Is it normal to beat yourself up as a parent?
I feel like every other night, after putting my head on the pillow, my mind races through replays of every little instance throughout the day where I might have done better. And too often, I walk around haunted by the thought that I’m a terrible dad.
My son is five years old and is a very sweet, sensitive and clever little boy. Like most kids his age, he is very particular about what he does and does not like and as parents, we benefit from the fact he is able to express himself very clearly.
He’s obsessed with Minecraft – a game we introduced him to in lockdown as it’s a little more educational and a lot less violent than most other titles kids are drawn towards. But, when raising a young family, every solution to a problem eventually produces another problem – requiring another solution.
Or at least, that has been my experience.
Despite being a bright little chap, it’s difficult to communicate with him sometimes. Chat to him about Wither Storms and Ender Dragons and you’ll enjoy his undivided attention.
Agree to buy him a toy or a computer game and he’ll remind you when it comes time to make good on your commitment, maybe even quoting verbatim what you said the previous day.
But ask him to put a sock on, pick a coat off the living room floor or chuck some orange peel in the bin and you might as well be talking to a brick wall. It’s not that he cannot hear us (he can, I have checked), it’s just that he isn’t very interested.
Now if raising a five-year-old was the only thing I had to do every day, I reckon this wouldn’t bother me, but it isn’t.
Like many readers, parenting is one of 100 things competing for my full attention and energy throughout the course of a day.
It begins with the morning routine, which I believe is really important.
No matter how well-prepared you are, by about 8.35am, it all goes a bit Raiders of the Lost Ark – you begin to feel like you are being pursued by a boulder of tasks and demands, racing the clock, through the narrow cavern of a school run, with a hungry cat at your feet.
Inevitably, there comes a point when I get frustrated with my boy. I’ll ask him to put his shoes on while I deal with his sister, only to return to find him straddling a banister bare-foot.
It’s as if I take his lack of concern for much of what I have to say personally.
I worry I’m getting something wrong. Is my expectation that he should be able to follow a simple instruction now and then, unrealistic? Does my parenting style need work? Or is he taking the mickey a wee bit, and if so, why?
Either way, I end up concluding that whatever the reason, it’s probably my fault. That I’m either too hard on him, too soft or trapped in a false choice between the two.
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When I’m stressed, I forget to try to see the world through his eyes. He becomes just another task in the never ending to-do list.
But when I toss and turn at night, replaying all the times throughout the day I was short with him, I remember how precious he is and it’s that sweet, sensitive little boy’s face seared in my mind.
Then I just want to wake him up and tell him I love him.