I remember like yesterday walking in the door after work to what I believed were out-of-control children in my wife’s care. She’d lean into me for help and I’d quickly get the kids in line. “Why can’t Lynne get this?” I’d wonder.
Over time, however, I started seeing things a bit differently. As my kids grew older my seeming ability to quickly control them began to waver, and particularly my daughter seemed less interested in being alone with me.
I grew in my understanding about what had been going on all these years on the day my daughter rushed to her mother in tears because I had “yelled” at her. In my mind I had not even raised my voice, but was just getting firm in order to get her to behave.
Two things happened that day that helped reshape my thinking.
1) Instead of fighting Bethany’s battle for her, Lynne coached Bethany to talk directly to me. Bethany returned and said, “Daddy, when you talk that way to me I feel scared. I don’t want to feel scared of you, even if I’m not doing what I should be doing.”
2) Instead of feeling defensive (like I could have and had numerous times before), I somehow trusted her. This wasn’t a manipulative ploy to get out of trouble, it was her way of saying that I could address her misbehavior without scaring her. It helped me realize something even now I’m a bit ashamed to admit. I had been using intimidation to get what I wanted from my kids, AND I had condescended toward my wife because of how “good” I was at it.
That was the day I decided to quit scaring my kids in order to get my way.
I have since talked to a lot of dads who justify getting their kids to “obey” by scaring them. “Sometimes you just have to be firm.” Or, “Sometime kids just need to know who’s in charge.”
What’s sad to me is that many of the dads who think this way do two things they would never say they want to do:
1) They create distance and disconnection in their relationships with their kids.
2) They build resentment between their wives and themselves.
It was a hard pill to swallow, but that day I decided that intimidating my children into short-term obedience wasn’t worth it. I wanted my children to feel safe, not scared. I’ve been working to become a safer parent ever since.