IT IS Saturday. I am lying in bed reading the news on my iPad. I find myself at an exasperated loss, unable to relax, having just screamed (again) at my sons for running around the house like banshees.
I am wondering if there are other fathers out there screaming at their kids and feeling as emotionally exhausted as me. Are they wondering why their anger and stress levels are spiralling out of control? I don’t like the person I seem to be becoming. I am fed up with the sound of my own voice.
I am the father of two boys aged six and five, and the husband of an understanding yet equally frazzled wife. The boys are great, but boisterous, as you would expect two young rocket-fuelled brothers to be.
While we teach them the core values of honesty, respect, gratitude, generosity, uniqueness, forgiveness, humour, persistence and passion, we do not want them to be angels. Nor do we want to break their spirits or mould them into little versions of ourselves.
But each day I find myself shouting, arguing with the kids, making threats and becoming more like my own father. I am doing the exact opposite of what I thought I would do as a parent.
My eldest, Max, is charming and articulate. ”Zak you are a f—ing idiot,” he screams at his younger brother, or ”I can’t get this f—ing Wii game to load.” How do I deal with this?
Last week I read a news report about young children swearing. Linguistics expert Kate Burridge of Monash University says they pick up swear words from the playground, home and the TV and use them because it gets them maximum attention.
The first time I heard Max swear the punishment had to wait until I had stopped laughing (discreetly of course). Each time since it has since become less funny but I am still torn between thoughts of ”Wow, he really used that well in context,” and ”How do I curb this?”
While I can be blamed for dropping the odd obscenity in a moment of weakness, I think the playground is the main culprit. Recently Max came home proudly announcing that he could spell a rude word. Fully expecting the F-word, I told him to go ahead.
”S-H-I-T,” he said, sniggering behind his hand. Zak laughed in adoring acknowledgement at his older brother’s balls of steel for saying that to dad.
But let’s break it down. I am one of the lucky ones. I work from home. I’m there for the kids every morning and I am at home every day when they get back from school and burst in to my study, usually while I am on the phone.
My wife works part time and we have no family in Melbourne. We are a close family, we do everything together. Out of those few precious hours we spend with our kids in the evening and on the weekends, there must be only minutes where there is antagonism and hostility. The rest of the time things are good.
The quiet times – doing homework together, chatting, watching MasterChef, discussing new things that they have learnt at school, answering questions, helping them through problems, fixing them when they hurt themselves, just being there – these moments are to be treasured and cherished.
Am I short tempered more because I am stressed from work? I do feel the kids should be more respectful, that they don’t listen to me. But then I am treating them more as adults rather than remembering they are just little children.
Now I feel bad. How often do we see our kids? One hour before school, four hours in the evening after school?
The best time is often bed time, when kids really open up. They are tired and vulnerable as you tuck them in and read them a story. They are so cute tucked up in their pyjamas.
Each night I give the kids a kiss and a cuddle and tell them I love them, something my wife taught me to do.
”Love you too dad,” are the best words a father can hear.
I leave the room feeling great, calm and loved. All of a sudden the world is harmonious again. I am stress free, there is love in the air, the kids can do no wrong.
Then I hear the tiny patter of footsteps and the stalling tactics begin …
”Oh, for f—‘s sake!”