I’m driving home from my first National At-Home Dad Network Convention, high as a kite.
I can’t stop talking about it and, fortunately, I have my wife with me to smile and nod at my enthusiasm. I leap from one subject to the next, remembering the sessions and interactions and just the general feeling of brotherhood and belonging that I have rarely felt in my life and much less so as a stay at home dad. I’m overflowing with new energy for my life; for my family. I love everything and everyone in that moment!
I wind down eventually. My wife, the introvert of our relationship, leans her seat back and tries to nap. The trip home is about six hours and she knows that my winding down only means I am recharging. A nap is good.
My mind doesn’t really stop, though. More than the demands of driving down a major interstate in the rain, my brain keeps bringing up one specific moment of the convention. A revelation, as it were. I keep asking myself, “Will my son run to me when I get home?”
It’s a harsh question. Our kids love us in amazing ways, yet it’s that question of doubt that hangs in one’s mind. If a child does not come to you or only wants your partner to hug them, many people tend to feel they are the problem. There isn’t a problem, though. You, more than likely, didn’t do anything wrong. With young children, they tend to form attachments as they want to and for as long as they want to. There is little rhyme or reason behind their decision.
If, as a parent, you are not prepared for the times when your child will glare at you and yell, “I hate you!”, then take a deep breath. It’s coming. It’s not easy to hear, and in fact it can be downright heartbreaking. Nearly every child will say it at some point, even if they didn’t mean for their parent to hear it. This, too, is a part of their growth. It can be handled well, and treating it for what it is can actually strengthen our relationship with our children.
But my thoughts were not focused on if my son loved me. I know he does, as I know I love him. But would he be excited to see me when I got home? Would he want me to pick him up and hug him? Would he hug me? I kept asking myself these questions because I feel I don’t give him enough attention.
Little #1 is 2½. He’s stubborn, demanding, overly energetic, and a handful even when quiet. He had acid reflux, then night terrors, and all the attention for about 18 months. Then Little #2 showed up, and Little #1 was moved over on the attention table. With two older siblings, Little #1 is really missing out! While I hug him and play on the floor with him, and we go on ‘adventures’ together most days, I pay enough attention to his little sister that he misses me. Many times when kids don’t get positive attention they try negative attention. He’s hit me with toys, torn curtains off the wall, pulled the dog’s tail, knocked his little sister down (she’s a toddler), and a dozen other things all so that I will put the baby aside for him.
Many times I have not reacted well. I often quote Wreck-It Ralph when talking about my emotions. “My passion bubbles close to the surface.” I raise my voice, I yell, I growl, and I demand. “Time out” has been a regular thing in my day with Little #1. Looking at our relationship objectively, and coloring it through the lens of nearly a lifetime of depression, I sincerely feel I will come home and he won’t even notice. No running to me and calling my name. No leaping or crashing in to me. No begging to be picked up. No hugs, no kisses. No love.
I resolved myself to one thing on that drive home. No matter what happens this year after I come home from the convention, I am going to do everything I can over the next 12 months to insure that when I come home next year. he will be ecstatic. He will know I love him, and miss him, and want to be around him and I will know he will feel the same about me.