A more likely outcome of ‘a dad, a toddler and a smashed window’, is anger and frustration. And for me this used to be the case. But no longer. To explain this, I have to take you back 12 years ago. Back to a moment in my stay-at-home-dad-phase, involving me, a toddler and a smashed window…
I am washing the dishes before my daughter’s mother came home from work. My father was coming in that night too and the lawns were long. I felt under the pump.
My daughter ‘toddled’ in, all 60 odd centimeters of her. She was sobbing. I turned and said to her, “if you don’t stop crying you can go to your room!”
She turned around and toddled over to the glass pane door between the kitchen and foyer, and head butted it, smashing the lowest pane of glass…
The price of perfection
As a stay-at-home dad with two daughters, I struggled. I had a constant need to keep everything in perfect order and I felt my children were always in the way of what I needed to achieve. The lawn, the household, the washing, the cooking and so on. The atmosphere at home was grim, the children weren’t happy and I was always angry.
Until that day… the day I washed the dishes and my two-year-old smashed the window after I told her off for crying…
I put the brush down, turned around to look at her, and I changed forever.
Our definition of success guides our behavior
The moment in which my daughter head-butted the glass door was followed by lots of self-reflection and analyses. I asked myself: why did I not give her a hug when she came in crying? Why was I so hard on her? And most importantly, why did she display such an extreme behavior? I realised that her behavior was a massive statement: “I can’t take this anymore daddy! I am going insane in this little body!”
The core answer I came back with when asking these questions was profound! It all came back to ME! Not to her, but to me! And this is what I uncovered.
My biggest eye opener was that how we define success profoundly influences all of our behavior and decision making. Consciously and unconsciously. It is perhaps the greatest influence on our destiny.
My definition of success was: Success = Perfection.
And I failed time after time, turning me in to a monster
For me going to bed happy as a father and as a man each night, I needed everything, and I mean everything to be perfect. So if the lawns were long or weedy it made my guts turn with the thought of what people would think about our property, or about me.
And more powerfully, others around me were not allowed to do anything wrong. Success as a father then was for my daughter to listen first time and never misbehave. Me and others were never going to achieve perfection, and this was the underlying cause of my deep rage; I felt like I was always angry and just under the surface lay a real monster.
An urge to avoid imperfection makes us act from fear
In defining success as perfection, we are trying to avoid things going wrong. This means all our decisions are made from fear, carefulness and conservatism. From this mindset we will never fly, nor will those we care for. Whether they are our children, employees or athletes if a coach. Our habits will shout our ‘fear based’ philosophy to all those around us.
New success rules. Success = disobedience.
Back to my two-year-old girl. As a psychologist, I could see the trajectory and imagined to myself what she would be like at 12 and 18 if I continued to parent her from the rule that success equals perfection. That vision generated so much distress in me, that it drove me to change immediately. So, I flipped them and made success = disobedience and fun, laughter and to some degree, ill-discipline!
Life by the new rules involves lots of laughter and deeply happy people
Apart from the toilet and kitchen I let the rest of the house go! And the section too. I brought the girls pet goats and lambs for pet days and then to keep the property under ‘rough’ control! I started having ice cream with the girls for breakfast and once dishes were done (i.e. health taken care of) we went to the park and played. I joined the local play-center a place where parents take their children to spend time with them and play, rather than a drop off child care. We went to play-centre for 8 years, three days a week. I really pushed the fun and laughter value.
I thought to myself how do you make children laugh? The answer that came to me was gold; you fart! When you fart children laugh so hard! So I started eating bran to keep my digestive track really busy. And can now fart on cue. I would wake up in the morning and walk around the house farting. The girls would just crumple with laughter, sometimes to tears.
Last year, the same two-year-old from the start of this story, now 14 years old, won the supreme ‘all around’ award in her first year at high school for all around excellence and character. We don’t focus on winning awards, but it happens, it’s a reflection on her behaviour. And there is so much laughing in our home, it is contagious!
Your turn for some self-reflection
How do you define success? And what habits do you have as a result? I invite you to think about the three questions below and share your reflections by commenting.
1. What needs to happen for me to go to bed feeling happy?
2. What are my habits that come from this belief?
3. And do they help me or get in the way and cost me and others around me?
Please comment below to help other with their own reflections. Thank you for showing courage.
Rather stay anonymous? Please email me and I post them for you.