Parenting is like a form of kung fu. Everyone has a different interpretation, a different way they handle their business, but we’re all united in the shared goal of raising the best possible humans that we can. My style? My style is patience. I have been practicing the patience style of parenting for almost seven years. And I am still not very good at it.
I’m routinely accused of moving too fast, not allowing space for others, or some version of being ahead and in front of people. As far back as I can remember, my mind and my body moved significantly faster than those of my family or friends. I am hungry for the world, so I try to pack as much in as I can in a very short timeframe. I know the limitations and drawbacks to living like this, but it’s brought me more successes than failures, so I haven’t made any drastic attempts to change my behavior.
One of the primary limitations of moving through the world at breakneck speeds is that you kind of move on autopilot a good portion of time. Being on autopilot is a very useful parenting skill. There are so many options to weigh and decisions to make that if I took the time to consider them all, I’d be frozen with option paralysis and nothing would get done.
So my mind and body work together in concert to help me with everything from doing the dishes to getting the laundry done, or ticking off all the things on my ever-growing to-do lists. There are times when I collapse into bed having no idea how I spent the majority of my day. My daughter’s alive, my wife is happy, the house is still standing, so I must have handled my business. This skill helps me through the times when parenting can be too much.
The needling, the persistent questioning, hearing “Daddy, Daddy” so much you forget the name your parents gave you… I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to introduce myself to someone and almost said Papi, Daddy or Tatay. But this autopilot is only good for household chores, not household relationships.
I dismissed my daughter this weekend by being on autopilot and not taking the time out to listen to what she’d said. I also assumed she said something that she didn’t. What made it worse was that I lightweight scolded her based on my assumption.
I was in the middle of doing several things when she asked, “Can you please wash Brobee,” her favorite stuffed creature. I misheard her and thought she’d asked, “Can I please watch TV?” I reminded her of the rules about only watching TV on the weekends and that she needed to stop asking about TV so often and that she should read a book. My wife shot me a look and I stopped what I was doing and asked her to repeat herself. Her eyes were watery and she repeated her question.
I felt punched in the stomach. A wave of pure I’m a horrible father washed over me. My mind—as usual—began to go off on tangents: How many times have I done this to her? How many times did I bulldoze over a question she asked? How much have I missed because I was moving mile-a-minute?
As much as I meditate, it doesn’t really bleed into my day-to-day life. I slow down and meditate, become calm in that moment. But when the timer goes off, I’m darting to the next thing. For the sake of my relationship with my daughter, I’m going to have to bring that meditative consciousness into all aspects of my life, especially my parenting.
I took a deep breath and apologized to my daughter. It felt so weird, but it was one of the most humbling actions I’ve every taken. I’ve said sorry to her many times, for things like bumping into her or dropping something, but I’ve never had to apologize. I apologized, admitted that what I did was wrong, and then asked her how I could make it up to her. And she forgave me in the best way possible—she hugged me, and let me hug her back. “It’s okay, Daddy,” she said.
I assured her that it was not okay, and made a commitment to her to slow down and listen to what she has to say, not make any assumptions, and try to be more present for her and her mother. She snuggled into me, nodded her head and said, “Yeah. I think that would be a good idea.”
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.