I’m a fixer, a problem solver, the guy who can get things done. In the past ten years I have solved problems for cabinet ministers, elected officials at various levels of government, including mayors, hospital CEOs, executive directors, communities, organizations and individuals. I am really quite good at what I do. I can look at an issue, analyze the component parts, develop a strategy to resolve the issue and get it done or help other people get it done as necessary.
I have not met many challenges that I could not resolve, except of course, convincing my seven year old to get in to bed without it turning into a fight that involves her screaming and hitting me and me doubling down on stubbornness.
When I was a kid I had a temper problem that other kids were quite good at exploiting, which resulted in me getting in a number of school yard fights. In middle school my mum signed me up for a martial arts class. I trained for four years and very quickly learned how to manage myself. I stopped getting in fights at school and my temper disappeared. I’m not sure if it is because I learned how to breathe properly or if it was the confidence I gained knowing that I could handle myself in any circumstance. At the same time as I was training I also qualified and worked as a lifeguard. Between these two sets of training I had a constant overlay on reality running in my head. I was constantly looking for potential worst-case scenarios around me and developing solutions as I walked. I’d think about how I would react if I saw someone steal a purse, or a car crash or a bus driven by Keanu Reeves started careening out of control towards me. I was ready for anything.
I developed a very even-keeled temperament. It takes quite a bit to get me visibly riled up. I carry a quiet passion for everything that I do that is often only visible through my drive to get things done. I am however stubborn and if you tell me I can’t do something I am more likely to push harder to prove you wrong. I rarely lose control of myself.
And yet… my seven year old, who is just as stubborn as me, is regularly able to draw anger and frustration out from me. She has an amazing ability to push my buttons that adults are unable to even find. She is reluctant to give voice to her needs and explain what she wants or what is bothering her. Instead she opts for a temper tantrum which does not get her what she wants and makes me crazy in the process. She uses the broken record – or Max of Max and Ruby – approach of repeating one word or phrase over and over again – usually “I WANT MUMMY!!!”
In her rational, calm moments, which is most of the time, we have developed lists of techniques she could use to calm down when she is upset. When she is mad she insists that none of them will work. I try to get her to calm down, then I try to reason with her, then I restrain her from attacking me, then I either barricade her in her room until she burns herself out or I get ramped up myself. I used to try bear hugs – which worked on her older sister – but I got head-butted too many times to continue that technique. Last night I tried telling her about the impact her behaviour was having on me. I told her that her behaviour made me feel like she didn’t want to spend time with me, that she was demonstrating with her behaviour that she didn’t care about me, her mum, or sisters. I told her that her behaviour made me extremely frustrated and most of all, sad. None of that worked.
My wife managed to get her to eventually calm down and explain what she was upset about – and it had absolutely nothing to do with bedtime or me or anything she was screaming about.
Today we talked about a more formal bedtime routine and expectations. We had her come up with some consequences for behaviour like what we have been experiencing lately and we’ll see if any of it works…
I generally think I am doing a reasonably good job as a dad, but man when she behaves like that and completely rejects me and everything I do I feel like a pretty big failure. We are equally stubborn and I want to help her learn how to use that stubbornness as a power for good. We have talked about it in the past and discussed techniques that we can both use to prevent battles like this from occurring and she refuses to follow any of the things we have discussed during those conversations.
For now this remains a challenge yet to be overcome and a draining emotional test for me.
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