Nice Daddy Is Going Away for a While

Tom Bourdon
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Finding that balance: Parent vs. Friend

Ever get to that point, as a parent, where you are so frustrated that you feel like your head is going to spin right off?  Well, it happened to me (again) just a few weeks ago…

Our kids were out of control.  My hands suddenly came down on the table so hard that our plates shook.

I know we all have different parenting styles, and mine is to try to have a balance between parent and friend, as I believe balance is always a good thing.

“That’s it!  Enough!  You don’t listen, and I can’t take it anymore!”  Everyone was shocked, myself included.  Our five-year-old and seven-year-old immediately went silent…which, ironically, had been the goal the “first” thirty times that I had asked them to sit down and eat their dinner.

My husband realized it was time to take the reins from the crazy parent.  “Kids, both of you need to go to your rooms and calm down.  Daddy, you too.”  

He was right.  We all needed to calm down. I also needed to reassess.  I had been unsuccessfully using the same “nice guy” approach, trying to get our kids to listen to me, over and over, hoping I would eventually get a different result.  (Yes, in retrospect, I realize that’s basically the definition of insanity.)   Something had to change.

After a little while, we all reconvened at the dinner table.  Having given the situation a great deal of thought (because let’s face it, 15 minutes of alone time is worth its weight in gold for parents), I made my declaration.  “Kids, I love you very much, and I’m sorry I slammed my hands down on the table.  You got Daddy very upset.  I kept asking you to calm down, and you wouldn’t listen to me.  So, I’ve made a decision: ‘Nice daddy’ is going away for a while.”

Their faces dropped.  Clearly, my new approach needed to be explained further.

“I always try to be fun and to be your friend, but you two think everything is a game, and you don’t listen to me when I need you to.  So nice daddy…fun daddy…friend daddy…is going away for a while, and you’re going to see ‘strict daddy’ now.  And he’s going to be around for a while.  So, go brush your teeth and put on your pajamas, it’s time to get ready for bed.”  They sat there, still in shock.  “NOW!”  They bolted.  Wow—could dropping “friend” from my “parent AND friend” approach actually work?

Well, it did for almost 48 hours.  The initial breakdown of my new approach began about 30 minutes later, when I went to kiss our son good night.  He looked up at me, his big, brown eyes looking glassier than usual.  “When is nice daddy coming back?  I miss him.”  Damn, this kid is good.

The next morning, our daughter broke my resolve a little more, right before I dropped her off at daycare.  “Is nice daddy going to pick me up later?”  How was it even humanly possible for a child to look so innocent and beautiful while packing some well-placed punches?!  “He’s going to come back after you and your brother prove to me you’re good listeners,” was all I could muster.

At the end of the school day, they both managed to be well behaved, while “secretly” trying extra hard to get me to smile and reveal fun daddy.  By bedtime, I cracked a little more, telling them a few knock-knock jokes, and we all went to bed with smiles.  By the next evening, after almost two days of good behavior, fun daddy was fully back, which felt good.  

I love being goofy and having fun with my kids, but I know it comes at a price. They often have a hard time switching gears when I need them to listen to me and take me seriously.  I know it’s critical that they listen to me and have respect for me, and I realize it’s only going to get harder as we head toward the middle- and high-school years (God help me!).  There are, of course, different parenting styles. My style has always been to strike a balance between parent and friend.  I believe the success of this balance is essential to a good parent-child relationship with my kids.   With that said, I’m not sure there is any one “right way” to parent.  All I know is that every day is a new journey, and I’m trying to figure it out as I go.  

Dr. Tom Bourdon is the senior vice president of LGBT partnerships for as well as an organizational leader who has served at the helm of multiple social justice, LGBTQ and education-focused organizations. Bourdon’s career has focused on LGBTQ as well as broader diversity and inclusion issues. He is now an independent consultant, trainer and coach helping individuals and companies grow and thrive in these two areas. He is married to his partner of 19 years and they are the proud fathers of two children.

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