Do you remember when you were a kid and if you had siblings, you would join together and mimic one of your parents? Usually it was the more animated parent, or the more predictable parent. For us growing up, that would have been my dad. Those never turn out well do they? I mean, kids don’t seem to pick up easily on the best of us and mimic that. Instead, they find the things that perhaps you’re not so proud of and suddenly boom…you come home one night to find your 6 year old daughter doing a spot on impression of you. And believe me, while it was hilarious, it left me wanting to change a few things about how I behave.
Here’s how the scenario unfolded. I came in from a late meeting while family was eating dinner about to prepare for bed. As is my habit, I did a cursory glance around the house to see the condition. Ok, perhaps it was more like a full body scan. At any rate, I found that things were in pretty good shape. My wife, noticing what I was doing (because she always notices), smiled and explained to me that the girls had already cleaned up upstairs (the next place I was headed to check). Then she recounted the story of how they made the decision to clean up.
She said it began with first a warning from her, girls, you know you better clean up this mess before daddy gets home. Otherwise what do you think will happen? To which Olivia (my 6 year old and second oldest) replied, daddy will say, “Girls! get upstairs and clean up your mess!” Everyone was bowled over in laughter, her sisters and my wife! It made me wonder how often these impressions occurred. What made her reenactment of things so funny was not necessarily what she said, but how she said it. Her face was super animated, her voice stern, finger wagging, and eyes glaring as she acted out her portrayal of how I’d respond in this situation. It reminded me of the time where we were discussing our family values and I asked Olivia to tell me what she thinks I value and she responded, a clean room. Ouch. Clearly that’s not the message I want to send about what I value. Apparently I’m so predictable that I’ve also been typecast.
After a good laugh, and admitting to the girls that I hope they have other impressions of me, I did a bit of soul searching. What exactly was bothering me about this impression? Clearly I don’t want the girls to simply see me as some kind of detached enforcer who only cares about order. I also had to admit that their impression of me comes from me. I control how they view me, so therefore if I don’t like what they’re seeing, I can change that.
I’ve been reading a book by Dr. Kevin Lehman, Be the Dad She Needs You to Be, and one of the chapters deals with how to address being a critical parent. My hand was raised throughout that entire chapter because I know that’s my struggle. My father was critical of us and it’s simply learned behavior. But, there’s hope because there’s still time to change. I’ve been focusing on doing the things that reinforce what I want them to believe, both about me and themselves. For example, as a family we set weekly goals. My goal last week was to get 5 high fives from the girls for catching daddy being patient instead of barking orders or losing his cool. Guess what? The first two high fives I got were from Olivia. Hopefully with more of these types of behaviors, she’ll have a new impersonation soon, one that’ll leave a lasting impression. I can’t wait to see that one!