When it comes to having patience with my children, I often find that the hardest part is remembering that they do not have the experience or knowledge that I have. It is common for me to say, “what in the world were you thinking?” Some of the things that my daughters do amaze me (and not always in a positive way). I can’t tell you how many times I have picked my youngest up off the ground after she fell off a chair she was standing on, only to find that she went back to standing on the chair. My two oldest girls fight with each other over issues that make absolutely no sense. When I tell them that they need to get along with each other, they just stare at me with a blank expression on their face. My kids have a lot of learning to do, and so do yours. There are going to be times that our kids surprise us with the lack of wisdom and forethought that they show, but it is our responsibility to be patient and understanding regardless.
I remember asking my 5-year-old daughter what she would like to be when she grows up. I anticipated that she would say that she wanted to work with animals, that she would be a stay-at-home mom like her mother, or that she would want to be in some kind of helping field. Instead, she said, “I want to be a unicorn when I grow up.” When we are talking about rational decision-making, I have to remember that this is what I am working with. My daughters don’t have a clue about how the world works or how they should be acting. Kids start out with behaviors that are more animalistic than human at the beginning. It is our responsibility to introduce those human concepts like sharing, selflessness, planning, and self-control. We guide our children toward these characteristics through role modeling, discipline, and answering all those random questions that they have.
Someone recently shared something with me that I believe applies here. She said that when she is trying to understand someone’s atypical response to a situation, she asks herself, “Under what conditions or in what mindset would these actions make sense?” I often have to ask the same question when trying to understand my daughters. When I try to put myself in their shoes, I often find the compassion needed to be patient with my children. Instead of saying things like, “You have got to be out of your mind,” I instead think to myself, “Of course she cut her hair. She saw her friend do it and she thought that it must be okay to do.” Obviously, I need to explain to my daughter that cutting her hair is not a wise decision, but I can’t automatically assume that she would know this without learning.
I think we often take for granted that we made stupid decisions as a kid too. I can recall at least a million or two dumb things that I did as a kid. In fact, I imagine that it is only by some miracle that I am still alive. There were times that I had to learn the hard way. I skinned my knees; I put myself in embarrassing situations; I brought shame to my family. Other times, I learned from the dumb decisions that my peers made, or from watching how a tv character was responded to by other characters. With time, the number of poor decisions that I made became less and less. I have grown from experience, as will your children. Sometimes we have to take a step back from our own understanding and try to see the world through their little eyes. If we can do that, then we can create a safe environment for our children to grow and learn from past mistakes.
I may have mentioned this before, but in case I haven’t (or you haven’t heard this yet), here’s a thought: we don’t always have to be hard on our children. Sometimes our kids do things that are out of character. It is in these times that we really need to try to put ourselves in our children’s shoes. Sometimes our kids are just as confused about their actions as we are, and if we push too hard, we may do more harm than help. Consider this- have you ever had a time that you did something completely uncalled for and very much “not you?” When I have been in these times, it wasn’t too long after before I realized that something hidden to my awareness was affecting me emotionally. What was bothering me in one area of my life was showing up in others. This can happen to our children too. Sometimes their poor reaction to a situation has nothing to do with what is going on externally, but instead more of what is going on internally. It is during these times that our extra experience and wisdom really come in handy.
This is my challenge for you for the week- when your children act “out of character” or when they respond in a way that makes you question their sanity, try to take a moment to ask yourself what they might be experiencing. Try to think about what lessons they could learn that will help turn them from the hoodlums they are now to stand-up men or women. Our kids aren’t going to learn how to behave on their own (at least, not as easily). They need us to be emotionally available, bring our wisdom to the plate, and model the kinds of behaviors that we want them to follow. Try to see the world through their little eyes this week.
As always, stay Rock Solid, dads!
Brian Faust is the Fatherhood Program Coordinator of Rock Solid Fatherhood in Warsaw, IN. He is the husband of the world’s best wife and father of three beautiful girls. He has nearly a decade of mentorship and mental health experience. Brian has a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Grace College. It is his desire to come alongside men of all walks of life as they embrace their role as partner and father with rock solid strength.