How Not To Parent A Toddler

Let’s start this post of by clarifying a few things…as I write these words I feel like a failure as a father, a husband, and possibly a human being.  I am not a patient person.  Putting myself into situations with a two-year-old is like tossing a mouse into a snake’s habitat…eventually the snake is going to eat the mouse…its just a question of when.  Last night I ate the mouse.

Max_RobotHeadMax is two so naturally he challenges everything around him and pushes his boundaries to test where they are.  Once you establish where that boundary is, a two-year-old will continue to test it non-stop to see if that boundary changes.  You can read every parenting book out there and learn all about how you have to be patient, be calm, and remember that how you react is what they will emulate and respond to.  In real life that means squat to a guy like me.  We’ve all got that friend whose dog is a jerk and snarls at you the moment you walk in the door.  Your friend says some B.S. like, “You just have to show him you’re not afraid of him and be the Alpha.”  Right…meanwhile I’m sitting on your couch while a spike-collared killing machine is staring at my tenders and growling louder and louder.  Yeah…I’m showing fear.  So when my two-year-old refuses food, throws a toy, slaps me in the face, or breaks something intentionally I have a hard time showing patience and calmness.

“Oh…did you break the family heirloom intentionally because it made a fun sound even though I’ve told you thirty times a day to leave it alone and now you’re slapping at me and throwing your toys at Daddy’s nice expensive flat screen TV because you know that is no, no, no?  You’re hitting me in the face while I’m trying to tell you why the heirloom is no, no, no and explain how we don’t throw toys or hit Daddy in the face?”  Are you screaming as loud as possible in the most annoying sound you can conjure just to get a rise out of me?  Well I’m being patient and speaking to you in my calm voice because the parenting book said…”

Then the kid scratches you in the face.  Are you calm?  Are you patient?  If I walked up to you and called you an asshole while kicking you in the crotch would you react calmly?  No.  I know Max is two and doesn’t have the reasoning comprehension I have…but I’m fed up little mouse.

spaghetti-meatballsRefusing food is Max’s new thing, and let me tell you…it is a blast!  They refuse to eat, demand games or TV instead, then get starving later, and wake up in a bad mood because they are famished.  Its fun.  Pretty much every kid goes through this phase and there are billions of posts online about what you can do to work with it, counter it, etc.  If you want to know how to handle it properly please feel free to research it online or read the inevitable comments to this post from other parents sharing how they have had success.  Last night I was done.  I was done with the games, the tantrums, the whining, the hitting, the everything.  Max refused his dinner and found it hilarious.  He hasn’t been eating at school either.  We’ve been working to not feed him so he is forced to use his fork and feed himself…but it is so much easier to not eat, throw a tantrum later, and have one of us feed him to get him to sleep.  Last night Dada was done playing games when I walked in the door from work.  I did the patient thing for a while, and as soon as I saw it was going to unfold into the full game with the inevitable outcome…I changed the rules.

“Max, you have two options…you can eat dinner and then I will read you two books and tuck you in OR you can not eat dinner and go straight to bed without any food, books, or tuck-tucks.”

Max made a grunting sound and shoved his food.  I repeated the same sentence.  Max grunted again and said, “I just want milk.”  He then chugged his milk and said, “All done!”  He then began pleading his case to watch Thomas the Train and stay up all night.  I offered to let him watch 10 minutes of Thomas with me instead of books if he ate his dinner.  I even clarified the offer by asking that he take 5 bites.  With a wry smile he then tested me and said, “I’ll go straight to night, night.”  A few moments later I took a screaming and kicking child upstairs to his room, yanked his shoes off, tossed his pants in the laundry, plunked him in bed, and walked out with the door slammed behind me.  It was at that moment that I became a bad parent and a bad husband.  While my wife and I are both fine to send Max to bed without his dinner…the manner in which I reacted angrily and sent him to bed was wrong according to every parenting book and the opinions of my wife.  Supposedly, I have taught my son how to scream and push back more.  I’m teaching him to fight.  I know this.  I’ve read the same friggin’ books.  20/20 hindsight, for sure…but in the moment?  In the moment I was reduced to my primal self.

Snake with MouseHere’s a shocker…I got suspended from high school multiple times for resolving issues with my fists, got expelled from one school for reasons still unclear to me, almost didn’t graduate college for an incident with a chair and a car, have spent a few nights in county lock-up, and the one time I was ever mugged I got my wallet back plus the mugger’s wallet and still have his teeth impressions on my knuckles to prove it.  I am a hot head.  As an adult I just shout a bit, get away from the situation, kick something over, and have a drink at the bar with a friend.  Later…when I’m calm…I return to the situation.  The only thing my fists have touched in decades are boxing gloves or that one time I beat up the patio table.  I love my kids…but they drive me crazy…and I’m only a few years in.  I was impatient before kids and I’m still impatient after kids.  I had a short fuse before kids and I still have a short fuse after kids.  I’m actually more patient now because I have to be…but it is not a change that happens naturally…it is a change that happens because I have to even though everything in my body is screaming to fight back.  So today I feel like a failure as a parent because I lost my temper in front of my child.  I feel like a failure as a husband because my wife doesn’t understand why I can’t just react calmly like her.  I feel like a failure of a human being because I want to be a good father, a good husband, and a calm person…but I’m better at yelling than I am at waiting.

