One of my cardinal rules of fatherhood – and one of the hardest to maintain – is to keep my mouth shut when I’m irritated with my mate. Raising kids can be difficult enough and when the parents are upset with one another, it’s easy to spout off about the other parent in front of the kids. The problem with doing this is that it eventually creates an atmosphere in which the child becomes a co-conspirator with the mouthy parent and places the kid in a position in which no child should find herself. The out-of-favor parent subsequently has greater difficulty maintaining control and it’s not beyond some kids to practice a divide-and-conquer strategy which can truly damage, if not destroy a marriage. For the most part, I’ve been successful in following this with a very few exceptions.
But with kids growing and each child fully capable of creating unrest and irritation without assistance, I’m finding that I have to learn to apply the same rule when I’m frustrated with their siblings. Dealing with small children is akin to a real-life version of Laura Numeroff’s If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and while the physical aspect does ease as they age, the degree of confusion can actually increase as they constantly change plans or act without thinking. The frustration can worsen for a parent who’s trying to keep tabs on things. And because they’re now more in the world and out of your sight than when they were young, the capacity for trouble increases significantly. While I can repeat to myself that they’re clearly not thinking because their brains are literally being rewired, the frustration can become severe; so severe that I find myself making comments in the presence of one or more of the other kids.
Comments like calling a kid knucklehead are acceptable in the moment, but I’ve found myself complaining about the kid in question – and there are multiple kids in question – to one or two of the other kids. It might be one thing to actually sit down with one of the kids and ask them, provided they’re old enough to have such a conversation, what he or she is seeing or hearing, but spouting off spontaneously in frustration. Again, I’ll have to work on adapting the Honor the other parent principle because of the potential problems that can arise if I don’t. Continuing to vent in front of the kids creates a difficult dynamic as it raises the child to the level of the parent, a role for which he is patently unprepared. Further, it creates an unhealthy situation in which one child is clearly on the out against the other parent and child. Finally, it can lead to a sense on the part of the issues child that she is now clearly out of favor with the parent compared with the other children.
Kids are difficult and I shouldn’t make it more difficult by shooting myself in my own foot with my own mouth.
Honor the other parent, honor the other child. Otherwise, shut up.