It’s my daughters’ last week off before school starts next week. And I’m taking the week off to be with them for one last bit of relaxation before the school-year grind begins.
I’ve done this the last couple of years. My wife has to work, so we don’t head to the beach. The kids and I just stay home and play.
The lack of structure is already wearing on me a bit. It should be a dream to have no schedule, no obligations. But I’m on day two and feeling restless. And occasionally feeling inept as a parent.
The three of us went to the pool yesterday afternoon. Usually that’s a sure-fire couple of hours of frivolous fun. This trip, however, was not a delight.
Walking in, the 8-year-old got mad at the 10-year-old about something and stuck chewing gum in her sister’s hair to make her point. (She later said she was aiming for her shoulder and her hair was just sort of in the way. Right…)
Gum in hair is a major kid crisis. And a parent nightmare.
Both girls ran into the bathroom and hid in separate stalls—the older sister to cry, the younger sister to hide. And I’m just dad, sitting outside the women’s locker room, waiting, wondering how to salvage the staycation afternoon.
They eventually emerged, a tangle of gum still in big sister’s hair and tears in her eyes and little sister still defiant, proclaiming her justification if not her innocence.
Injustice and plain meanness are the combination most likely to trigger any ill temper from me. But their delay in the locker room gave me time to pause and consider a response rather than a reaction.
I talked it out in the pool with each of them. It was lose-lose for me for a while. The 10-year-old didn’t think I was mad enough at the 8-year-old. The 8-year-old thought I was too mad at her. I was on the right track.
From a distance it’s easy to say how someone should react. But in the parenthood arena, face-to-face with your own kids and your own shortcomings, wisdom is a lot more elusive.
I do know that I would have regretted reacting out of anger. Pausing, even if you have to physically remove yourself from the emotion of the moment, will give you the best chance of choosing an effective response rather than simply reacting.
I know some people think a leader needs to show emotion, to let the team see some fire, even anger at the right time.
Not me. Seeing a leader rage at others or a parent going off on their child is a discouraging sight. I aspire to be the kind of leader and parent who chooses a response rather than vents a reaction. My ideal is a cool, calm, rational approach, even in the midst of the most stressful moments.
I don’t always, or even often, pull this off, and those are the cringe-worthy moments that stick with me in my regrets.
The girls ended the pool trip and the day with good spirits and sisterly affection. And with gum still attached to hair.
Fortunately, their mom came home that night and expertly removed the gum from the hair. She’s a superhero.
Thinking back on the gum incident, I’m reminded I should welcome the annoying little frictions of family life as well as all the toe-stubbing annoyances and button-pushing outrages we all face regularly with friends and strangers. They are opportunities to test our ability to respond, to master our emotions, to see even the most negative circumstance as a chance to learn and grow.