I Have Become The Machine

My son has started raging against the machine over the last couple of months, and unfortunately, I’m not talking about a sudden interest in Evil Empire – no, I am the machine.

I spent much of my life trying desperately to be liked by everyone. There’s a Michael Scott quote from The Office that sums it up pretty well:

“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised.“

When Lucas was born (specifically when Lucas became my biggest fan), that feeling pretty much ended. I didn’t need anybody’s approval because there was a tiny version of me at home that gave me the most gratification.

Of course, kids grow and change and go through phases, and Lucas is currently in the middle of a great one: he’s a toddler. My wife affectionately calls him a “Three-nager.” Because he’s turning three and acts like a teenager.

He’s taken to trying to shut me down when I give him instruction, or say hi, or tell him I love him, or ask to play/cuddle/eat. Everything is a cry for Mama instead, which feels super great, man. The latest (and kinda hilarious) of these situations was last night, when I asked Lucas if he wanted to play hide-and-seek, and he dryly told me, “Stop asking me that.”

So what do we do? What do I do? As a father who is home much more often than my wife, how do I turn these clashes against me into great times?

The big and most important first step before getting sad (or, horrifyingly, getting mad) is to understand why your kid is mad at you. Is it really because he doesn’t like you? Is he holding a grudge because you didn’t let him watch Peppa Pig? Or is it really just that maybe he’s still a toddler who might miss your spouse? I’m not a full stay-at-home-dad, but with my job being only part-time, I’m home substantially more than my wife is, much to the dismay of both my wife and our kids. As such, Lucas misses his Mama, and is pretty bored with me by the end of the day. The downside of this is that his baby sister is still nursing, Mama is exhausted from her day at work, and Daddy still wants to play and have fun. He’s done with me, he wants her, and he’s not happy about any of it.

But instead of getting bummed out and wondering what the heck is wrong with my parenting style, it’s important to remember that it’s not that he hates me, it’s that he loves her. My wife and I both need to figure out how to strike that balance and spend quality time with our kids, not quantity time. At a certain point, as anyone who’s ever been on a family vacation knows, you can get sick of each other real quick, and sometimes that’s one-sided. By figuring out the best way to split it up, we can form one heck of a parenting team.

From there, we are united when it comes to home expectations in terms of respecting others and attitudes, and, if needed, a punishment. We fail at this one a lot because you don’t know what’s going on in another person’s head until it comes out of their mouth, so we always try to talk about what happened later on after the kids go to bed about what worked, what didn’t, and what is going to be the plan for the next time.

Kids being kids, “next time” is going to be radically different and surprising, but this is all half of the fun of parenting, right?


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