I teared up while writing this… sort of a confession, but with hope. This topic is pretty heavy on my heart.
In my impatience, in my rush to try and handle all 5 girls and support my wonderful wife, I have on many occasions blindly and hurtfully accused, blamed and shamed by family for things that they really didn’t do.
I hate it when I do it. I feel the words vomiting from my mouth like bitter bile. It’s terrible. Things aren’t right in the house and I want blood. I want SOMEONE to set it right.
I get that surge of indignant adrenaline and want to defend myself, but I know it’s a lost cause because I have no ground to stand on. I know that I’m being a jerk.
I hate those moments.
I hate looking around the room and seeing their sweet eyes staring back at me as I demand an answer from them. They’re pleading against my wrath, but someone has to pay.
I feel the shame coming out of my mouth.
I flash back to when I was a kid and the helplessness I felt when a “grown-up” went at me, sure of their righteousness. They would stand over you, insisting on their mental superiority. They glower and town over you asserting a sort of emotional violence. “You did it, you know you did it, but you’re too stubborn to admit it! What’s wrong with you? Why did you do this?”
But you didn’t do it… you know you didn’t. Arguing and fighting back will only make the situation worse. You’re filled with panic and are helpless against them. They’re the adult. You’re the kid.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe I just don’t know me or what I did.
I lived with this in a lot of situations as a kid. I’m sure that I’m not the only one. I’d wager that in one way or another it happens to everyone.
The problem is that we adults believe that we’re right. We’re bigger. We’re tougher. We have important things to get done. I think, in the back of our mind, that sometimes we adults truly believe that our thoughts, feelings and agenda are more important than what the kid is feeling.
In this back-of-our-mind belief, we mistakenly and violently shut down and dismiss the emotions, struggles and honest communication of our children.
I don’t think we mean to do it. I really don’t. But it takes some real pride swallowing to fight it. It’s hard to back down from a good lecture or rant and go, “Oh )(*$*, I’m way off.”
This happened to me 3 times in the last couple of days with my 13-year-old. We’re getting ready to move. We’re rehearsing for a big festival this weekend. There’s so much on my mind and I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THEIR EMOTIONS. But they’re there.
One example was last night, someone had left a light on in our van. I wanted to know who. Of course, no one knew who did it, it was just on.
NO ONE EVER KNOWS WHO DID IT! NO ONE EVER DID IT!!!!!
So I said, “Alright, we’re just gonna sit here until someone admits they did it.” I proceeded to give a calm, yet oppressive lecture about the merits of fessing up.
(I know, I said it. I felt it as the words came out. Oh dear Father, how stupid it sounded)
Then I remembered that 15 minutes before my wife had been in the van looking for a phone charger in the dark. My wife has an… um… tendency to leave lights on and things of the like. My mind immediately imagined talking to my tired, nursing mama of a wife in the same manner I was condescendingly talking to the girls.
That wouldn’t work.
So why is it okay for me to talk that way to my kids?
It’s not. It’s not okay to be a condescending jerk to anyone. Sure, it’s okay to be honest, but that’s different.
I hate the assumption of blame. I hate the feeling of it. I hate the desire to get a pound of flesh from the culprit. It never helps anyone.
Again, it’s the difference of getting things right verses making things right.
Later that night we had another incident, but this was with my friend’s daughter who is staying a few days at our house while her father is hospitalized. I’m actually proud of how this one went down.
I had asked her to brush her teeth, then, about a minute later had come back to tuck them all in. She was already in bed. No chance she could have brushed worth anything yet. But she was all snuggled in.
I asked her if she had brushed them, “Yes” she said calmly. I was skeptical.
“Go brush your teeth again, sweetie. This time, let’s do a really good job.”
She climbed down from her bunk. She starts digging through her stuff, looking for her tooth brush. I became quite curious about this whole thing.
“Hey, why are you looking for your tooth brush? I thought you just brushed your teeth.”
Everyone was watching, and she knew she was busted. She tried to maintain composure.
I asked her gently. “Hey, did you lie to me?”
She hung her head. It was nearly 11 at night, we were up too late and no one wanted a fight. Quietly and sheepishly she said, “Yes.”
I paused, remembering my stupid lectures over the last couple of days, “Do you think that this will help me trust you?”
“Okay, let’s try again… Did you brush your teeth?”
“No, my mom forgot to pack my tooth brush.”
I smiled, “No problem, we’ve got extras! Let’s get you fixed up.”
We moved on and didn’t speak of it again.
This once, I treated her the way that I want to be treated, and I went to bed feeling like a pretty decent dad. I think she went to bed feeling loved…