Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Little Daddy-Daughter Moment

This isn't a reflection or a lesson. Just story. What I feel is a quintessential parenting story. My daughter is almost three (in May) and she's been in full time-bomb, no-machine, three-year-old contrarian mode for three solid months already. It's already well beyond old. You know, refusing to eat foods she likes (even as she acknowledges - "I will not eat anything I like," or don't like, for that matter), saying 'no' to everything, and just all around demanding the world revolve around her. A three year old is baffled when you tell them what they want has almost no bearing on what will happen to and around them.

It's a trying time.

We were having one of those moments at lunch or dinner or something the other day - it was just the two of us. She was taking bites of food that I had to feed to her (even though she's been using silverware for 18 months already), a food she likes, but refuses to eat. Then she was holding those bites of food in her mouth for 90 seconds or more, just chewing and turning it in to terrible mush, before my begging her to eat again. You know, typical three-year-old dinner.

It was frustrating. What should have taken twelve minutes was approaching an hour. I was running out of patience, but I had enough piece of mind not to say what I was thinking. Instead, I decided to use the moment as a lesson and set the stage in an appropriate, mature way for what I wanted to say off the cuff.

I asked her if people ever did things she didn't like or made her do things she didn't want to do. We talked about getting hurt or frustrated and how we might respond to people. We talked about how it wasn't right to hit people. People are valuable and deserve love and hitting isn't the way to get your way. But we still want to do it sometimes. We talked about how it's ok to be angry and frustrated. Those emotions are good things, but we have to be careful how we use them.

I told her I would not ever hit her. We talked about how hitting is bad and hitting someone who hits is even worse. I made abundantly clear how anger and violence works and how important it is to have self-control and care for people. After all, dinner was taking forever, so we had the time.

It was one of the first times I really felt like we had a conversation she understood all the way through.

When we were finally done and she'd eaten enough and it was clear she wasn't going to eat anymore, I told her she could get down, but not before telling her.

"I love you. I would never hurt you. I would never hit you. But you're being incredibly stubborn and rude right now and I very much want to smack you in the face."

She said, very seriously, and with a straight face, "I don't want you to smack me."

And I said, "I won't. I promise. I would never hit you, but I want to. I really want to, and you should know that."

Then she got down and went to play.

A lot of times I hate being a parent and a lot of times I feel like I'm doing it all wrong. I imagine there will be people horrified by that story (likely one of them is my wife - who knows already - she's not learning about it here), but I know my daughter and I think it went well.

It was not an evening I'd want to play over again, but I think we both got out of it what we needed to get. She's two and a half. She'll probably never remember it, but I don't think it would be a bad first memory. "I would never, ever hit you... but sometimes I want to."

That seems to sum up parenting pretty well, at least as I've seen it so far.

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