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Henry’s on the couch under his blanket, his eyes on the TV, pretending perfectly that he can’t hear his dad’s voice cutting across the downstairs and ordering him to get his clothes on because we’re late for the school bus. It appears I’m a ghost, my voice nothing more than the sound of the fridge popping and settling out in the kitchen. He’s 4 pushing 5, and like a lot of kids his age, he’s wise and crafty beyond his years.
I’ve made some mistakes, you see. I’ve been lazy in the discipline department. I’ve punished myself for years now by never punishing my kids.
And it’s all catching up to me.
I’m here to admit what is so hard for me to admit: Henry — my eldest, sweet lad — plays his loving daddy like an old-time country fiddle.
My boy has mastered the art of ignoring his father. And what’s a million times worse is that I seem to be just fine with that.
Or I have been up until now. Now I’ve realized I’m not alright with what’s happening between us. Henry’s ability to pretend my words are air, his ability to not get dressed when I’m beseeching him to “Get !&!%!%$ dressed!” (among many other things) — it’s all destroying the spiderweb balance that once existed in this house.
I smash my teeth together. I feel blood begin to boil up through the walls of my veins. I stare at him hard, vampire stares, promising him regret with my Clint Eastwood squints. Still he lies there on the couch and ignores the hell out of the guy who’s job it is to raise him up right.
And the very worst part is that I know it’s all my fault.
I’ve never, ever punished Henry.
Never sent him to his room without supper or took away his favorite stuffed animal. I’ve sucked at laying down the law with my very own kids. And now I’m running scared through the worst kind of lawless land.
That’s my big, fat point here. Henry is JELL-O: his mom and I shape him — mold him and sculpt him and whisper the ways of the world in his ear. So if he’s never had a price to pay for trying out his best outlaw reactions, well, he can’t really be all that much to blame for ignoring me, right?
The thing is, there needs to be consequences and I haven’t offered him many at all. His mom does a way better job of it than I do. She was noticing the damage my lazy discipline hand had been causing him and so was his Grammy.
And I’m glad they called me out on it. I want to do my best, but it’s hard when I don’t always know what that even means.
I’m trying new stuff now.
Well, old stuff in the ways of the world, but new stuff up in this house. Timeouts are here to stay. So are good things being taken away from naughty lads.
So far, so good. I think kids actually crave discipline and ramifications.
Better late than never, right?
I’ve punished myself for years now by never punishing my kids.
Like most 4-year-olds, my boy is a bright, beautiful kid. Fifty times a day I fall harder in love with him than yesterday and that’s probably an honest understatement. He’s got that pure heart, that unconquerable spirit. He’s got that killer, killer grin. I wouldn’t change a damn thing about him and that’s the truth.
What I’m out to change is the way I have sat back at times and let opportunities to punish him pass me by. That may sound superficially harsh in this day and age of tender, mindful over-parenting, but guess what? That whole modern mindset of treating your own kid like a buddy instead of your damn kid is exactly what I suspect got us both into this situation to begin with.
I’ve been lazy at times. I’ve been drunk on my own love for these 3. After his mom and I separated 2 years ago (and divorced last year), I can now say that I was so perplexed and exhausted that I shied away from the responsibilities I had as Henry’s parent to use a (proverbial) firm hand to discipline him.
I don’t spank. I don’t believe in that for me or them. However, if you cut yourself off from extreme measures when extreme measures might be called for, well, you need to have a really thought-out backup plan.
Looking back now, I had no such thing.
I just let stuff roll. But when it comes to kids, letting stuff roll is not a very good idea.
The older I get the more I believe that consciousness is the key to life. You open your eyes wide enough to see where you’re slipping, to actually own the parts of you that aren’t doing something quite right, and suddenly you’re kicking open doors you never even knew were there.
That’s what I’ve been trying to say all along here, cliche as it sounds. I’m trying to kick new doors open — for Henry and also for me. See, 4-year-olds are very magical people — until you give them much more than an inch, that is. Then they’re simply wild hyenas bound to sabotage your never-ending day.
Live and learn.
Serge is a 43-year-old father of three kids, Violet, Henry and Charlie. He writes about both Parenting and Relationships for Babble. Read more from Babble here: