Have you ever walked in the house after a long day when you’re stressed out and exhausted and created the latest episode of “dads behaving badly”? I can recall several times in my parenting journey where I had moments that wouldn’t be shown on my highlight reel.
Every parent has been there, and while you can’t change the past, you can prepare yourself to win those interactions in the future. It starts with evaluating yourself after those moments of regret and self-coaching to manage your triggers in the future.
As fathers, it’s my belief we all have some sort of deep-rooted insecurity. If you couple male insecurity with the stresses of life and career, it might explain why we react to those we love the most with words or actions that we wouldn’t do or say to someone we despise.
In this article, I will share why we as fathers fall victim to parenting moments we regret and how we can prepare to win future interactions with our kids.
Why Fathers React
I can think of a time recently where I came home and wasn’t at my best. I was stressed out from my work day, and I walked in the house and I heard my boys going crazy in their bedroom, which they had just destroyed. I should have calmly walked into their room and said in a steady tone, “Guys you know this is not what we do. You need to have responsibility for your things, and you’re clearly showing me that you don’t.”
Instead of doing that, I ended up raising my voice, and I even kicked one of the toys into the closet. Not good. I completely lost my temper. It was so ridiculous looking back on it, but I recognized it had nothing to do with my kids and their toys being everywhere.
I overreacted because I was stressed out about work. Yelling and kicking my son’s toy was my way of taking it out on my children because I felt disrespected.
Isn’t it so much easier to react to our circumstances and take the negative environment we’re in and apply it to a person? What a complete moment of failure.
I don’t want my kids thinking I’m a rage monster, and they don’t know or understand the fact that I had a stressful day at work. Instead of making excuses for my bad behavior, I decided to take the necessary steps so I wouldn’t react this way in the future.
Focus on the Problem, Not the Person
One of those steps was learning to focus on the problem and not the person. It works much better to say, “Boys, the problem is you agreed to have your room cleaned before bed each night and based on what I’m seeing, you’re going to be in here for a while.” I’m constantly searching for the problem and using it to respond appropriately.
Why does this matter? Because you build your relationship with your kids in small steps. Parenting is not done in one big fell swoop; it’s made in the incremental moments.
You need to look at each situation as a chance to enhance or detract from your relationship with your kids. Every time you view them as a blessing and not a burden, you’re more likely to respond appropriately and move the relationship forward.
If you do this the right way when they’re young, it sets the foundation for when they get older, when they’re a teenager and something really big occurs. The little moments add up.
I’m learning to take every opportunity and small opening my kids give me to engage them in conversation. This most often comes in the form of “Dad, can you help me with something?” When I hear those words, I jump at the chance to engage because I know those moments could be fleeting as my kids enter their teenage years and adulthood.
I don’t ever want to create a situation where my kids think they are bothering me or I’m critical in my response, because the older they get, the higher the stakes of the conversation, and I want to be there as a guide when it matters most.
Prepare for Each Parenting Phase
As you advance through the stages of parenting you will find that your role evolves over time. When your kids are young you will be in training mode.
This is when you are firm with them or even yell at them if appropriate, like when they’re about to ride their bike out into the street. In that moment it’s appropriate to yell at them at the top of your lungs because you’re saving their life or preventing serious injury.
After the training phase, you will move into the teacher phase of parenting. This is where you not only say don’t do that but now you also explain why. The fact that I have four kids who are split between the training and teaching phases of parenting is one of the biggest challenges I face. It’s easier and more convenient to tell my older kids “NO” as a training parent, but that’s not the response they need or deserve.
The third phase of parenting is what I like to think of as “the wise old sage” phase. This is where my kids come into my office late one night as a teenager or call me from college and say, “Dad, can I talk to you about something?”
I dream of these moments as a parent; however, I’ve come to realize that I will only be allowed to become the wise sage if I handle the training and teaching opportunities well when my kids are young. The more they begin to see me as a provider of wisdom now, the more likely we will continue that relationship into the future.
Take Time to Reflect and Visualize
So how do you practically apply these principles and get yourself in a frame of mind to respond appropriately? One way I’ve been able to retrain my brain to respond in the right way is by taking a few minutes when I pull in the driveway after work to meditate and prepare myself so that when I walk in, I win in the moment regardless of the situation.
If I don’t take time to prepare, my lizard brain and a visceral reaction will likely come out.
Visualization is another tool, picturing in your mind what it looks like to walk in the house and engage your wife and kids in an appropriate way after a stressful day. I know it may sound a bit extreme, but if you visualize it, you’ve got a much better chance of your vision actually happening. The alternative is jumping out of your car, flying into the house, getting whacked upside the head, and reacting without thinking.
Trust me. It works. Athletes and other professionals use visualization all the time to improve their performance. Dads can use it, too, to respond appropriately.
The days are so long but the years are so short. The years—and the opportunity to impact your kids and build the foundation and framework for them to be good kids who become great adults—really are so short. Let’s make the most of them.
For more advice on winning interactions with your children, you can find the book Daddy Saturday on Amazon.
Justin Batt aims to disrupt fatherhood with intentionality, by creating intentional fathers who raise good kids who become great adults. He founded Daddy Saturday in his own backyard with his four children, and it’s grown into a national movement engaging fathers across multiple channels, including YouTube, social media, the Daddy Saturday book, an Alexa skill, a podcast, merchandise, live events, and a 501(c)(3) foundation, through which Justin plans to impact 10 million fathers in the next 10 years.
Adapted from Daddy Saturday.