Good parenting is not unlike being able to drink large amounts of alcohol. Let me explain.
In college I drank a little bit. And by a little bit I mean everyday. Ultimately this was not a positive aspect of my life, but the one good thing that came out of it was a supremely high tolerance. At the height of my college days I could take down a case of beer during one night and—while I was still drunk—I was also still functional and upright while some of my peers were passed out or falling over.
I know, you’re wondering how I’m going to possibly bring this back to parenting. And the answer is “tolerance.”
If you have (or currently are) dealing with a 3-year-old you know they can be evil little monsters. In addition to testing their boundaries at every opportunity, they’ve also learned to talk. Which means they’ve learned how to cop an attitude and talk back. Will has been particularly whiny for the last couple of months, and each time he doesn’t get his way he throws attitude and whines our way.
When I was Will’s primary caretaker I knew this and dealt with it on a daily basis. I was prepared for it. My skin was thick and it took a lot to penetrate my defenses. After all, if you discipline your kids with timeouts or make them pick up their toys when they don’t want to, you get used to hear him whine and it just becomes background noise.
But all that has changed.
I’ve been working at my new job for a month now. Four hours of commuting a day means I see him for five minutes in the morning and an hour or so at night. All day long I miss him and desperately want to get home to him. I put all the whining, temper-tantrums and negative stuff out of my head and view Will through the rose-colored glasses of a working dad who just wants to get home and have Kodak moments with his little boy.
This, of course, is completely unrealistic since I’m bound to catch some of his whiny moods. Especially as he prepares for bath and bed, because he NEVER wants his day to end or to go to sleep.
Yet I expect a well-behaved boy who’s happy to see me and wants to drop whatever he’s doing to spend precious minutes with me. But what I get is a whiny, normal 3-year-old. The only problem is I have no tolerance for the whining anymore. I’m never around it and so I’m very thin-skinned now. That means I come home, he whines, I get frustrated and yell at him, he yells at me, I give him a timeout, he gets more pissed off and soon it’s time for bed. And I’ve spent my 30 minutes of father-son time yelling at him and disciplining him.
It’s tough and I don’t have an answer or solution at the moment. I know I don’t want our brief daily interactions to consist of punishments, but that whining seems to go through me like nails on a chalkboard these days. I know that’s perfectly normal for a kid his age and I’m expecting way too much of him, but I can’t help it. It’s just another shitty part of being a part-time commuter dad.
Maybe I should work some of that alcohol back into the equation…