Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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When rules backfire

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Around 4AM I used the restroom. Just after I flushed I heard my five-year-old say, “Daddy. Don’t forget to wash your hands.” Norah’s bedroom is across from the restroom, and I will go ahead and admit it, in the middle of the night, I don’t usually wash my hands. And considering the time, I didn’t expect to get caught. This is not to say that I always forget to wash my hands. But at night, I tend to let it slide.

It was dark. I rolled my eyes.

“Why are you up?” I said.

“I heard you,” Norah said. “I always hear you. But I never hear you wash your hands.”

Every time Mel has been pregnant, I’ve peed in the night more than she has, so I have to assume that Norah, indeed, had heard me use the restroom a lot. My kids reinforcing my rules seems to be a regular thing now. Sadly, I am good at telling the kids rules that will make them into respectable and healthy people: don’t eat too much candy, bathe once a day, wash your hands after using the restroom, don’t use bad language… you get the idea. But I’m not very good at following all these rules, and now that my kids are getting older, and a little more critical of everything, I find myself often being reminded of rules I’m breaking.

When Tristan, my seven-year-old, was four or five, I could tell him that he couldn’t have any more candy while I was eating candy. He might’ve thrown a fit, but he never accused me of being a hypocrite. Which, as a parent, I’m pretty sure I am.

For example. I don’t drink coffee in the morning. I drink Coke Zero. In fact, I drink several Coke Zero’s through out the day. (I have a problem. But let’s not focus on that.) In contrast, Tristan is allowed to have one can of soda a week. As a parent, and on paper, this rule makes a lot of sense for him. I want him to be healthy. But there is no way in hell I am cutting down to one soda a day. I can’t. It’s too powerful. For a long time, Tristan just accepted the one can of soda a week rule, and lived with it. But now he is starting to notice that I drink a butt-load of soda, and he feels shorted.

“Dad. Why do you get soda with breakfast? I want one.” Or “You drink like a million cans a day I want a million cans a day.”

I hear these arguments all the time. And indeed, were I in his shoes I’d feel shorted, too. There is something to say about living by the rules you create, and yet, as a parent, I really suck at this. I limit the kids’ screen time, when I am the one who really should be living with limited screen time. If I added up all the time I spent on Facebook and Twitter during the week, it would probably amount to a part-time job. I tell the kids they have to get dressed first thing on a Saturday, while I hang around in my pajamas until noon or so. I have the kids make their beds, when I almost never make mine.

This is not to say that there are not a few things that I follow. I do take a bath each day, a rule in our house. And I do brush and floss in the morning and in the night. I do something creative each day (writing), and I do something active each day (I bike 10-15 miles a day).

I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I’m a good example about 80% of the time, and I’m not sure what that is going to do to my children. Right now I am Dad, and I don’t know if they actually see me as a person. Rather they see me as this extra human thing that manages rewards, punishments, and occasional trips to the zoo.

I know that there are habits that, as a parent, I need to enforce. But at the same time, I don’t really want to adopt those habits. I appreciate them. My parents gave them to me, and although I hated them at the time, I understand why my mother had the rules that she did.

And really, at the end of the day, the rules I break are silly. None of them are big rules. But at my children’s young age, I have to assume that they seem like a big deal. I don’t want them to not respect me because I set rules and don’t follow them. I don’t want them to think that I am above the law, although I feel like I am at times. What I want is for my children to be better than me. I think most parents want that. I want them to be stronger, smarter, more compassionate, better partners, better parents, better everything. I want them to be happier, too. So I suppose this is why I hold them at a higher standard.

Clearly, though, I need to raise my own standards.

I looked at the bathroom sink. The only light in the restroom was from a night-light. “Yeah,” I said to Norah. “I’m going to wash my hands. Thanks for the reminder.”

Norah let out a yawn and said, “Good, daddy. I don’t want you to spread germs.”

I laughed. Then I turned on the sink and washed my hands. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter


Jenn~Henn said...

:) You could claim special Dad privilege. That's what Mom did when we would ask why Dad got ice cream and we didn't, or why we weren't allowed soda or twinkies. "Your father works hard, and those are his treats. You don't need any." Though we also were informed that "Life isn't fair." and "Different people have different rules to follow."