Tag Archives: parenting

Sometimes you just have one of those days where you wish you had a RESTART button.

Somewhere recently I heard the term “The Facebook Lie”, which refers to the lies we tell on Facebook about our lives: the glowing portraits of a healthily functioning family at play, the hilarious things that we say to each other on a daily basis, the delicious meals, the serene setting in which we live. It’s not that those things individually are not true, but the overall picture we paint is a false one. Our lives are not living Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade paintings. Where are the arguments, the tears, the yelling, the mess? It’s one sided. I’ve thought more than once that maybe I should record some of those messy, ugly times with stylized Instagram photos and gritty Facebook statuses. I haven’t done that yet, except in what follows I guess.

I went to bed quite late last night. I knew it was a bad idea and all that prevented me from going to sleep was mindless browsing of the internet and hitting “refresh.” My body was tired, but I just didn’t want to go to sleep yet. I guess I did eventually watch a movie, but still, not a good reason to stay up these days.

Dixie was in Calgary for the week and I chatted with her a bit toward the end of the evening. I said, “I shouldn’t have stayed up so late. Now I’ll be grumpy with the kids tomorrow and generally useless.”

And so it was.

I turned my light off at about 12:15 or 12:30, about two hours later than we normally do. There was no school today, so I let the kids stay up a little later on the assumption that they would sleep in. They did a little, but not much. I was woken up at 7:39 by Olivia’s tapping on the railing of her bunk bed. That’s about 40 minutes later than I normally get up, it wasn’t enough to make up for the late night and I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Until about mid-afternoon, it was one of those days in which I repeatedly wished I had a “RESTART” button I could press to have a second (or third or fourth) go at the day. I was tired and didn’t feel like doing what the kids wanted to do (“The Game of Life”? Really?) and I was edgy. I’d snap at the kids, show them very little mercy (in other words: wouldn’t let them be kids), raised my voice in irritation and anger. Of course, they were the problem. My day would be much better if they would just stop…being them.

Later on the day I reflected on this. The problem wasn’t the kids. I mean, they had their moments of fighting, loudness, rudeness, disobedience and poor listening, but that’s not unusual. They’re kids, after all. The problem was me. I was cranky, I was on edge, I was impatient, which meant that I reacted where I didn’t need to react and, worse, I would set both them and myself up for further failure. One of them does something that isn’t wrong in itself, but it really bugs me because I’m tired, so I tell that one to stop it. They do it again and so I get angry with them for disobeying me. And things escalate. My crankiness leads me to set up unreasonable and unnecessary expectations for my children, which leads to further crankiness when those expectations are inevitably not met.

I attempted a couple of restarts today. I walked the few hundred yards to the mailbox and back, in hopes that the blue skies and fresh winter air would brighten my mood. It only worked for a couple of minutes. I tried napping after lunch but was woken twice by the kids right at that moment of transition between wakefulness and sleep. Then I just laid there restlessly for a while, unable to get back to that transition point. Later, at Madeline’s request, we went out for a walk. Luke and Olivia didn’t want to go outside initially, but pretty soon they were having some fun sliding down some piles of snow-covered dirt in the yard. They wanted to stay outside, but none of us (except Olivia) were dressed properly and I, being grumpy and the attempt at revival failing miserably, wanted to go back inside.

I hate those kinds of days. I loathe myself as a father on those days. And that loathing feeds my crankiness. I feel much regret on those days, cycling through failure and regret, failure and regret, failure and regret. And then I experience low levels of anxiety about alienating my kids, so I give them big hugs and tell them I love them and that I sometimes have grumpy days and that today is one of them. Moments later I’m likely to be Unreasonably Grumpy Dad again. Failure, regret, reconciliation attempt, failure, regret…

But you know what’s crazy (and this is perhaps what I should really take away from the day)? The kids are unfazed. They know their dad. They know I have grumpy days, and they are always forgiving. At lunch I apologized for my grumpiness. I asked them if they would forgive me. Luke said, “I’ll always forgive you, dad!”

What a gift! What a gift! It encourages me and it shames me.

It’s difficult to forgive myself on these days, to do that thing that seems to come so naturally to my own children. Is it possible give ourselves as parents the room to be who we are on these days without also justifying the way we are? Our kids seem to give us that room, but we are left only with regret.

Jesus seemed to think we had quite a lot to learn from children. I think he was onto something.

The afternoon was salvaged with pop, a big bowl of popcorn, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the kids with me on the couch, Luke snuggled up under my arm.

My quiver is full.

