My oldest son is a lot like me. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of differences and we appreciate each of our children for their own individual selves and all that. But it’s the ways in which Eliah is clearly a lot like me that, well, scares me. Okay, wait. Not just the ways in which Eliah is like me. It’s also the ways in which I feel like I’m behaving like my dad. There’s a lot to admire about my dad. A lot. Things between us have come a long way, especially in the latter half of my life. It’s been great. But so much of what I wanted to be as a dad–at least to my young sons–was a reaction against my “old man.”
Parenting, I now know, is hard. Being a parent has changed my perspective about all that ‘what my parents did to me’ stuff, and has given me important insight into what I never saw very clearly until far after the fact. Myself.
Sometimes it’s just a little thing that sets an otherwise ordinary, or even positive evening, into a downward spiral. This evening was shaping up to be one of those.
I tried hard not to be wordy, to talk too much and cloud the issue. But I was doing it in spite of myself. I was saying, “I want us to start all over. I want you to take responsibility for your own actions instead of point the finger of blame (I was actually saying ‘finger of blame’), and acting defensive and denying everything. This can be the last time you’ll ever have a consequence if you’ll learn from this. If you’ll be honest. That’s what’s so upsetting, not that you were sneaking a few moments on the TV downstairs (after all we’d been through this past week about ‘screen time’), but that you’re not owning up to it.” Stuff like that.
To keep everything from going too abstract, and to give him some “connective tissue,” I gave him an illustration of Papa, my own father. While there is plenty that I can see in the personality similarities between each of us first-borns (three first born males in a row), my own dad, Papa, seems to have reacted/responded in a strikingly different way than either I did, or than Eliah seems to be trending toward. I said, “You know, Papa’s mom and dad were much harder on him than he was to me, or than mommy and I are to you. They would spank him hard and a lot. Sometimes with a belt for all kinds of reasons. For talking disrespectfully. For being dishonest. They were very strict. And you know what? Even though he didn’t always think their punishments were fair, he respected them and he did what they asked. He learned from his consequences, and that’s what I want you to do.”
This was the grand finale. I was bringing home my point through a narrative, through a family illustration, through an emotional plea. He said, “Well you sure don’t know anything about what it means to be a nine-year-old today.” Is he nine or nineteen?
Am I really that old? Or is a nine-year-old just so wrapped up in the ego-self that he can’t see beyond his “consequences”? Maybe I should just let more slide.
Have I mentioned that parenting is hard?