This is real life.  This is not in the parenting book.  There is no moral to the story here nor advice on how to handle the situation…my advice is drink a beer and excuse yourself from the situation till you are calm enough to deal with it and talk about it.  However beware…by doing that you are not participating in the parenting moment and are therefore being a bad husband (and parent).  Parenting sometimes just feels like you are losing.  You’re trying to raise kids but they are pushing back.  They are changing you.  It’s a gauntlet.  If you are a patient person you’ll do fine and all the answers you are looking for are in books out there and in your own mind.  If you are not a patient person (like me) you have to either learn to be patient or accept that there is some stuff you are just going to suck at…luckily the things you suck at will make you feel terrible as a person.  There is no worse feeling than the feeling of letting a little kid down.  Last night I pulled Max out of bed at Midnight and took him into my bed where I held him for over an hour…wishing I hadn’t yelled at him…but he remembers.  He told me so at breakfast this morning.  Maybe there should be a book for parents like me who feel like they are failing.  Maybe this is it?  If so, here is my moral to the story:

Parenting requires compromise and sometimes that means compromising who you are.

That’s it.  Not every post here is all sunshine and roses.  The roller-coaster is diving and I’ll write something nice when we’re climbing for the next plunge.


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9 thoughts on “How Not To Parent A Toddler

  1. Hey, please don’t feel so bad because you lost your temper once or bedtime was drama. I’m a mom and sometimes I suck at it or have a short temper due to the 50 other things going on in life outside of the mealtime slam. Sometimes our son plays one of us just to drag the other into the game. Sometimes my partner gets the “Toddler whisperer” trophy for the night. And sometimes I do. We passively agree to trade it back and forth. Max might remember the morning after, but in the larger scheme of things he won’t likely remember one night you felt like it could have gone differently, especially if you keep trying.

  2. Eh, don’t beat yourself up over it. Yeah, some parenting “expert” (read: salesman) would probably claim you’re just teaching him to fight or blow up or whatever, but in my mind, all you’ve taught him is that actions and attitudes have consequences, and that he can only push so far and so hard before who/what he’s pushing against pushes back. That to me, is a very good and important lesson to teach and learn.
    I’ve seen you with Max. You’re very patient, very calm, give him options, explain things to him, get his input, and always remind him that you love him and reinforce it with words & actions. That will all pay off in the long run.

    Until then… he’s two. Two-year-olds are assholes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  3. I slapped Max in the face earlier today. I felt instantly bad not because he was hurt—it was super soft & he was fine—but because I knew it was the wrong thing to do & I did it anyway. There was a split second when I could’ve stopped myself but I didn’t because for that other split second when he looked up at me in minor shock it felt good… and then instantly felt bad. I apologized & explained that he made me angry but that I shouldn’t hit him, he shouldn’t hit me, blah, blah. *Sigh* By that point he just seemed to be tuning me out and looking at his own reflection in my sunglasses.
    It’s not fair that my parenting moments like that happen in private & yours almost always have me as an audience. It is for that reason I’m writing this in a public forum. No one is the perfect parent or gets it right all the time. I know I don’t have the answers. I’m sorry for judging you for being too harsh – I know how I feel when you judge me or jump in because you think I’m being too lenient – it sucks and makes me angry. We’ll figure it out together… it just may require more deep breaths & “time outs” for us than we originally thought… booze helps too. I love you, I know you love us. Why don’t we all just give each other a bit of a break? xoxo

    1. It does make me feel better to know you suck as much as I do as a parent…or at least feel you suck as much as I do. I’m too harsh and your too lenient…poor kids are getting polar opposites from us and it won’t be long before they start using that against us. We must unite against them…with booze. I really want to start smoking again, how has it been 6 years?

  4. Ryan, you are a great Dad! No parent is perfect have you met us? Love your boys and Kate and do your best. When you feel you are at the end walk away even if it is two minutes take a breath and do what you know is best. We hope a visit to BL is in the works. We ALL miss our awesome neighbors! Love, A,C,O,C,N & E

  5. I found this blog after my 14 month old has scratched my face and pushed my buttons. I got upset because he touched the remote and the TV stopped working. Thankfully Google exists, but I felt horrible for screaming. Having a child is harder than I imagined.

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