When we arrived at Thanksgiving this year, my son was being a little monster. Since he is non-verbal and has Autism, it would be simple to make a hundred excuses for him. He was too tired. He was too hungry. He was too awake. He was too full. Whatever. None of it matters. He was just being a little dipstick.
Lucas was tied to his entertainment iPad, which sometimes does the opposite of soothing. He was clapping, yelling, and when he saw plates of appetizer crackers, diving through the air like a slow-motion shortstop to grab them.
He knew he could have as many as he wanted, and he knew that I would give them to him. Still, he wanted to capture them himself. It was the thrill of the hunt. I would see him jump up from his chair and, with his back slightly hunched and eyes darting back and forth for defenders, lunge for the saltines. He’d shove them in his mouth before anyone even knew what was happening. Most times, I was able to grasp the back of his sweater, pull him back, and, while tapping my chest, remind him.
No. Lucas. No. You need to ask me. I will give them to you. You can’t just grab them.
He would reply with a loud cry and, within seconds, he was back in competitive food diving mode. Our hosts were more than understanding, as were the rest of the guests. No one complained or got upset. In fact, they even offered to move the plates into another room, but I declined. It was more than difficult to keep him corralled but the type of on-the-job training that he needs to internalize before he becomes big enough to tip a bus.
By the big meal, though, his iPad had died and he got that meltdown out of his system as well. After eating enough crackers to fill a lake of soup, he was back to his old self and grinning through dinner. I couldn’t have been prouder of how he handled himself at that point. From dinner salads on, he was like a completely different kid.
So, if you ask me, I’ll tell you. Lucas had a great Thanksgiving. Sure, he was terrible at first, but eventually all was good and we moved on. That’s the part that is important. That’s what should stay in my mind.
If you don’t have a child with special needs, you might think that this is some revolutionary thinking. It’s not. It’s actually the same approach I take with my ten-year-old daughter, who is overly verbal and doesn’t have Autism. It’s parenting all the same.
When Olivia acts up, we deal with it. She might get punished or reprimanded. Her actions have consequences and she’s learned that. I don’t let too many things slide without making sure she knows what’s right.
The thing is, though, when that’s done, it’s done. When I sit my daughter down to explain why she had done something wrong, my goal is to make her understand and ensure that it doesn’t happen again, not to rant and rave. It’s the whole reason for discipline in our home. I want to make sure my children know what to do and then, when they start doing it, that’s it. We’re set. Mission accomplished. Dad’s good.
I’m not eager to be angry at my kids. I don’t want to make their discipline a public spectacle or a way I can work through whatever anger issues I am battling that day. I’m not the kind of Dad who will shoot their laptop in a Youtube video or hilariously walk her to school while wearing a dress in order to teach her manners or whatever reason those social media pops come up with. To be honest, it always seems like more of an excuse for the dad to wear a dress to school and less about the kid texting at dinner, or whatever the convoluted reason.
No. In my house, discipline is done for learning purposes. It’s not about revenge or humiliation. My kids are good, deep down, because I raised them that way. If I need to toss an iPad out the window or smash a Nintendo with a sledgehammer to get my point across, then I obviously screwed up at some point in their formidable years.
I treat my son the same way. Sure, he can’t verbally confirm that he has received my message. He can, however, show me through his actions. In many cases, I understand that his impulse control is harder for him to keep in line than most children. I take that into account. I also, though, know the difference between when he’s trying and when he’s not. On Thanksgiving, I could tell he was trying. Even after a dramatically difficult early evening, I couldn’t have been prouder by the end.
It would have been easy for me to hold on to that grudge from the opening hour or so of Thanksgiving. I could have looked at him throughout the whole night with a menacing glare and let it ruin my whole day. I didn’t.
I don’t want to live my life angry and, just because I have kids, it doesn’t mean I have to. For me, raising my children is about knowing their strengths and weaknesses, taking that into account, correcting behavior, and letting things go when the point has been understood. I don’t yell at them to impress others or show people that I am a “tough dad.” I don’t want to be a tough dad. I want to be an effective dad. I want to emerge from these years with kids who are genuinely good people, not just good when they know I’m not around to shout at them.
You give up the right to hold grudges when you become a parent. That’s for children. As a father, I want to be selfless in how I raise them. That means letting my anger go even when a part of me is crying out from inside, “No! We’re still angry! Be angry!” It may be true, but it’s not helpful when trying to make the next generation as great as possible. Staying mad about something that happened and was corrected hours ago is like living in the past. Having kids takes away that luxury.
Being a parent means constantly moving forward and making their next moments better than the last. And as long as you live like that, every Thanksgiving can be a great Thanksgiving.