There are definitive differences in how fathers and mothers relate to children’s moods and response to new situations. Because they have no wealth of experience with which to compare how things are versus how they could be, children can be cranky and unpleasant when confronted with new situations, sensations or circumstances that they don’t like. From my experiences watching mothers, many will attempt to reason with the child or explain things, or get the child to verbalize what it is that they’re feeling and that is, all in all, a worthwhile approach.
This isn’t usually the case with fathers since men are generally neither as verbal nor patient as women. While some men can chat happily about a multitude of topics, get us onto issues of emotion and feelings and we’re about as communicative as a mute with a lisp. Even if we can verbalize what’s on our minds, we’re too impatient with children who will meander through any number of issues before finally – maybe – stumbling onto the item that’s really bothering them. Get to the point, get to the point, get to the point…
I admire mothers who are willing to expend the time necessary in these situations. But there is also real value to the male approach of getting to the point and helping the child learn how to simply deal with it and move on.
This Christmas holiday was a case in point. We took the kids to New York City by train to sightsee, take in a Broadway show and experience firsthand a certifiable city-closing blizzard. The practical upshot was that there was absolutely no opportunity for the kids to whine about taking a cab and we were able to happily walk all over Midtown Manhattan. The amount of snow and slush was deep enough in spots to overflow the tops of the snow boots that the kids wore and feet and socks got wet as we trudged up West 49th. Youngest did get wet feet and as he complained about his feet, we noted that Saks Fifth Avenue was nearby. The thing about whining children is that they really are the gift that keeps on giving, continuing and cycling even when the original cause has been rectified. Since it hadn’t occurred to me to actually put a spare pair of dry socks in my coat pocket, my wife and I agreed that getting a dry pair of socks was reasonable. The fact that it was Saks Fifth Avenue made it – in the eyes of my wife and daughter – a certifiable slam dunk, can’t miss two-fer. Unfortunately, this was meaningless to Youngest, who’s a male and looks at department store shopping with the same sense as awaiting a root canal. Even when we explained why we were going in, his attitude darkened further and the whining ratcheted upwards.
We exited at the sixth floor – Youngest’s feet are big enough that he was in men’s shoes before he could spell men – and wandered back to the sock area. We found a pair of cotton athletic socks and I took it to a cashier in a different department since our local salespeople were contending with millionaires pondering their AARP discounts. Honestly, if you’re able to afford a handmade pair of English wingtips, you’re embarrassing yourself to wonder aloud whether you could get a discount on it. The salesman was a dapper, distinguished looking African American gentleman who wore his gray hair far better than I wear mine. His eyebrow cocked slightly at my single pair of socks and when I told him to forget the bag, I explained it’s immediate use for a little boy with wet feet. We talked for a brief period and when I stated that Youngest would simply have to wear them and get on with it, he nodded and broke into a wide grin, exclaiming that’s what Dads are for.
When I returned to our area, Youngest was still surly and my wife was still trying to get him to explain what it was that was bothering him. The entire time that I was away, my wife had attempted to talk him through which was admirable but useless. I knelt next to him and my thoroughly annoyed point to him was that he now had two options. The first was to put the dry socks on his feet and we’d continue on to see our sights and have a wonderful afternoon. The other option was to leave the wet socks on and continue on to see our sights since I refused to return eight blocks to the hotel for a dry pair of socks. Since we were here purely to help him, he’d have to accept the help or have to deal with the discomfort and complete lack of sympathy from his father.
What’s my other option?
There is no other option. Take the dry socks or suck it up and deal with it – and I’ll have no sympathy.
Youngest accepted the first option and donned the dry socks as I deposited the wet ones in my coat pocket (he wore them the next day when his socks got wet again). He wasn’t happy with the options but the stark presentation broke the cycle since he was now able to focus his anger on me instead of on the discomfort. The attention turned from an internalized unhappiness to something that existed beyond himself and when he worked through it in several minutes, his original complaint was rectified and then forgotten.
It’s easier to learn to deal with it – whatever it is – when you’re older because with age generally comes an awareness of others as well as a sense of proportion. But it’s also better learned when you recognize that it’s not going to be neither tolerated nor encouraged. So my wife and I will continue the ongoing balancing act as we attempt to help the kids learn to verbalize their thoughts and feelings while still learning how to deal with things so that they don’t take over completely.
And if you’re ever in the position of buying a pair of $1200 handmade English wingtips, just buy the damned things and stop kvetching.