I’m not a good parent. In fact, I often display downright ugly parenting!
Why? Because I’m prone to violence, even if nine out of ten times I never follow through with what I’m tempted to do.
And as for that tenth time that I do follow through? Let’s just say that after my son gets one or two whippings from me, we’re both done. When calm eventually resumes, I’m usually the one apologising, but only after I made sure he tells me why I punished him the way an ugly parent would.
Which makes me wonder if I’m genuinely sorry.
“I’ll beat you til there’s nothin’ left!”
And yes in case you’re wondering, I’ve loudly vocalised to my boys that horrid line above more than once, until it’s almost a permanent expletive on the tip of my tongue!
Not a proud admission. But the raw, honest truth nonetheless.
Look. Here’s the gut-awful truth about ugly parenting.
If, like me, you’ve experienced violence in your life while growing up, it’s gonna take herculean effort to break that vicious cycle when it’s your turn to discipline your offspring. Not, I’m told, impossible. Just herculean!
Going by my past, the only way out for my kids would seem to be the one that worked for me: physically outgrowing the violence by becoming almost as tall as my father.
No, I’m not here to dig up my past again. As the saying goes: been there, done that!
Nor am I pushing away my own responsibility to rise above my past, or seek absolution and sympathy, though I wouldn’t reject either if pro-offered.
It’s just….sighhhh…(taking a deep breath)
It’s just that there are days when I realise that this oft-heard “parenting is the toughest job in the world” line isn’t just another tired old cliche. Rather, it comes at me again and again and again, like some annoying boomerang that won’t quit. Especially when I start getting cocky and thinking that “I’ve got this” parenting business down pat, when clearly I don’t.
But didn’t I choose to be a stay home dad with both my eyes and ears wide-opened? Hadn’t I read up, researched and prepared myself for this stage of my life? Those endless parenting self-help books I devoured ought to have stood me in good stead no?
Then why aren’t I a better parent than my father was to me? Why this inability to break free from my unfortunate family legacy after all these years?
Alternation – the split personality of ugly parenting
“My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which I have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness. Sometimes I seem to myself, in my feelings toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance.”
It’s this ambivalence, this alternation that kills me every single time. Feeling on some days like some double-minded monster, I’m one moment sweet to my kids then next a regular Mad Max a.k.a Thunderdome! Like the weather we’ve been getting these past weeks: one minute sunny and the next stormy.
This alternation has done quite a number on me.
There are days I catch myself literally switching from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde at the drop of a hat. Like yesterday for instance. One minute I was helping my son cut shapes to form a tangram as part of his holiday homework. The next minute I was shouting at him and threatening bodily harm, just because he cut off the end of a triangular shape by accident.
Did I forget that he’s got challenges in his motor skills? What on earth is the matter with me?!
Times like this I don’t blame other fathers for choosing what will keep them longer in the guise of Dr Jekyll. To pour their energy into the workplace in full-time employ, where they’re more likely to be among like-minded adults, not fickle-minded toddlers and children, who rarely measure up to expectations.
So busy are they being, well, kids!
And there you have it. Or more accurately, there I have it.
He’s just a kid, and one with special needs no less. And I’m just a parent, with unrealistic expectations at best. I’m walking a path with him that only we can do together. As father and son.
So the simple and difficult question for me then is this:
Do I really want his memories of his dad to be more Hyde than Jekyll?
In the end, it all boils down to that when it comes to (ugly) parenting.
Nothing more but, more to the point, nothing less.