From a young age, I knew I would be a good dad. It was one of the things my wife first found most attractive about me. She always said she knew from the way I treated my cat that I was a nurturer.
She was mostly right.
The biggest shock to being a dad was realizing that the behaviors I struggle with the most in my boys were the things I disliked most about myself. When we look in a mirror, we all see things we don’t like about ourselves. It’s fairly easy to brush those things aside most of the time. Just stop looking in the mirror.
When your kids are the mirror, though? It’s much harder to look away.
Our oldest, Oliver, has a hard time adjusting, especially when it comes to changed plans. He has an idea of how something should go and sudden deviations can lead to some arguing and fake crying. We recently had to run an errand that interrupted his video game time. It was unexpected but he dealt with it alright. He wasn’t happy by any means but he soldiered through it.
When we added an extra stop during that trip, though? It was bedlam.
It’s in these times that my patience and understanding run out real quick if I don’t consciously keep it in check. Learning to keep it in check was a process. Only when I realized how much of that was a reflection of me was I more able to.
My wife (Laurel) and I went to California for a wedding a couple years back. She wanted to take me to the Hotel del Coronado, which is what The Eagles’ Hotel California was inspired by. We drove up to it in our rented car and I started looking for a place to park. Laurel wanted to drive around to see what was near it. Just winging it.
The moment we got to a bridge that lead us far from where we were trying to go, the anger kicked in. I hate driving without knowing where I’m going. It gives me severe anxiety. I start to shake and lose control. Once we turned around and I was able to calm down, a single sentence felt like a punch in the gut.
“You wonder where Ollie gets it.”
Oof. I realized those behaviors were a reflection of the worst parts of my anxiety and ADHD.
Our youngest, Milo, is the exact mirror opposite of Ollie. He can roll with the punches with no problems. And where Ollie is typically even keel with his emotions, Milo is volatile. He will be hugging and kissing on you, telling you he loves you one minute, then hitting you in the face the next.
Those moments where the switch flips are the hardest for me. I had to realize that he does not yet have control over his emotions. He doesn’t know how to express these complex feelings. It doesn’t mean those sudden changes were any easier to deal with, though.
Reflections work both ways, though. My kids are not me. They are their own people. And while we share many of the same struggles, it just means I’m better equipped to help them through them. That’s really all I can hope for – that my kids are going to be better people than me. Even if it’s just a bit.