Let’s just take a moment to look at one of many notes my daughter has written me recently.
Her spelling is not brilliant, but the message is pretty clear: “I love you Daddy, even though you are grumpy.”
To be honest, that’s a pretty tough message to get from your 8 year old daughter. It tells me so many things, most of which I am not particularly proud of. Yes, it tells me that she loves me, which is great and makes my heart swell. But it also tells me that when she thinks of me she thinks of me being grumpy. I know this isn’t a random, out of the blue thought because this isn’t the first time I have received a little note like it. The last one was drawn in the back of her diary which she sweetly described to me as “This is grumpy daddy demanding gluten free food.”
I can rationalize why her perception of me is one of grumpiness. I tend to take on the role of disciplinarian at home and probably use my “teacher” voice to command the kids far too frequently. Command – what an ass. I know that when I get home from work my patience is thin and often I don’t take a moment to just breath before responding to my children’s demands, outbursts or simple childish behavior. Frequently I find myself unhappy about events at work, or stressed about things out of my control and I fail to use a tone appropriate for my children.
But these are excuses. Symptoms. And I will no longer accept weak excuses for my inappropriate actions.
I have made a conscious effort to enforce a policy of “Kids first” and put in place a few things to help this:
The door to the study is closed when the kids are around. Often I would get caught up in work or personal projects and “fob” the kids off, or become grumpy when I was interrupted. When staring at the computer I caught myself reciting “In a minute” to the kids and getting upset with them when they came back a few minutes later. The solution is simple – don’t do that stuff when the kids are most likely to want my attention. This has meant re-prioritizing, choosing to spend time with kids in the afternoon and choosing to either work or watch TV in the evenings.
Sit at the table for dinner. Our family only started eating meals together after our holiday to New Zealand. Prior to that we didn’t even have enough chairs for everyone to sit at the table at the same time. Can you believe it – our son is ten this week and we were never in the habit of eating meals together. Turning the TV off, putting away phones and iPads (even our kids were taking them to the table) and sitting together to eat has become a routine. It has given us all much more time to enjoy each other, asking the kids what their favorite part of the day was and celebrating achievements together.
More time at work, less work at home. It may seem counterintuitive, but spending an extra 30 minutes or hour at work a few times a week has had a positive influence on my home life. Rather than racing out the office door at the end of the day and then trying to do more work at home, or worrying about the things I have to do the next day, I can clear the decks a little and go home in a better mood and give my full attention to my kids.
One-on-one time with the kids. Sometimes it is hard to present your best face when you have three kids all competing for your time to do very different things. So I have made a real effort to spend time alone with each of them. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or involved or really take a lot of time. Taking my son to a cafe, or the drive to Cubs with my daughter, or just reading an extra book before bed with my youngest. It all adds up and it all makes a difference.
In January I had the best holiday EVER with my family. I kid you not, I came back from New Zealand refreshed, invigorated, happy and excited. It was the wake up call I needed. On the drive back home from the airport I reflected on why the holiday was so good and the answer was easy. We didn’t have the Internet for two weeks; I didn’t do a spot of work, or even think about it; we lived in tiny hotel rooms in each other’s pockets and shared everything (including our meals – at a table together!); whenever the kids, or Kirsty, needed (or just wanted) my attention I was immediately available – there was no waiting for me to finish a task and no resentment on my side for being interrupted.
As I think about how I must have appeared to my children over the last year or so (and probably longer if I am being really honest with myself), I am mortified. My children deserve 110% of my attention, 110% of the time. I know that is not always going to happen, but they are going to get better from me. A lot better. All the motivation I need to change my life, the way I work and the way I think stand before me every day with smiling, eager faces. It is time for me to live up to their expectations.
Today I am linking with Essentially Jess and I Blog On Tuesdays.