2 Ways I Feel Like A Failure As A Dad

Imitation2I wish I could tell you that I always feel like a successful Dad.

It’s one thing when I fall short in my career, or in my fantasy football league.

But it hits me with startling impact when I feel like I have failed my kid.

Now, I know some people don’t like the term ‘fail’ or even the concept of ‘failure’ anymore.

For some, nothing is ever a failure; everything is a ‘challenge,’ or an ‘opportunity to improve.’

I say, to each his own. So replace ‘fail’ with whatever alternative word feels right for you. I experienced these realizations as grim feelings of failure, that’s the way it felt to me.

Certainly, every failure is an opportunity to improve, but the feeling I’m talking about isn’t that.

The feeling I’m talking about is the big, black cloud; not the silver lining.

But don’t fret; I included the silver lining in the conclusion at the bottom.

After all, a post with a title like this needs a happy ending.


1.  Sometimes I Lose It

I wish this wasn’t true, but it is.

There’s this muscle we all have called Patience.

I think it’s situated somewhere in my stomach.

Sometimes, especially toward the end of the day, it just quits on me mid-sit-up.

Sometimes when it gives out on me I just bark orders at my kids from across the room. Like last night when they didn’t go climb in their beds after story time after Sarah and I each politely, calmly asked them to.

Other times, against my better virtues and all logic, I can start feeling that I am owed something.

I can start feeling that, because I took my kids out to dinner to their favorite restaurant and then I drew everything they asked me to draw with crayons on the kids menu and then I took them to get frozen yogurt and then I made up stories for them all the way home and then I let them pilot me like a giant robot to their beds, that these 3 year-olds owe me some gratitude instead of erupting into tantrums when I ask them to go to sleep.

And how did I use this teachable moment to communicate my frustration? How did I model emotional intelligence and my mature self-mastery?

I gruffly threatened to turn off their night lights if they didn’t stop talking and go to sleep.

Worst of all, they’ve decided to adopt this method of communication.

My 3 year-old barked orders at me in the same way that I barked orders at him. In the same tone of voice. Using precisely the same words. In front of all the watching guests in our living room.

I can only describe the overwhelming feeling of failure I felt in that moment as a spicy mix of terrible and embarrassing. Terribarrassment, it should be called.

My stomach sank into Antarctic depths as I realized that the look on his face as he parroted this behavior back to me must be an exact replica of how my face looked.

The furrowed brows. The stern look. The frustrated gestures.

I’ve started apologizing to my kids after I say something I regret. It eases my conscience, but I hope it accomplishes more than just that.

What I do is, the moment I realize my mistake I seek my kids out and I say, “Hey, I’m sorry for talking to you that way. I felt really frustrated/angry/hurt because XYZ, but I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. It was disrespectful and I know it. So I’m sorry.”

At first, I felt really weird apologizing to my 3 year-olds. Especially since there were times when it was clear they had already blissfully moved on to something else. Am I undermining my authority with them by apologizing, I wondered?

But I’ve decided to take the risk. Because if I’m going to pass on bad habits to them (which I’m clearly already guilty of doing), I need to pass on the resolutions to the fallout from those bad habits, too.

I hope that by apologizing I’m passing on the idea that I am the one responsible for my own shortcomings and mistakes and that they are not responsible for my bad behavior.

I hope that they will learn to take responsibility for their own mistakes, too.

I also hope that they will learn that they should never allow themselves to be too weak to apologize when they know they are wrong and I hope they will learn how to apologize sincerely and without reservation.

It will also be good practice for marriage, I think.

Really, all I can offer up in my defense is this indisputable fact:

The medical professionals at a respectable hospital gave me these children to take home, despite my shortcomings.

Sometimes I really get it right as a Dad and sometimes it’s Terribarrassment.


2. I Am Addicted To My Phone

I don’t feel as guilty about disclosing this paternal failing, since the odds are that you are just as addicted to your phone as I am.

Sarah reminds me regularly to put my phone down and be present. I’m grateful for her reminders though I probably don’t seem grateful in the moment.

