My worst flaw as a father: How a 'good parent' can still be a jerk

We've all had good days and bad days as a parent. Having a baby is especially stressful. I'll flat out admit it: I've yelled at my son. Here's how you can ease the stress so you don't feel stressed out and do the same. | instafather.com

We've all had good days and bad days as a parent. Having a baby is especially stressful. I'll flat out admit it: I've yelled at my son. Here's how you can ease the stress so you don't feel stressed out and do the same. | instafather.com

I've shouted at my son.

I don't remember when it first happened.

Maybe it was a crying fit that lasted a bit too long.

Maybe it was a freak out over what appears to be nothing.

Maybe it was over a trivial detail that's not worth remembering.

But at some point, I yelled at my son for the first time. Really yelled.

Not a fire-and-brimstone kind of thing, not in a scary way, but enough that the mood in the room changed between the two of us. Whether I shouted, "Go to SLEEP!" or "QUIET!" or "YOU HAVE GOT TO STOP!", I don't know. But, just like every parent, at some point I snapped and shouted at him or, probably more accurately, no one in particular.

And it always feels awful.

I don't know where you are in the parenting journey. You might have 5 full-grown kids. You might be waiting on your first. It seems inevitable that you get to a certain breaking point under all the pressure of someone completely and utterly relying on you, and you can't take it anymore.

And you shout. Or let out an unintelligible scream. Or throw a toy. Or whatever is that release valve.

And you feel awful.

Parenting is full of good days and bad days. Some days you snap.

No matter how it may appear on this site, I'm not claiming to be a great dad - just one who tries really hard and enjoys being an involved father enough that he wants to make sure others have every opportunity to do likewise. Just like social media, we tend to present the best side of ourselves.

But, yes, absolutely, I've had some rough days and nights. My worst self-assessed flaw as a father is verbally directing my frustration with a situation on my son. It doesn't have to happen often or even severely to make me feel terrible.

For most parents, I think you feel you're the worst at your job when you lash out. Because there's no real reason to do so, and you know it. A baby can't control their tears. A toddler doesn't understand the concept of time. An infant isn't trying to make a mess of everything. It just happens. 

I'd like to think I do a better job than most dads at staying optimistic in stressful dad circumstances, that I take a breath and give my son a hug rather than shout every time, that I do the right thing rather than the impulsive thing. My kids are deserving of nothing less.

But, shit.

Sometimes, I am a jerk as a parent.

I've not been a "great dad" on more occasions than I care to admit (including to myself). I have gripped my son's arm a little too tight. I've been terse or snapped when he just wants someone to pay attention to him. I've definitely lost my cool when he hasn't gone to sleep after hours of rocking, even if it's silent fuming.

(And saying all of this is not some backward reach for people to say, "No, you're a good dad! Don't be hard on yourself!" That's the point - you can be an otherwise good parent and still feel like you fail a bunch.)

Sometimes you hear about parents who take that frustration and anger to a tragic place, and that's both sad and scary. But let's be really honest: Despite the fact I would never, ever hurt my kids, I can perfectly understand why they show every parent at the hospital the shaken baby warning video.

Parenting little kids is like a pressure cooker, and any parent at any given time has the potential to make the worst snap decision of their life. Even though I'm confident no amount of frustration would make me feel compelled to do it, I get why the hospital can't assume any parent is immune.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I want to be transparent, for one. And also because I think it can be easy to enter fatherhood with unrealistic expectations. You assume you'll be different than other dads or your own dad and always keep cool. Or maybe you don't really think about what it'll truly be like to take care of a baby, something that is full of so many highs but also some really difficult lows. 

You'll find out that you'll have amazing days, when the baby takes a nap on you and then wakes up happy and you go to the park and the diaper changes are easy. You'll have days where you have to leave the house right this second because the spawn of Satan who used to be your little angel is making you lose your mind. 

Please know that you're not alone. It doesn't make you a bad father if you get frustrated or upset or even angry about something related to raising your kid. The key difference - one that I work on all the time - is keeping the perspective about why you're upset and doing something to diffuse the situation.

It can be the difference between a deep breath and lashing out. Between soothing your child's tears and adding to their tears.

I don't think I've ever felt emotions as hard as I have as a father. It's like everything is cranked up to 10. I have felt so happy and completely at peace. I have felt like I want to punch a hole in the wall. I think it's because the stakes are so high - each and every day, you have an impact on your baby. There are no off days. They don't care what kind of mood you are in. They need help right now. 

I really hope you never have a day that ends with you losing your cool and shouting at your kid. But it's probably going to happen, and I think I can fairly say it's more likely with dads than moms. I know for certain my wife has more tolerance than I do, and that's considering that I am generally about as easy-going as it gets with most things (except Comcast. Screw Comcast).

So how do you take control of the inevitable anger so you don't lash out?

There's no getting around the fact that the longer you're a dad, the more you'll be able to tolerate. When it's your first kid, there's no real preparation for being screamed at full throttle by a 9-pound wrecking ball at 4 in the morning. It's so intense, Navy SEALs use the sound of colicy babies to mentally prepare themselves for torture.

If you are feeling stressed with the baby, you can:

* De-escalate. You know what the hospital recommends when your baby is screaming their balls off and you can feel your blood boiling? You put them down in the crib, close the nursery door behind you, and just take a minute. Yep. It is better to let your baby scream a little longer than to stay in that intense situation a little beyond your limit. You can also try taking the baby outside with you. It's amazing what getting out of a small room into the outdoors will do for both of you.

* Be honest with your partner if you just need a break. Some days, you might just not have it in you. She'll have some of those same days. You need a support system, even if most days you are full of love and compassion.

* Think about it logically. Babies and infants are irrational as it gets. But there can still be a logical reason they are freaking out. Maybe they have a cut you don't see, or are hungry, or have a wet diaper, or are scared, or are over-stimulated.

* Relax your standards. It's not likely you are going to leave as quickly as you used to, that you'll be on time as much as you'd like, that you'll be able to watch anything uninterrupted like you did before. Accept that, and you won't get so frustrated when things don't go as planned.

* Get at least one day a month that's "your" day. That might mean being baby-free all day or maybe just all evening if that's all that's feasible. But you can go out and do whatever you want and just de-stress. The next time you're with your baby, you won't feel that pressure.

* Use baby soothing techniques: I'm a big fan of the 5 S's (learn more about my favorite new dad tools here). Usually, a swaddle or gently patting their back or giving them a pacifier is enough. Sometimes, you gotta put them in a car seat and take a drive. But don't give up too fast. Just because the baby is screaming one minute doesn't mean they will the next. It can be that quick.

I'm a constant work in progress on being a dad. I'm looking forward to sharing my experience more with you! If there's something related to destressing you want to talk about, let me know below!