Thursday, February 21, 2013

Unnecessary Toughness

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." -Thomas Edison

It seems every day, Peanut will say or do something that shows me just how much she's grown up. Not big things, mind you. Little things. Nuances, if you will. Like when she says something that perfectly - if not dramatically - communicates her true feelings...

Take, for instance, the night we told her she could watch a half hour of a movie before bed. "But at 7:30," we warned her beforehand, "we're turning it off and going right upstairs." My Director concluded with a firm, "No fooling around." Fast forward to 7:30. We turn off the movie. Cue Peanut joking around. She's laying on her mom, pretending not to hear her when she asks her to get up. General silly procrastination that we told her would be unacceptable. I snap. "Peanut, stop it right now and let's go to bed."

She immediately stops, stands at attention, furrows her brow and shouts, "Why are you always yelling at me?!"  In the moment, I shot back by telling her I wouldn't have to yell at her if she just listened. But put aside the fact that her use of the word always stabbed me, really making me feel like a jerk of a dad. Peanut is now more capable than ever of expressing her feelings effectively, without crying or whining. Her use of always was deliberate. And timely. Just a couple hours earlier, I snapped at her for lollygagging when she was putting on her shoes for our walk with Luna. (A walk she didn't want to go on but I forced her to because she hadn't been outside all day.)

Sometimes My Director rightfully
throws a penalty flag on me.
My Director perfectly describes it as "piling on." Peanut will do something wrong. I will correct her and if necessary, punish her. Nothing wrong with that. It's called parenting. But I don't stop there. I will then proceed to recall every similar wrongdoing she has committed since the beginning of time, point it out, and use it is as an opportunity to punish her for those prior offenses as well. Because obviously if she's repeating the offense, the prior punishment wasn't effective enough. (At least in my mind.) So I feel the need to "pile on." Or I don't give her a chance to correct it first, before I discipline her. It's my whole ready-fire-aim mentality of parenting.

Another example: Earlier in the school year, we drove by Peanut's school while taking her to a play date. She was so excited to see it on a weekend that she pointed it out from the back seat. We rolled to a stop sign at the corner of the street where her school is located. My Director acknowledged Peanut's observation with equal excitement. I, however, was lost in my thoughts. Thinking I needed help, Peanut repeated herself and provided specifics. "Look, daddy. It's right there next to the hockey court."

Instead of reciprocating her excitement; instead of recognizing that she's actually excited about seeing her new school, where she had just started Kindergarten a month earlier; instead of validating her, I corrected her. "That's a tennis court, sweetie." Saying "sweetie" didn't make me sound like any less of a douche.


I know the parenting handbook backwards and forwards. I know if she says something incorrectly, I should be positive and discreet. Something like, "Yes! There's your school, right next to that tennis court!" While we are all permitted moments of weakness and failure as parents, I must admit I tend to be too hard on Peanut sometimes.

I think I do it because I am aware that Peanut will most likely be an only child. Stopping at one will afford us - and her - certain luxuries. More trips. More toys. More money for more surprises. In return, I overcompensate. I don't want her to be spoiled, feel privileged, or let her off the hook. I actually make her share snacks, or room on the couch, with Luna.  (Yes, our 12-pound shih tzu pretty much runs things in our house.) It's the only way for her to know what it's like to have a sibling who also wants what she's having.
Most of the time I'm NOT
always  yelling at her.

What I also realize, though, is that Peanut really is a good girl. I'm not just saying that because I'm her dad. After all, as I have described above, I am probably her harshest critic. Perhaps unfairly. Or perhaps it's working. I've seen kids her age who talk back to their parents, don't say please or thank you, make demands and not requests, and generally are a humongous pain in the a$$. Peanut does none of that. Most of the time.

Here's one downfall of my only-child tiger-dad ways: She doesn't like to fail. When we do homework, and she writes a "g" that looks like a "q," or a "9" that looks like a "p," she gets very upset and embarrassed. This is where I have learned not to pile on. "Making mistakes is how you learn," I tell her. "When you make a mistake, you know what you have to do next time to make it better." No judgement. No piling on. Just empathy. "I make mistakes all the time," I admit. "Every day at work I make a mistake. And you know what I do? I learn from it and just do it better next time."

What I realize in that moment with Peanut is that something I practice at work applies to parenting as well. I am a television news producer. (Which explains why I refer to my wife as "My Director.") It is a fast-paced, deadline-driven, high-stress job. I manage a team of eight people who are working quickly to put a clean, clear, and compelling show on the air. Sometimes there is a typo in a graphic or script, or the wrong video gets on the air. I point it out, get an explanation, and move on. I'm not going to pile on because no one feels worse about it than the person who made the mistake.

