Few words accurately describe the feeling of love you, as a father, get from your little ones at certain moments.
The ear-to-ear smile you see as you walk through the door. Their full-speed sprint that leads to a somersault resulting in a perfect 10 landing in your arms. The numerous “Jedi mind tricks” they use in hope of staying up a few extra minutes past bedtime.
That said, fatherhood also comes with its various challenges. One of the biggest I have found is discipline.
My wife and I strive to foster an environment where our two children have every opportunity to thrive and grow. We foster open communication; we verbally instruct them while also doing our best to model best practices. We practice some “free-range parenting,” letting the kids do as they please and figure it all out by experience — within reason. Other times, I find myself coaxing and directing them down various pre-determined paths. Regards of the approach, when boundaries are crossed and rules are broken, it’s incumbent upon us as parents to make sure our kids are fully aware of the concept of “consequences for your actions.”
Physical redirection and its consequences
While our household doesn’t believe in spanking as punishment, we are open to a quick “tap” or “pinch” on the arm at the moment as a form of redirection. That redirection has historically served as a tangible consequence. After that redirection happens, we typically follow with an explanation of why it was necessary. As with most parental conversations that are somewhat serious in nature start, the first words out of my mouth are usually the timeless phrase, “Because I love you.”
But what came out of my little girl’s mouth once I said this left me speechless.
One afternoon, my little princess decided to impart her royal authority on her younger brother in a way that was very “mean girl” inspired. I pinched her arm and sent her to time out. As the evening activities progressed and the kids got ready for bed, we sat down for our usual “after prayer” bedtime chat. During our chat, my little girl mentioned that getting her arm pinched earlier hurt.
I started to respond with the “because I love you” line. She immediately replied, “I guess love hurts sometimes.”
I was floored by the association that this 8-year-old made. I was also equally floored by the internal conviction that kept me from responding with, “Yes, love does hurt sometimes.”
Instead, I stayed silent.
The hurt love shouldn’t bring
I left the room and went into our bedroom and told my wife about the problem I had responding to our little girl’s comment. My immediate thoughts went toward not wanting my son or my daughter to ever associate love with pain being inflicted upon them by someone else. I don’t want my kids ever to feel physical pain is a necessary component of love. But I also want to effectively communicate the seriousness of the potential consequences of their actions as they traverse through life. This parenting thing is definitely not for the faint of heart.
One of the major takeaways I had from this experience is the importance of really listening to my kids. I “hear” what they say, but I’m guilty of not always listening. What would have happened had I allowed this incident to simply blow over? Maybe nothing. Or, maybe my little girl would have filed this specific incident in the back of her memory and formulated some further associations that love is supposed to hurt which could have led to challenging relationship scenarios in the future. I just don’t know. Either way, that moment helped me to solidify my commitment to really “listening” to the questions and concerns of my children.
Secondly, my immediate reaction was to commit to NEVER physically correcting or disciplining my kids from that point forward. Though, in retrospect, that was a knee-jerk reaction. I deeply evaluated the perceived “need” for physical discipline. As I mentioned before, I didn’t mind a light tap on the bottom or pinch on the arm “in the moment” as a re-directive measure. But even that came under reconsideration after this incident. After great thought and discussion with my wife, we came to the conclusion that the path of discipline we had previously adopted does work well for our kids. But at the end of the day, dads and moms must be mindful of what works and always be open to feedback on improving as we go along on this journey of fatherhood.
How would you have personally handled this situation?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Dorsey, known as “Mike D” by many, is an author, business entrepreneur, community organizer, speaker and podcaster. The Augusta, Ga., native and former medical sales professional hosts the Black Fathers, NOW! podcast. He also founded the apparel company Black Family Apparel. He has authored two books: Dynamic Black Fatherhood Manifesto and ABE: Always Be Engaged — The 7 Keys to Living a Fit Urban Life. He can be reached via Instagram, Facebook or email.