I hesitate to use the word ‘addiction,’ simply because I have no desire to misrepresent the severity of other, life-destroying addictions like substance abuse.

Maybe it’s the word ‘addiction’ and the stereotypes that come with it that make it so easy for me to continue denying that I have an addiction.

But if you replace the word ‘addiction’ with ‘compulsion,’ well, now I’ve run out of semantic defenses, because there is no question that I feel compelled to check my phone regularly.

How regularly? Certainly every hour I am awake. Sometimes several times per hour.

When I’m checking it because of work, my rationalizations come easy.

When I’m checking it because of sports scores, my rationalizations are flimsy but adequate.

When I’m checking it because Reddit might have something new and interesting (Reddit will always have something new and interesting), I can only drown my conscience with funny cat photos.

Spurred on by Sarah’s reminders, I made the conscious choice to avoid looking at my phone all day yesterday, as a way to prove my mastery over this compulsion to myself.

I only checked it 3 times.

The irony is that as successful as Sarah and I have been in limiting our kid’s screen time for the last 3 years, I seem to be spending more time in front of screens than ever before.

That is a recipe for modeling exactly the sort of behavior that I don’t want my kids to learn.

So, I’m working on letting that anxious feeling linger when I consciously stop my hand from picking up my phone.

I don’t fully accept that I’m a grown man who is compelled to check a glowing screen every hour.

But I’m not going to let that uncertainty distract from me from the important point, which is that I spend entirely too much time on my phone.


In Conclusion

The good news and the happy ending are that despite my paternal failings, I am still very much in this game every single day. Because of the time I spend with my boys each day, I get new opportunities to steer this ship of Fatherhood away from the rocks of my own failings.

If I’m completely honest with myself, I don’t want my kids to never see me make mistakes, at least not within reason.

I want them to see me goof up, make the wrong decision, say the wrong thing the wrong way, then see me recover, cope, apologize, make amends, pick myself up and keep trying.

So that they can come to know that it’s important for them to do the same.

children's books, audio books, parenting

10 Books I Want to Write

Toni_MorrisonI just completely re-organized our living room.

I moved all the children’s books from a closet (where tiny baby and toddler hands couldn’t make huge messes of them), out into the living room where they can be reached now by big-boy hands and responsibly enjoyed.

In order to do this I had to relocate a good portion of our library.

As I was dusting off books and looking through titles I found myself smiling, either remembering the stories, remembering where I was when I read the book or the time of life I was in, or the person who gave it to me.

For all the technology that now exists, for me there will probably never be a better way to consume the written word than by reading a book or a journal.

There’s just something magical about holding a book in your hands.

I’ve held thousands of books, but writing one myself is a dream that still eludes me.

In a world where I could freeze time and just write, here’s 10 books I want to write:

1. Start as You Mean to Go

2. Why Mom was Right About Traveling

3. Our Way Isn’t the Only Way

4. Put Down Your Phone

5. How to Stay Unpopular in the Parenting World

books, writing, parenting6. Parent Like it’s 1980

7. Eleven Insane (but true) Things About Parenting

8. Being Unplugged is the New Black

9. Where Families are Headed in the Next Five Years

10. Don’t Buy That, Create This


So what about you?

Hit comment below and let us know what book or books you would write.

Who knows, maybe we’ll all be published authors someday.

2 Ways My Kids Are Trollling Me

2 Ways My Kids Are Trolling Me

2 Ways My Kids Are Trolling MeIt’s a good thing that toddlers can’t post on internet forums, because they would quickly shred community trust to ribbons.

While such nefarious pursuits are typically the domain of internet trolls, I’ve learned that toddlers come equipped with epic real-life trolling skills.

Unlike internet trolls, toddlers have the added advantage that they are cute and cuddly. Ignoring them is made more difficult by this fact.

Especially when they are your own children.


