I remember the indescribable joy I felt the day my daughter was born—5 lbs, 5 oz of perfection. I didn’t even want to put her down because I felt I would somehow miss something.
As she’s grown up and become a toddler, it’s safe to say those feelings of bliss have run out the door. I love her, and I would willingly lay down my life for her without a moment’s hesitation, but I will be brave enough to admit there are days I wish kids came with receipts.
That said, continuing to watch her grow has taught me I have to examine my own feelings of selfishness, and that our children are not responsible for our happiness.
As dads, we naturally have a competitive spirit. We love to show off, and when our kids show an inclination toward a particular skill set, we have a tendency to shower them with a bit more affection than usual. God knows I’m guilty of this. My daughter and I have been bumping heads since pretty much the day she was born. Remember those “receipt” days I mentioned? Yeah, there have been a lot of those.
Anyway, one day, my wife and I were out shopping and I thought to bring home a soccer ball so my daughter and I could play in the yard. Lo and behold, she almost instinctively knew what to do. She’s also got a pretty strong leg. When discovering this, I found myself enjoying spending time with her more than usual—because it’s usually an all-day power struggle. But this time, I was enjoying my kid. I was happy.
Then I thought of something—was I having a genuinely good experience with my kid, or was I simply enjoying her because she showcased a skill set?
This caused me to think long and hard about how I’ve performed as a parent. Sure, she’s had all of her tangible needs met, but was I meeting the needs that really matter?
I tell this story to get parents to think about why they love their children. Do we love them because of how they perform, or do we love them because . . . we love them?
As I said, I love my child very much and I would lay down my life for her—but I don’t always like her. It was only until I acknowledged that truth, and dealt with the guilt that comes with it, that I was finally able to move on.
I’ve learned to think of it like how we deal with our spouses. Yes, we love them. There are times, however, where they make you so frustrated and angry that you want to walk out the door. The same can be true for our kids from time to time.
How do we deal with this? The way I’ve learned to deal with it is to first allow yourself to have feelings. Being a parent is freaking hard, and there are moments where you feel like you are going to absolutely lose your mind. As ugly and “immoral” as they may seem, allow yourself to process the feelings no one wants to say out loud.
Believe me, when I say choking out your feelings—good or bad—is going to come out in other ways. You may be more irritable than usual, you could develop anxiety, depression, or other issues.
Allow yourself to work through these feelings.
Now, processing your feelings is an important part of living as a healthy, functional adult. It’s vital to make sure you don’t dwell in those feelings. What I mean by this is it’s so easy to get upset at the fact that your toddler decided to pour chocolate milk (that she begged for) in her mac and cheese, right after she spilled your coffee on your new rug when you specifically told her to stop running. I get it, these things can add up when they’ve occurred multiple times a day, every day. You’ve got to find a way to move on and remember they’re just doing what kids do, as annoying as that may be.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my own daughter is that whether or not she behaves in a way I approve of, I am ultimately called to love her and constantly show her grace.
This isn’t reserved for moments where we are bonding or when she is doing things I like. Our kids need (and deserve) our love the most when they’re refusing to eat their vegetables, or throwing tantrums in the store, or refusing to go to bed.
All of these things are a sure-fire way to get up under a parent’s skin fast, but we have to love them past the things they put us through.
A big mistake that a lot of parents make is relying on their children to make them happy. This is both unfair to them, and completely impossible. Sure, there are going to be moments where you experience total bliss with your kids, like when they take their first steps, use the potty for the first time, or say their first words. But our kids are clean slates that require our guidance in order to survive in the real world. They are going to stumble, make mistakes, and do things to make us angry or disappointed along the way. It’s just part of the journey.
What I’ve learned in these moments is that even though I may be annoyed, I still get to watch someone grow and be a part of molding them. Do I shudder sometimes when I hear her footsteps pounding down the stairs? Yep. But at the end of the day, I love this little human, no matter how much she drives me crazy.
I don’t find happiness when she does things that I approve of.
I’m just happy I get to be her dad, and that she’s a part of my life.