Every day, I worry that I’m screwing up my kids. I suppose this is all part of being a parent, but at the same time, parents are supposed to be extra human, right? We are supposed to be this faultless superhuman thing. Or at least that’s the way I used to view parents. I expected them to be better and stronger and more moral than I was.
But the fact is, as a parent, I screw up all the time. And I always seem to be thinking back on my actions, realizing that I am a poor to mediocre father and that my kids are going to grow up with little aspirations and future success, and one day they will be on some Jerry Springer-style daytime show, telling the audience that the reason they slept with their spouse’s cousin while high on LSD was because of their father.
Am I overreacting? Probably. I do that. Anyway, here are a few of the things I worry about when it comes to my parenting:
1. I want them to be my friend more than I want to be their father.
I can think of a million times that I’ve been like, “You know what, screw cleaning the living room. Let’s eat cookies and ice cream on the sofa and watch Batman.” And I will admit, sometimes (mostly when my wife isn’t around) we do just that.
But in the moment, as we are stuffing our faces in the living room (a room where food is forbidden), I feel like I’m neglecting to teach them respect for rules and responsibility and probably turning them into couch-surfing mooches. And then I think about the week before, when I went from Mr. Rogers to The Punisher and realize that I’m an inconsistent parent who is probably causing my children great confusion, and I am most likely the cause of my own problems.
2. I yell.
Check it out: Sometimes my kids don’t listen. I assume that never happens to other parents, right? Oh! You have the same problem? Well, that’s just crazy.
Here’s what happens: I ask my children to clean up the living room four or five times, and on the sixth time I usually find my son playing in the bathroom sink, and my daughter putting Hello Kitty underwear on a stuffed bear. Then I get frustrated, and my voice goes from the sweet nurturing Mr. Rogers-like chirp to the husky baritone of The Punisher.
And then both kids look at me like I’m a complete jerk, and I find myself using the same statements my parents used when angry: “Why don’t you just listen the first time?! Then I wouldn’t have to yell!” I feel like a complete over-the-top ass and wonder if I’m turning into my own mother and emotionally scarring my children.
3. I am an inconsistent punisher.
I can think of a million times that I’ve handed down a punishment or said no to something, and Mel has taken me aside and said, “Do you really think you needed to get angry over that?” And the answer is almost always, “No.”
Sometimes I’m in a bad mood, sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I just don’t care and I don’t do a thing, when the week before I flipped. I am not 100% sure what all this inconsistency is doing to my children, but I’m sure it isn’t good.
4. I often tell the kids not to do things that I do myself.
I can’t count how many times I’ve told my daughter Norah that she can’t have a snack after dinner, and then after she is in bed, I eat two bowls of cereal and a doughnut. My son Tristan can only have one can of soda a week while I drink five or six a day. I will tell them they have to wear clothes in the living room while I’m hanging out on the sofa in my underwear.
I’d compliment myself on a spectacular fart, but then get mad at Tristan and Norah for singing a song about farts. I could go on, but you can probably see that I don’t necessarily lead by the greatest example.
5. I allow the kids to manipulate me.
Once Norah drew on the only nice chair we have in our living room with permanent red marker. I was filled with dad rage. But when I confronted her about it, she looked up at me with big blue eyes and said, “I’m sowry, Daddy,” in a voice that was a mix between Minnie Mouse and a songbird. A switch flipped inside me from rage to tender, and all I wanted to do was give her a hug. Sometimes I wonder if God gave children the ability to melt their parents’ hearts to keep us from killing them.
6. Sometimes I bribe.
Just a few weeks ago, Tristan was dragging his feet in getting ready for church. I didn’t really have time nor did I feel up to fighting with him. So instead I bribed him with three cookies. He came back with a counter argument asking for the three cookies and additional screen time. I accepted, and within five minutes, he was in a shirt and tie. I will admit that for a little boy, he has a good understanding of negotiation. However, I worry that I am making him into the kind of person who won’t do anything without a payment.
As it turns out, I’m not all that consistent of a father, and I think that’s the main problem. Or perhaps the real problem is that I’m human. I make mistakes, and although I really love my kids, sometimes I get emotional or tired, or a mix of both. Because the thing is, parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But what I can say is that I admit when I’m wrong. I admit it to my children. I am also quick to declare my love. When I come home from work each evening, my children greet me at the door with smiling faces and tight hugs, and in those embraces, I realize that regardless of my inconsistencies and imperfections, it’s clear that my children can feel how much I care for them.