I write a lot about my experiences as a work-from-home dad. I like to share how happy I am to be a father and have the opportunity to spend so much time with my son as he grows up. I enjoy writing about watching him develop and seeing him accomplish new things. I paint a nice picture of our time together. And while his worst days are some kids’ best days, they’re still his worst days. And those days have an effect on me. It’s something I’m not proud of and I’m reluctant to share, but maybe putting it out there will help me work on it.
I’m sensitive, and I’ve got a temper. My temper manifests itself not physically, but vocally. I’ve never hit my son, but oh man have I yelled at him. Sometimes justifiably so, sometimes disproportionately to his transgressions. I don’t yell as much as I used to, and I’ve tempered much of my disciplinary anger down from “yelling” to “raising my voice.” There are two things my three-year-old son does that are guaranteed to set me off: ignoring me, and physically resisting me.
I hate, hate, hate being ignored. It drives me crazy. My son loves to do it as a quiet form of protest. Some kids yell and scream “no no no!” when it’s time to do something they don’t want to do. Mine just pretends he can’t hear me. He also ignores me when I tell him to stop behavior he knows he shouldn’t be doing, like throwing his toys. When multiple, reasonable attempts with “please stop doing that” have zero effect, I tend to lose my cool. (Incidentally, I know this is not an issue with his hearing. When he’s ignored several “it’s time to put your jacket on” commands, I’ve suddenly switched it up with “it’s time to have ice cream” and he perks right up.)
Physical resistance is a new thing now that he’s getting bigger. Sometimes he doesn’t want to put on his jacket and shoes for preschool. Sometimes he doesn’t want to sit on the toilet despite plainly doing the pee-pee dance. So in those cases I have to force the issue and put his jacket on him so we won’t be late for school, or sit him on the potty so he won’t piss himself. Sometimes, he thrashes around in resistance. I’ve been headbutted, kicked, shoved, and punched. When dressing him or trying to help him use the toilet becomes a wrestling match, I tend to lose my cool.
I feel bad when I yell at him. It invariably makes him cry. I don’t like making my son cry. But I also don’t want him to walk all over me. I’m his father, not his friend. It’s not my job to put my hands up nonchalantly and say things are cool when I’m being disobeyed. The unpleasant side of parenthood is disciplining your child, and my style of discipline seems to default to raising my voice or yelling when he’s pushed a little too far past his boundaries. And sometimes I wonder if I go too far in yelling at him when he crosses me. Like I said, sometimes I fly off the handle disproportionately to his offenses. It’s something I need to work on, for both our sake.
Fatherhood is weird. The hours are brutal and the accomplishments are amazing, but the mistakes make me worry that I’ve given my son one too many unpleasant memories.