¡“Es que no me entiendes”! (“You just don’t understand me!”)
Sounds like a scene from a telenovela. Men, more often than not, are blamed for not being able to understand women. Yes, men and women are different. There’s no arguing this fact. When it comes to relationships and trying to find a balance of understanding each other, it’s a two-way street. When it comes to parenting, however, I would argue that understanding is a one-way street.
From day one of birth, babies are naturally inclined to cry to communicate their needs. They cry when they’re hungry, when they have a dirty diaper, or when they’re sleepy. It’s a natural occurrence. Infants become toddlers and develop a keen sense of belonging within the family system and with that, the need to feel loved, heard and understood. Because language is an introductory tool, expressing their needs and wants may often resemble what we call, a tantrum. Tantrums are exactly that, a child’s way of trying to communicate, a child’s attempt of arriving at the end point of feeling understood. As children grow, their need for continued understanding stays with them. It lingers and stays throughout their elementary years and well into their adolescent, “I hate you, you are the worse parent ever” years.
To a child, the need to feel understood translates in many different forms. Wanting to feel understood could mean ANYTHING. And there lies the dilemma, dads. From the moment our children were born, we have been given the arduous task of trying to figure out what it is our children need. Our job then, as fathers, is to assume the role of detective, analyzing their cries, their struggles, their motives, their inability to express themselves. It’s our job to tune into their world as they see it, to embark and share in their life story, and to see through their lens. This is our task. And though our task is challenging in and of itself, we tend to make it even more challenging when we shift the balance of understanding and try to make it a two-way street. Our children weren’t born to try to understand our needs. They weren’t born to assume the role of detective and try to figure out what our wants and needs are as fathers. And so, when we view and attempt to implement discipline from a top-down approach, it is usually done in a way where we want to be understood. Doing so usually creates attachment barriers, defiance, and emotional disconnectedness because it separates the role of understanding our children.
Our goal should focus on trying to understand our children, not the other way around. We become the misunderstood father when we try to make it about us. Understanding our children is an ever evolving process. At times it may seem that we have finally reached a point where we have fully understood our children. I don’t think we’ll ever reach that point. However, our attempts to understand our children truly matter and create an impact. Even during the tantrums, during the withdrawals, and during the “leave me alone!” moments. Those are the times we may not exactly understand. But even if we don’t understand, as long as they feel understood, then we’ve done our job. After all, it’s about them.