It hurt. I left his office smarting, and certain that the pay raise I'd hoped for was not going to be forthcoming.
I felt undervalued and left within six months.
But recently my wife, Kylie, decided we needed to check in with our kids and see how we're living up to what we value as parents. Kylie had been reading my new book, What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family. In the first chapter of my book, I ask a series of questions to encourage parents to think about how well they are parenting. Rather than asking herself how she was doing as a mum, Kylie decided to ask the kids.
While I played with the children, read stories, and did some activities, Kylie invited each of our children to spend ten or fifteen minutes answering those questions. Talk about putting yourself out there for possible experience in pain.
Sitting on the couch in the lounge room, Kylie assured the kids we loved them and they wouldn't be in trouble for being truthful. Then she asked each of the questions from the book. Here are just a few:
Do we show we care about you?Many of the answers were awesome. For example, Annie (our 4 year old) loves our hugs and kisses. She feels better when she gets them. *Sigh.*
Do we remember things that are important to you?
Do we make you feel wanted?
And Abbie (age 9) said,
"When you're happy I feel safe and protected."That felt good.
But some of the answers stung, like this one from 4 year-old Annie:
"When you get angry and shout it makes me want to cry"We got this message (among others) from our Yr 7 daughter, Chanel:
"I feel like you don't value what I do because you keep loading me up with more chores before I'm even finished the last ones. Then you get angry and make me feel like you just want me out of the way."How about this one, from Ella (aged 8) when asked if we show that we remember what's important to her:
"Sometimes I don't think so, because you threw out Snowy."Snowy was Ella's tattered, falling to bits, stuffed toy bunny rabbit.
And then Ella hit us with this one:
"When you are busy you don't listen to me properly. Like when Dad's on the computer or you (mum) are doing craft you're not available to me. It feels like they're more important than me."The one that really cut through was from our 9 year old Abbie:
"When you're angry I feel like you wish I was never born."Oh. Ouch. My eyes are wet as I type. I feel so chastened for every allowing my annoyance and irritation to flash into outbursts that leave a near perfect 9 year old feeling like I wish she'd never been born.
Abbie gave Kylie an example of how, one evening, she was slow in responding to my repeated requests to set the table. After I raised my voice she finally started to pull out placemats. Then stopped and asked Kylie a question. Well, she tried to. I didn't let her get the question out. I shouted over her, demanding that she do as she was asked before she stall the process by asking questions. She burst into tears as she told me her question was about what we would need for the table setting.
That was months ago. She still remembered. And so do I.
After the children had gone to bed Kylie talked me through our first parenting appraisal.
We were doing plenty right. That much was clear. But the children's feelings reflecting our shortcomings had a powerful impact. I felt awful for that.
The appraisal was effective. It stirred something inside me.
I love my kids and I automatically assume they know it. I take it for granted that they feel my love for them. And, like just about every parent on the planet, I try to do the best I can. But each time I get irritated, they hurt. I simply had no idea how much.
I feel a little exposed, sharing this. But here's the thing. Like most parents, my knowledge of what I should do far outstrips my capacity to carry out what I know I should do. Knowing a lot doesn't make me - or any parent - great.
The Lesson: Ultimately our kids don't care how much we know about parenting. They just care that they feel loved. Our perception is almost irrelevant. It's their perception that counts.
Kylie and I were talking about this again as I constructed this post. Our children have been much easier to work with since the performance appraisal. Kylie pointed out that by doing this, we were actually being 'good' parents. We took the time to understand our children.
Perhaps the biggest take-home for us is that none of the issues our kids raised were 'major' issues to us. But it's the small things; the short temper at the end of the day, the lack of attention because of the computer, the loading them up with more chores - these little things stick with them.
You can find the questions we asked our kids in my new book, available here.