Asking ‘Why’

Louis C.K. best explained the frustrations associated with this particular phenomena. All I want to add from my own experience is to point out that my kids have learned to ask ‘why’ as a smokescreen to delay doing the things they don’t want to do.

For example, at bath time I can expect to get a left-field question like, “Dada, can I wear my fireman helmet in the bath?”

Let’s say that I respond, “No, come get in the bath.”

He will respond, “But dada, why?”

I don’t want to be the Dad that just says, “Because I said so, that’s why.” He’s asking for a reason and I want to give him a good one. But what reason can I give him?

On the one hand, I think, it’s a plastic fire helmet and I doubt it will get ruined by getting wet. It’s also an opportunity for creative play in the tub that my kid suggested on his own initiative, so I should probably encourage that.

But on the other hand, he loves this plastic fire helmet, to the point that if it gets wet and the sticker peels off the front I will probably be in for enduring a couple hours of a very loud, vocal bad mood. And what will Sarah think, that I allowed him to take it into the bath? Maybe she already fielded this request and told him no, then we wouldn’t be presenting a consistent front.

And I already told him ‘no,’ so I should just stick with that. But what if he thinks it’s really fun? Maybe he wouldn’t resist so much at bath time, maybe he would be excited about it?

Did you get distracted reading all that? So distracted that you didn’t notice the naked kid sneaking off to the living room to hide behind the couch? The same kid who asked me ‘why not’ in the first place?

Yeah, me too.

Now I’m playing ‘hide and seek’ instead of bathing him.

Pro Tip: Bath time always goes more smoothly when I can corral the kids in one place. One way is to undress them in their room with the door shut and my back up against it to prevent escape. I’m not kidding.


Creative Interpretations of the Truth

Kids are going to stretch the truth.

When my kids make up a surprising and inventive story during dinner about tiny astronauts that live in their corn, I respond with laughter and praise their imagination.

When they make up a surprising and inventive story during dinner about how they ate all of their asparagus and didn’t feed it to the dog, while I’m watching the dog eat their asparagus, I respond with a lecture about lying.

I can see how sometimes they might get confused.

But there are other times when they make an attempt to mix the two up on purpose. How do I know it? I know it because they try to make the lies absurdly funny so that I will laugh and spare them a trip to time out.

Case in point:

Mr. B comes running into the kitchen crying alligator tears one evening. Between pitiful sobs he manages to sputter, “My brother hit me!”

When I arrive to their room I see Mr. C standing with his hands folded behind his back, glancing around nonchalantly. Nope, nothing suspicious going on in here.

“Mr. C,” I say in my best ‘Dada is serious’ tone, “did you hit your brother?” He doesn’t even pause to reflect.

He raises his palms and eyebrows like a cartoon character and deadpans, “I just sang him a little song.”

I chuckle before I can catch myself. His response is so far from what I am expecting (a flimsy attempt at denial) that it hits me right in the funny bone.

He still goes to time out, so his ruse doesn’t work completely. But he scores a partial success that day and he won’t soon forget.

Pro Tip: If your kid cracks you up when you are trying to seriously administer discipline, go ahead with the discipline to maintain consistency, despite your laughter. Just be prepared that you have now green-lit a series of comical performances that will cause you to struggle keeping a straight face in the future.


In Conclusion

I dare you to hit your co-worker then plead in court that you just sang him a little song. You will be in jail so fast that a cup of Pruno will instantly appear in your hand. Toddlers live by a different set of rules than the rest of us.

Fortunately, this just means that we have to adjust the way we play the game of parenting to compensate.

How have your kids figured out how to troll / manipulate / trick you?

What solutions do you employ to respond to them?

How One Mom Made me Cry Alligator Tears in Starbucks

technology, iPhone 4As I was sitting in Starbucks one day, I decided to google “saying no to electronics.”  Just to see who was saying no, how they were saying no, and why they were saying no.

I had no idea that minutes later tears would be streaming down my face.

I found Renee Robinson by clicking on her article “A Letter to my Sons (The Real Reason I Say No to Electronics).”

