Cut the kid some slack

July 7, 2016 2:47 pm

Chair 1Can a chair be part of a family? Mine is. I purchased him back in 1999! His leather is soft, cool and unbelievably comfortable. If you allow him to recline, you are going to zonk out. Forget the Tylenol or Advil PM, ZzzQuil or Ambien – this chair will cause instant relaxation that will lead to drowsiness and assure you the ultimate snooze.

But this post is not about the heavenly slumber this chair delivers. You see, when I see this chair, I am reminded of a day and time that brings me heartache, parental pain and regret.

When I bought the chair, it was new. The leather was unsoiled, smooth and untainted due to little to no use. I bought a special leather cleaner to keep it that way. In those early days, I would make sure my pants were clean and there was nothing in my back pockets to scratch and harm the chair. I would caution my kids to not roughhouse, eat or do anything in the chair that could ruin it in any way.

One evening, I was making dinner for my kids. I looked up and my son, AJ, who was four years old at the time. He was standing in the chair, holding on to the part where one would rest their head and enthusiastically jump on the seat. From the kitchen, I calmly said, “AJ, stop jumping on Daddy’s chair.”

Did he stop? For those of you who have had rambunctious, four-year-old little rascals, you already know the answer. He did not stop at all. Actually, if you ask me, he increased his chair-bouncing velocity and gave me a mischievous grin that said, “I hear you, but I do not care.“ So I turned and with a serious face, looked him dead in the eye and again said, “AJ, Daddy said to stop jumping in the chair.”

This time, however, I had an increase of staid energy driving my words. Did AJ stop jumping with this second, more ominous warning? Not in the least. You would have thought he was working on some gymnastic routine, ready to vault his toddler frame over the back of my prized easy chair. He just looked at me and giggled and bounded like Tigger. And just like Tigger, AJ had a playful, exuberant enthusiasm to his bouncing. Well, I am the kind of dad that does not ask three times. If I ask twice and I know my kids have heard and understood me, then I shift gears into action.

So that is what I did. I promptly put down my cooking utensils, hurriedly wiped off my hands and moved from the kitchen to the adjoining family room with focus and purpose. AJ saw me coming and knew I meant business.

You see, when I get frustrated, I will bite my tongue. The kids, to this day, will say “watch out – Dad is beginning to bite his tongue,” sounding the alarm for other siblings in the area. This will most always get them to sit up, take notice and alter the activity that is causing the tongue biting.

Chair 2As I approached AJ, he immediately and a bit sheepishly sat in the chair and assumed a very reverent posture and demeanor, nonverbally telling me that he was sorry. That he knew what he was doing was wrong and it would not happen again. I was about to leave it at that before I saw the scratches in the leather near where you rest your head – where AJ grabbed with his small innocent fingers.

That is when I lost it. I grabbed him by his wrist and had him stand back up. I angrily pointed at the scratches and said, “AJ, did you do this?” “DID YOU DOOO THIIISSS?”

His boyish, bottom lip began to quiver. He looked at me and was, for the first time, truly scared of his father. While holding his wrist firm, I pointed at the scratches and I sternly repeated “AJ, did you make these scratches in the chair?” His head dropped; his eyes were moist. He slowly nodded his head up and down as the tears began to fall. I said, “AJ, never ever scratch Daddy’s chair again” and sent him to his room.

I have had this chair for 17 years. Many times, I have looked at those scratches and recall this experience. There are feelings of melancholy, remorse and sorrow that creeps into my heart. I see those scratches now (yes, they are still visible) and want to cry. They remind me of a time when I placed more value in a silly leather chair than I did my own son. So what? He made a few scratches. Who the hell cares?

But that day, a stupid father scratched his own son’s precious little soul with anger and hurtful words. That day… I wish so badly I could replay and do it all over again. Recalling the fear in AJ’s little face haunts me. His tears were bad enough. But what really vexes my soul is A.J.’s innocent, tender face looking back at me with true terror.

I think, Art, did you really elevate a silly leather chair over that of your son’s tender, four-year-old feelings? Really? I look at those scratches now and they seem so small, so meaningless, so insignificant. How could I have had my parental priorities so far out of whack?

My children are older, yet occasionally, now and then, with pre-teens and teenagers in my house, it’s sometimes tough to remember what behavior is developmentally appropriate. I can feel frustration build in me for them doing bothersome things. Then I remember: that’s just normal, learning behavior for kids their ages. I often will think of those scratches and catch myself, internally saying, “do not lose it just because your kids are being kids.”

So parents (especially fathers): next time you see your child jumping on your metaphorical favorite leather chair, please take it from someone who has been there and done that. Do not scream, yell, grab, shame and scold your child for being a child. They will feel confused, hurt and demoralized. You will feel nothing like a loving parent. For what? A leather chair?

Scratches or no scratches, the chair is still as comfy as ever. Nevertheless, it still troubles me to see those tiny, four-year-old finger nail scores and remember a lesson that was more for me than AJ. There is a time and place to reprimand your children or employees.

But, “in our professional and personal lives, we all too often jump to conclusions. We’ve all been told to breathe and slowly count to ten. It truly works. When you feel those knee-jerk emotional reactions rear their ugly heads, take a breath, count to ten, and then ask some reassuring, tactful, nonthreatening questions. How did this happen? How long has this been happening? Why does this happen? Focus on the problem or issue as opposed to the person.” (pg. 81, “Don’t Just Manage—Lead!”) Act with empathy, understanding and cut the kid some slack.

*NOTE* It is wrong of me to carry this weight, shame and guilt for so many years.  It is time for me to let it go.  So… AJ, I have never said I am sorry. You most likely do not even remember the incident. But let me take this opportunity to say how sorry I am for acting the way I acted. I should have handled that situation so much differently. All my love, Dad

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This post was written by Art

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