Same with Peanut.

A few weeks ago during his sermon, the pastor in church shared a story about his teenage daughter. He picked her up from school and could tell she was clearly upset. She was afraid to tell her dad that she had failed a test. She had never done that before. His response? "Congratulations. It's about time you failed at something." He then took her out for ice cream.

Later that night that she accused me of always yelling at her, I was tucking Peanut into bed and kissing her goodnight. I told her that sometimes daddy isn't at his best. That even he has his bad days. I apologized for yelling at her so much that day. And that it doesn't mean I don't love her any less. She seemed to be alright with everything. She forgets easier than I do.

It is in failing that we succeed. My failures as a dad make me a better parent to Peanut. Her failures as as a child help her learn and grow. We are figuring this all out together.

To read more about our feelings on Peanut being an only child, click HERE.


  1. THe thing about parenting is that you are allowed to make mistakes.

    You just use a hug as an eraser.

    Kids aren't really as hard as some people think. It seems you have that much figured out!

  2. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett.
    We are not going to not fail, that being said, acknowledging and owning them is what we need to do. I tell people all the time that I am a 'failer,' inevitably they hear 'failure.' I am not a failure, but, I am indeed, one who fails, a 'failer.'
    I'm good with that.
    This is a very honest and heartfelt piece and I, for one, admire your courage in admitting your shortcomings.

  3. Carter says I always yell at him too. He says I'm mean to him even though I am not. It frustrates me to no end.

  4. Can I have a copy of the parenting handbook? Somehow I missed out on getting my copy when I was at the hospital. Honestly, if I had been given one though, I'd likely have hit someone with it.

    I am naturally harder on Oldest than Youngest. Maybe it's a first born thing, maybe it's because he's so much like his Mamma. BOTH my kids are good kids, they make good choices, and are good to others.

    But how do you think they got that way?

    I'll bet that Peanut is a great kid because she has the disciplined... the good kind and the piled on kind. "Making mistakes is how you learn."

    1. Where did you give birth? They gave ours out when we left the hospital. Maybe it's a NY/NJ thing?


  5. I love that Tom E. Quote. I live it! Lol!

    As a parent of many and a friend, I hope you will excuse my bossiness, Justin.
    Stop beating yourself up for disciplining your child.

    Stop questioning your parenting every time your child is upset. Kids get upset. Kids disagree with parents. That's an indicator they still need us. One of these days she will be so mad at you that, even though she loves you deeply to the ends of the earth and back, she will look you square in the eye and yell, "I hate you!" Your heart will squish, but even then, do not question your parenting. Know that she knows you love her enough to feel safe pushing you away because she knows you aren't going anywhere.

    Stop obsessing over messing up because she is your only child. I understand. My first child was an intentional only for 10 years. I understand the impulse to make your only shot perfect. But, trying to make your only shot at parenting perfect will just make everyone miserable. Knock it off. You are doing fine. Cut yourself some slack.

    If you see something your messing up - knock it off. Apologize for it and change the behavior. And, most importantly, let it go. Move on.

    Yes, you've been dredging up the past - knock it off. Look one more time. Learn from it. Adjust you sails. Move on.

    The only time to bring up a kid's past behavior to them is to remind them of something great they did. They know about their mess ups. Let it go. Move on.

    Relax knowing that you can do what is kind and compassionate and loving and end up with a wonderful kid because of it, even if she makes choices different than you would have.

    Now, take a deep breath, do what will still seem kind in 5 years, and enjoy being a dad. Peanut is lucky to have you. Rest easy in that.

    1. I do need to give myself a break. But there are times when I AM too hard on these...and it's unproductive. yes, she needs to get over it. I'm the dad, she's the kid. It's a fine line. But here I'm talking about one day and one other incident in the car as examples. Generally, I am fair and Peanut's a good girl as a result. I don't generally obsess about my decisions... but sometimes doing say makes for good blog fodder.

  6. Great post! I think we all have times when we feel we are being too harsh or not harsh enough. Even parents make mistakes and owning up to them is a big part of fixing them. My hubs and I are both harsh with our girls in different ways - he tends to yell; I tend to nag relentlessly. At the end of the day, our girls know that we are proud of them and that we love them more than anything - that's what is most important!





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