I have been looking for 3.5 years for the words that Renee has written.  This is exactly how I feel in regard to technology and family life.  I feel like I could have written this, yet I couldn’t have because I didn’t know the words until I read Renee’s.

I enjoyed the part about wanting her boys to be able to look people in the eyes and speak to them.  To not feel a constant need to be entertained and distracted.

I could go on and on and on.

It is clear there was a huge reaction and many hearts moved by her letter and I wanted to speak with her more.

What follows is my interview with Renee, with thought on the approaches to limited electronics and advice for parents dealing with a fast-paced schedule and family life.

What challenges or fears did you face when you were establishing your parenting approach concerning electronics?  (More specifically, the marriage between electronics and quality family time.)

When my boys were young, I found myself captivated by the wonder of life I saw in their eyes.  They were so imaginative and creative, and I wanted to foster that.

My middle son has always gravitated towards electronics.    I saw how he was captivated with electronics like he was with life.  It became all he thought of, which is when we realized we needed to be very intentional in creating boundaries.

One of our concerns was how to create healthy boundaries that didn’t make our children feel so different or send them away from home to friends’ houses that had more liberal rules with electronics.

As our boys have gotten older, another challenge has been feeling left out of conversations with other kids about certain games.  That certainly happens.  But we have decided we would rather choose that consequence, which is short term, than suffer a long term consequence of distant relationships with our boys because we have lost out on time with them.

How did you overcome those challenges and fears?  

To overcome our fears and challenges we have discussed frequently and openly the “why” behind our rules.  We want them to understand we aren’t trying to be mean or make them set apart from everyone else.

When creating family rules, we tried to establish rules that gave them freedom in their choices and allow enough electronic usage that they didn’t feel deprived.

What were the results?comforting

I feel like our children understand why we have the rules we have.  They see the benefits in being engaged with us and others in public rather than distracted by devices.

They have also recognized the times we’ve become loose in our rules and the consequences in their own attitudes and behaviors.  We have used our times of leniency to show them the effects.

What advice would you give to parents struggling with a fast-paced family schedule?

This is a constant challenge we face.

As our kids get older, this is becoming harder.

Certain seasons bring about more difficult schedules.  In our family summer and winter are slow seasons, so we take advantage and spend as much time as possible together.

I’m a firm believer in quantity over quality.  I feel time spent together is always quality to a child.  They need as much of our time as we can give them.

When schedules become intense, I suggest setting certain non-negotiables that can maintain your sanity.  For instance, is it possible to have at least one meal together every day as a family.  Even when schedules go crazy, if we can sit together for at least one meal a day, we can connect.

Spending time chatting before bed is a good time in our family.  This is especially true when schedules are tough. It’s a time to discuss the day and refocus our attention to each other.

I also suggest families determine what items can be removed from the schedule and practice saying no more often.  I say no to more than I say yes to.  I’d like to say yes to everything, but when I say yes to one thing, I say no to another. When my plate begins to fill, I try to determine what can be removed before adding one more thing to the plate.

What resources, tips or tools can parents use to help them and their family navigate a family life that includes limiting technology and increasing imagination and togetherness?

Allow the children to take part in coming up with alternative ideas to spending time together is really fun.  We have Family Fun Fridays.  Together we created a large list of ideas for Fun Friday ideas.  A night we spend together (this will look different in families depending on ages and stages of life).  We do throw in a Wii night or a movie night periodically.  But we have ideas such as pillow fights, hide-and-seek, game night, Foosball tournaments, etc.

I also think establishing rules together is a good way to work towards balance.  Rules such as no electronics in restaurants, at the dinner table, at family outings, etc.  And determining for your family what your goals are before setting the rules.

a letter to my sonsRenee is the author of Seeking Christmas – Finding the True Meaning Through Family Traditions. She writes at www.renee-robinson.com where she inspires others in their journey of faith.  Her writing includes topics of everyday faith and family.  She is married to her high school sweetheart and the mother of 3 boys.  She lives with her family in Davidson, North Carolina.