Psalm 127 stood out for me a couple of weeks ago, particularly this portion:

Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them. (127:3-5a, TNIV)

There are moments when I am overcome by the beauty of my children, the wonder of their existence–the brightness in their eyes, their smiles and laughter, their little growing bodies, their clever minds. In these moments I am sometimes brought even to tears because I am overwhelmed with love and pride and wonder and all sorts of things.

But the truth is, those moments are not the norm. Unfortunately and shamefully, I often behave and feel as if my children are a nuisance, getting in the way of the things I want to do, wasting my time, which could be used on things I find more fulfilling. Thankfully, I am quite self-aware in this respect–sometimes I even apologize to my children when I have said or done something wrong; often I feel terrible guilt and regret at the mistakes I have made (sometimes also to the point of tears).

Even with this awareness, however, some days it remains a struggle against my deep selfishness and bad priorities. Some days I set my selfishness aside and we will play hide and seek or tickle or a combination of both and we’ll run around the trailer laughing and screaming or we’ll go outside for an hour or two for an adventure. A couple of weeks ago I even made up a treasure hunt (“three drops of river water; three rotten tomatoes; a grey brick; etc.”). Other days, the victory against selfishness is much smaller and all I can manage is to lay down on the floor with them in passive, semi-attentiveness for a couple of minutes. Other days I manage to do nothing.

I realize that we live in an age of “helicopter parenting” and child psychology where we are almost guilted into doing everything to make our children well-adjusted, and I can’t help but wonder if this over-attentiveness may just make them maladjusted in a different way. Sometimes I imagine the world a century or two ago–did parents worry about spending enough “quality time” with their kids? Were the children or the parent-child relationship any worse off?

I don’t know. Yet I feel I can be a better parent–if only because some days the things which are not important in any imaginable way get priority over my children, and no matter how anti-helicopter-parenting you may be, that can’t be right.

The first half of this Psalm probably has some useful things to say about this as well (“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…”), but for now I focus on the second half.

May I gratefully receive and enjoy the blessing of my children.

Grace Like a Child

We have quite a bit to learn from our kids, I think.  Jesus was on to something when he said, “Let the children come to me . . . for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14, ESV)

I’m thinking now of last month’s one night camping trip with the kids.  My patience with the children has been wearing very thin lately, but I had imagined a nice relaxed time with them—no hurry to do anything in particular, no place to be—but for various reasons it didn’t turn out that way.

Fishing

Looks idyllic, doesn’t it?

Thursday morning—the morning I met The Sex Patrol Kid—I took the kids out fishing.  As great as the picture looks—and as much as I had imagined it just as idyllically—much of my time was spent getting frustrated at Luke (it’s easy to forget that he’s only 3) and yelling.  Afterward, I felt quite defeated, like a failure.  I’ve apologized to the kids a lot lately—more out of fear that I’ve scarred them somehow than anything else (well, also because I was sorry).  Luke got a big hug after fishing.

After we went fishing we phoned home to Dixie.  When Luke got on the phone he talked excitedly to Dixie about what we had done so far.

“And we went fishing with Dad!” he shouted into the phone.

The boy was excited.  Apparently my angry outbursts were already forgotten by him.  Kids are resilient and forgiving.  They are fine examples of showing unconditional love.  I wish we adults could be the same.

Why does the kingdom of God belong to the children?  Because in their best moments they are able to live the kingdom un-self-consciously—in some respects, unwittingly—and without reservation.  Adults are not, for the most part, able to do that.  Not naturally, anyway.

Bed time

Isn’t bedtime supposed to be a special time of the day?  A time of cuddling with your children, telling them stories and singing them quiet songs, and then tucking those precious little yawning gems snuggly into their beds?  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go?

Why is it that in our house bedtime is the time that Angry Marc comes out to play?  Before we had children, do you know how often Angry Marc would appear?  Rarely.  He’d maybe make an appearance when there was injustice afoot, or perhaps when someone was making repeated false accusations in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  At all other times—which was most of the time—Even-Keeled Marc ruled the day.

One of the reasons Angry Marc rears his ugly head is that bedtime looks more like this: disobedient children ignoring the quiet song, getting mad at each other, fighting, not listening, refusing to go pee and put on their pajamas, then not staying in bed and going to sleep, when all I want is some peace and quiet, kids rested for the next day, and some time to ourselves.  That’s an acceptable desire; but—God!-–am I getting tired of walking away from their bedroom regretting whatever disciplinary action I have just taken and then coming back later and staring at them teary-eyed, touching their soft faces, maybe saying a little prayer.

There’s got to be a better way to be a father.

. . . and Luke’s out of his bed again.