The Perils of Parenting
[The musical inspiration I chose for this week’s post is “Hell-N-Back” from Bakar. Inspiration for the photo I chose is at the end of this article.]
The other night I was in the kitchen and noticed an open container of ice cream that somebody left out. Something was particularly bothersome about this errant, ice cream sighting, and I found my way briskly into the drama triangle.
As sometimes happens, I found myself, playing the villain, saying something like this:
“17 is once again more concerned about getting what he wants and doesn’t really care about helping around the house.”
I also played the victim a bit, saying something like this in my head:
“I give a lot, I pay for a lot, I do a lot, and I don't get a lot back, just more requests for money, more time to play, and a general unawareness of what I actually do every day to make life possible for everyone.”
It’s a little embarrassing to admit that these were my actual thoughts, but thanks for not Dad-shaming me too much. :)
I frustratedly yelled out: “Hey 17, did you leave the ice cream out?!”
I waited for his response and he didn't respond in a way that I was very happy with. It was something like, “Yeah, Dad, I got it.” I interpreted his tone as dismissive of what I had been going through, and I subsequently went on a bit of a tirade, trying to share how important it was to start contributing and not be so selfish.
I don't think he had any idea this relatively thick onslaught was about to come pouring down upon him — he tried to defend himself a few times during the conversation, but I really wasn't having any of it. He was just an “entitled teenager” and he needed to do better.
That's all I was ready to discuss at the moment.
In hindsight, he was incredibly patient with me. And was really controlling his temper a lot better than I was. I was jumping to a lot of conclusions without asking any questions.
Even though I was mad at him, I noticed how he was staying really calm and respectful. This curiosity about his relative calmness was probably the first moment where my curiosity began to pull me back above the line.
I just kind of walked away from the situation and said that I needed time to think.
After that, I went on a walk with Barbie and my dog, and Barbie was nice enough to let me talk the majority of the time about how hard it was to be a parent and how hard it is for me to hold space for these kids I love, and to be patient with them as they develop into adulthood and take on the attributes of “mature” people.
I started thinking a bit more about my role in this argument tonight. What was I really mad at, anyway? Some of my top values include grit, passion, challenge, wisdom, and connection. I wondered how holding onto those values too tightly might be alienating me from my own son. Am I seeing the world so narrowly, through my own values, like grit, that it’s getting in between the love I want him to feel from me?
I'm not trying to justify leaving an open ice cream container out on the bar. That’s not cool. But as I thought about it, my anger really came from a place that was definitely much deeper than ice cream.
I think somewhere buried in all the tension was a story of me being scared. Scared that my son might be “hurt” somehow because he might screw things up in life. And somehow that would be my fault.
But watching him stay calm while I was angry was really impressive. And I’m really learning to trust his wisdom, too, and question my own.
I wondered how many relationships might be negatively impacted because we simply value something just a bit too much.
In a way, a good thing that can actually become a bad thing. Especially if we get angry every time someone doesn’t value things the way we do.
I’m a huge advocate for being passionate about the things we value deeply — and living our lives in alignment with those values. And...when someone shows up differently than I do in the world, I hope for the patience to listen to their wisdom.
And when I don’t agree, that’s fine. But do I see the person as a whole, a good person who simply has a set of different values? Or does their “non-compliance” with my values make me angry?
I want a world where we can trust each other. A world where we can hold space for the best version of each other. But that’s not my job, to regulate the world, I can only hope to figure out how to breathe a bit more and ask a few more questions to my son.
I’ve got a lifetime of work ahead of me, that’s almost 100% inside of me.
How could there ever be time for anything else?
I took the photo for this post overlooking a dormant volcano in Lake Panajachel, Guatemala. Q: Bonus points to the person who shares what this image might have to do with this article?