Dad on Repeat

Apple never made a product called the iPod Repeat. Who in their right mind would buy a device that repeated the same song again and again?

Lately, I feel like the iPod Repeat of parents. I’ve become a monotonous, annoying, robot-like dad who is constantly on repeat with the things I say to my kids.

Instead, I’m aspiring to be the iPod Shuffle of fathers.

Here’s a list of things I feel that I say over and over and over to my boys, 3 and 2, oftentimes at an uncomfortably loud volume:

“Do you understand me?”

“Do you want to go in timeout?”

“Be careful!”

“What happened?”

“What did you do?”

And, of course, the dreaded, “Because I said so!”

I’ve become so predictable that you could record me saying those things, put a string on my back and pull it every 15 minutes. I never meant for this to happen, you understand. I’ve simply become a creature of my bad habits and my lack of patience. The worst part is that the more I churn out these lame, ineffectual phrases, the more ineffective I become as a parent.

Last week, I had an epiphany. I was on vacation with my wife and kids in Maryland to visit my family and I watched one of the boys’ grandparents play with my sons. The kids got rowdy and acted up. They refused to share. They played too rough. Yet despite all their misbehaving, my family member never lost her cool. She was firm but fair and used a kind yet direct tone to cut through their antics and get them back in line. Color me jealous.

She found a way to deal with their shenanigans that left me both awed and embarrassed. At moments where I would have been ready to gouge out my own eyeballs, she summoned the ability to distract the boys, calm them and reorient them to a new task. And they were none the wiser. It happened in a nanosecond, with no tools necessary, only her wit and wisdom. She was like the MacGyver of grandparents.

What I witnessed was a caregiver who was willing to flip the script — rather than getting angry or screaming, she smiled and discovered a teachable moment. Rather than punishing, she cheered them on. Rather than descending into threats and ultimatums, she found room for growth. Rather than bribing them into better behavior, she promised them nothing but her undivided attention.

Her gifts are many. First, there’s planning. She’s able to think several steps ahead of children and can anticipate potential land mines. Second, she avoids the knee-jerk reaction that is my calling card. By giving herself a few extra seconds to respond, she is able to grasp the totality of a situation, search her mental database for a response and follow it through. Third, it’s not in her nature to yell. Big win there.

My children adore her. They know that she is fun but they also never pull any stunts on her. And for her greatest trick, I’ve seen her defuse a problem without words or eye contact — just a simple touch. Watching her ply her trade I learned that there isn’t a set number of responses to each parenting crisis we encounter. We can zig when we are naturally inclined to zag. And the result might be an outcome that teaches us a new technique that leads to deeper communication and problem-solving with our children.

After watching her, I’m trying to delete the repeat option and retire those tired phrases I mentioned above. I’m working on putting myself on shuffle.
Photo credit: Digitalnative / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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