Annoyed, Impatient Dads
"Guys, get out of the mud! How many times do I have to tell you?"
The words spilled out of my mouth. I felt myself re-creating the same words my parents had said to me so many times in the past, and I felt powerless to change my kids' actions. An alarming thought came to me, one that comes to most fathers at some point:
"Am I becoming my father?"
We were on a short vacation, and my daughter and son were doing one of the things eight and six-year-old kids like to do--playing in mud. They weren't rolling or wrestling in it, just splashing in it with their boots, and enjoying the feeling. You know, one of those feelings that we adults are far too "adult" to enjoy anymore.
It was the third and last day of our trip, and I'd been with the kids on a solo mission to northern Minnesota. My wife had stayed home to catch up on work issues, and to enjoy some time to relax. And while we'd experienced some great times on the trip, it didn't feel too great at the moment. I was struggling with something many fathers struggle with: a gnawing sense of impatience with my kids, and a feeling I should be in control of their behavior.
My son turned around to me and said, "Dad, relax, it's OK!" I smiled back at him, realizing he was right. Indeed, the mud could be washed off. No lives were in danger.
The only problem here was my desire to control them.
I wanted to thank him for his reminder. It's useful to remember that our kids are not to be controlled. They are to be guided and led, but not controlled. This impatience and desire to control can lead many fathers to an emotional disconnect with their kids. And while many fathers have an acute awareness of this issue, they convince themselves that it can't be helped.
The truth is that it can be helped, and fathers can transform the relationship they have with their kids. Here are some of the steps:
Accept responsibility for your issues and your part in this "problem." Identify your "irrational thoughts," things like, "I should be in control of this situation," or, "My kids should always obey me immediately."
See how these irrational thoughts play out when you're with your kids. When does it tend to happen? What do you do? Being aware of these thoughts goes a long way towards helping you to respond to them—not react to them with anger.
Get some help to identify these issues from someone who's familiar with you. Your spouse, a close friend, or coach can help you sort it out.
When you do feel these feelings of impatience or a lack of control, practice "being with the feelings." Don't fight them. Use a calm voice—no yelling, shame, or criticizing. Stay with the feelings until they pass. Don't worry, you'll make it through, and you will get better at it!
As we neared the end of the five-hour trip home, I noticed that my kids had gotten along perfectly, and hadn't complained once about the length of the drive. They spent most of their time quietly drawing.
Finally, I said, "You two are so nice to travel with. You're so patient and get along so well!"
As I drove the last stretch toward home, I realized again that we can't control our kids, but we can control what we pay attention to. If we can catch them in the "act" of doing wonderful things, and let them know about it, we've solved most of the "problem."
So, what are you paying attention to?
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches busy parents by phone to balance their life and improve their family relationships. For a FREE twenty minute sample session by phone; ebooks, courses, articles, and a FREE newsletter, go to http://www.markbrandenburg.com/. or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.