I was in the airport the other day, ordering breakfast at a cereal bar. Yes, a cereal bar. You order different kinds of cereal and fruit and they mix it together for you. Then they overcharge you. But that’s OK – because If you ask me it’s brilliant. I can’t begin to tell me how much it blesses me to see one of my little kid dreams played out in real life. But I digress…
While I was waiting on my Special K/Honey Nut Cheerios/Mueslix concoction to come up, a lady came blazing through with her kids. They had to make their flight I’m sure, and she was all business.
“Get your backpack. Get your backpack. Get your backpack.”
Finally one of the bleary eyed children realized he was going to be told this same order until he responded. The mom looked at me with this “kill me now” look and then they marched off towards their gate.
I can totally relate to this mom. I too am guilty of this behavior. And my family is quite aware of it, to the point that there is even a name for it.
GDS: Grumpy Dad Syndrome.
The hardest thing about it is that I don’t even realize it when I’m doing it.
It happened in New York City a couple years ago when we were trying to find somewhere to eat at 10:00 PM. Now, there are a gazillion restaurants in New York, I know, but our hotel was in a business district and everything shut down after dark. We walked and looked and asked and walked and looked and finally found a little Italian place. I was so relieved that we found it that I guess I just sort of clammed up when we sat down. After our food came, Stephanie told me that she was going to take the kids back to the hotel so I could have some time to pull it back together. Wha?
It happened a couple weeks ago when I came home from a run of shows, and we decided to take the kids to a local steak place for a special dinner. I had a great time. I was aware of being tired from travel, but I felt like everything was fine. Except Kitty was excited that I was home and felt the need to climb on me in the booth. Later she told Mommy that I had been grumpy that night.
The best I can tell is that GDS happens when I quit being Daddy and fall back on being the kids’ father. I’m identifying myself by my role and not by my relationships. Their basic needs are provided and that’s about it.
And the problem is, even when I’m in the middle of it, that is the last thing in the world that I want. I want to be there for my kids. I want them to have great memories from their early years. And I want to set the template for how men are supposed to treat them. Because good Lord let’s face it, the male species hasn’t done a very good PR job.
OK, so I’ve identified it. So what to do about it? Now mind you – I’m still kind of in pioneer mode here. I’ve just started to recognize this over the last couple of years. But I have a few ideas on how to combat Grumpy Dad (or Mom) Syndrome:
1) Recognize that it’s a real problem – As with so many things, this is the hardest step. But when you figure out you have a problem, and include your family on it, they can be part of the solution instead of part of the blame.
2) Admit that you’re not perfect. And nobody’s asking you to be – After the dinner at the steak place, Stephanie and I talked about it, and I told her that I felt stressed and overwhelmed. I think it kind of blew her mind a little bit. Because I’m always throwing out the “everything’s OK” vibe, she wasn’t even aware of it. But by getting it out there we were able to talk about it. And we’ll hopefully be better prepared next time.
3) Put your cell phone down – For you it might be a newspaper of a TV screen, but you get the idea. If you’re deliberately spending time with your kids, they deserve your undivided attention.
4) Tell your kids what’s going on – They get it far more than you realize. Tell them you’ve got a bunch of stuff going on at work that has you stressed out. Or tell them you’ve been traveling and you’re tired. Tell your kids you’re sorry if you need to. They will respect you for it. More importantly, they are cueing off of you for how to behave in “grown up” situations.
5) Schedule special time with your kids – 2 or 3 times a month, I take my daughters on “dates”. When they were really little, this would be a simple trip to the pizza parlor. Then it was bowling. I took them last week, and they discovered the glory of Joe’s Crab Shack. Abbie my oldest loves seafood and trying new things, so she was fascinated by the crab legs. Kitty was all about it because they have a playground. But the bottom line is we had a fun night together and created a memory.
6) Schedule time away from your kids – This is a healthy thing. You can’t be “on” all the time. Everybody’s got to recharge their batteries and get back to neutral. For example, I try to go hiking a couple times a week while the kids are at school.
7) Separate “work” time and “family” time – I don’t know if you’ve realized this or not, but multitasking is bullcrap. Don’t even try it. If you’re kids annoy you when they interrupt your work, maybe you’re the problem, not them. I try my best to work while the kids are at school so I can be fully engaged with them when they get home.
8) The obvious – look for things in your life that make you grumpy. Get enough sleep and exercise. Eat a wholesome diet. If you’re not grumpy, you won’t be a grumpy dad.
9) Realize that you’re a work in progress. God has begun a good work in you, and he will be faithful to complete it. Ask God for help, and he will give it to you.
So there you have it. As I said, I’ve only recently realized I occasionally suffer from GDS. But I’m working on it. If you have any tips, I’m all ears.