. And in the middle of it all something happened that none of us expected.
We told the kids they could have ten dollars a day for spending money, which would roll over to the next day if they didn’t spend it, or they could blow it all in one place if they wanted. This of course meant that my wife and I were constantly harassed by our kids, “Can we stop here and go shopping?” “Can we buy a treat?”
If you have kids you’ll understand what follows. If you don’t, you’ll probably be horrified. Rated for less-than-good-parent language.
I have 3 kids. A 4 year old. A five year old. An eight year old. Dark days indeed. The fighting, whining, disrespect, property damage – all come part and parcel to parenting young children – regardless of what mad skills you might have in your quiver.
Of course I don’t hate my kids, nobody really does. We just feel, let’s say, a very strong dislike towards them from time to time. What’s funny/interesting is the difference between how we feel about them when they’re “good,” and how we feel about them when they’re not. We get warm feelings when they’re playing nice, eating all their food, cleaning up, loving their siblings, sleeping – and very different feelings when they’re doing things that anger us. They’re not so cute anymore. The mere sight of them brings up feelings of disgust. You’d think we’d just get a little frustrated but it goes way deeper than that for most parents.
When you have kids it’s not long before they’ll push a “button,” some unhealed wound or two that you carry inside – something that happened long ago at the hands of another human that you haven’t quite put to bed yet. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have multiple places in their soul where they’re still hurt. I do know tons of people who’ll tell you they’ve dealt with it all – “moved on” – but most of us haven’t.
I have a friend who experienced something horrible years ago. She told me she gave herself two years to grieve, then she got over it. Sounds great, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s likely that we’ll take so many of our buttons to the grave, mainly because we have no respect whatsoever for how deep they are. The cutesy moniker “buttons” betrays how clueless we are to their severity.
Either way, when our kids push our buttons it hurts, and it’s easy to see these little button-pushing fuckers as enemies – people who don’t care about us, against whom we have to defend ourselves – that’s how we respond when we feel hurt. That’s why kids appear different when they’ve done something that’s not only wrong, but rubs its finger in our unhealed areas. That’s why we lose our shit at some of the shit they pull. We’re on the defensive. We’re retaliating, many times in ways that will create the same buttons in them that we’ve been wandering through adulthood with.
In the past, when other people have pushed our buttons, we’ve been able to distance ourselves, or break the relationship altogether. But you can’t do that with kids, we have to stay engaged.
My eight year old did something small yesterday that made me very angry. When I drop her off at school she gets out of our minivan through the sliding door on the passenger side. She usually can’t close the door herself so I always ask her to close it enough so I can reach it from the driver’s seat and slide it the rest of the way.
Yesterday am She got out of the car, stood and looked at me as I said “goodbye, have a nice day at school.” It had been a tough morning – we were all a bit edgy. “Please slide the door a little bit my way so I can reach it, honey.” She slid the door a couple centimeters and walked off. “Hey, please get back here and close the door.” A couple more centimeters. I shot her a dirty look, got out of my seat, closed the door. She walked off. Button. Pushed.
I sat in the car and watched her walk away. Usually when I do this I think about how much I love her, but this am all I could think about was retaliation. But my hard-core negative feelings for her had nothing to do with what just went down, and everything to do with my buttons, which unfortunately, had just called the shots in a difficult situation.
This was one of those rare mornings however when I stopped to think about what really happened – what was underneath it all. Sure, she was intentionally disrespectful, and we dealt with that later, but she’s a good kid. She’s not my enemy, and there’s no misbehavior that we can’t work through.
Thinking about my buttons above her infraction brought me peace and forgiveness, for both of us, and a greater vision for how to make sure my kids are always beautiful to me.