Before I start I want to state one thing very clearly. Although I have at times been ‘an angry dad’ I have never used physical violence against my children. I’ve never hit them or shoved them or even threatened to do so.
I’ve been a parent for 17 years and I am rubbish at it. No, I’m not fishing for compliments by being falsely self deprecating, I truly am rubbish.
One of the key things you need to be in order to succeed at parenting is maturity. I believe you also need a sense of fun and immense reserves of energy but in order for this to have any effect, you need to be mature.
I’m not universally panning my parenting skills, but as the years have passed I’ve come to see that because our culture favours youth to such an extent, there is little encouragement in the world around us to be mature.
I don’t mean by that being boring,wearing grey shoes and reading the Daily Mail, I mean not behaving like a child. Not sulking when things don’t go your way, or not expressing anger when your children don’t do as you’ve asked them, being able to see the big picture, the long term, basically being a grown up.
I am very good at being a child among children, showing off, making them laugh. This isn’t altogether negative; complex word play, long running games and in jokes and the joy of laughter are a very important aspect of parenting, but it’s when the chips are down that I fail.
Rising above the petty torments and grievances that teenage children shower you with has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. I’ve almost got there now but it’s been a slow and painful journey full of doubt and self criticism.
Raising children is in my case a joint effort, my kids do have one mature parent, their mother. We have raised them together, like, according to the whole conservative obsession with ‘family’ being the bedrock of society, we are meant to.
But, and I say this with massive respect to my wife, it is often easier to tend to the children alone. Okay, I admit that I do this in the knowledge that their mother is in the background, but the complexities of the relationships in a family are so tightly woven that there is something simplified when only dad is there, and I get asked a question and the answer is no. No, you cannot go to the all night rave party because you are only 14. It’s simple, there is no discussion, no argument. You hate me, fine, hate away.
Whenever I have done this with clarity and without anger or malice, the anger directed at me dissolves very quickly and we carry on happily together.
When there are two of us there our children are now grand masters at divide and rule. Mum said I could have a new puppy. Dad said it was fine for me to set fire to my room etc.
We don’t always agree on how to bring them up, but when it comes to the crunch, when the difficult decisions have to be made which I would rather ignore in the vain hope that they will go away, she has been a rock.
At the start it was easy. Babies are delightful, they don’t argue back and their demands, though taxing, are simple and predictable. Although I was older than many parents when I started (I was 37 and 40 when my kids were born) I was still utterly unprepared. Most of my peer group had much older children when I had babies, I’d even looked after some of those children occasionally, but having my own was a massive step up.
There’s no need to go on about the sheer joy and wonder my children bestowed on me, tiny moments I’ll never forget. Walking across a Welsh car park in the rain with my three year old son when he said out of the blue ‘I love you dad.’ Unbelievable, it stopped me breathing, it made all the lack of sleep, the restrictions on my time, the stress, all of it melted away.
Watching my daughter thread beads in the shade of an Italian garden, he tongue just sticking out of her mouth as she concentrated on making her tiny fingers complete the complex task. Silencing moments.
But looking back now as I am starting to get more time to myself, I see a trail of regrets, of missed opportunities, of pointless frustration and anger that damaged me and my children. Once I managed to reach a place where I didn’t get angry with my children (about 3 years ago) I noticed something very profound.
They didn’t behave any better, they still left lights on, wet towels on the floor, but far more importantly, they didn’t get any worse. In fact, the communication between us became more frequent and far more enjoyable. I wish I had learned how not to get angry before I had children, I wish I had talked about how angry my mother was and how I picked up on that and passed it on. Sadly it’s too late and now, unless they are supremely sensible, my children will no doubt pass this anger inheritance on to their children.
However they will have seen that dad changed, that dad managed to stop being angry and they might therefore see that it is possible to change the way they behave in quite fundamental ways.
Sadly my own mother never found that, she was popular and charming with her peers, a very loving and attentive mother to her children but due to her own upbringing, a very angry woman to her dying day.
As the generations pass, all we can do is try and make one step. My father couldn’t swim, I learned to swim as an adult before my son was born. My son swims like a dolphin, it’s a joy to watch. My mum was angry, so was I. I have managed to stop, not by suppressing the anger and finding it leak out somewhere else in my life, but by discovering the source of the anger and understanding it and moving on.
Now, when I find another wet towel on the floor, I pick it up. I just don’t get angry. I still say, ‘guys, pick your towels up after you’ve had a shower, hang them over the towel rail or put them in the laundry basket.’
In the last few months, they actually started doing it without being asked. Extraordinary break through.