“I don't love you. I only love Mom.” Typical words from a 3 and 4 year old boy, I suppose. Tough to hear, though. “Don't kiss me! Wipe off, wipe off!” - more words wielded by my youngest son, who wipes IN all of mommy's kisses. Even one morning, when things seem good, and little Riker is dozing off between Kristi and I, and I kiss him, whispering “I love you” - he whispers back “wipe off” - comical if it wasn't so hurtful.
It seemed like Riker just woke up one day hating me. I didn't understand why. He would act as if I didn't exist. For 10 straight months he treated me like a stranger. When Kristi talked to him, he would say “I only love you” and “Daddy yells at me”. Did I yell at him? Yep – him and the 5 other kids, too. Frankly, yelling is pretty common in this house, with our stress level, even by his mom. We don't like it, but I was hardly alone in my penchant for hollering.
Still, I worked extra hard not to yell at him. I took just him out to the store. I played video games with him. He'd have fun in the moment, but always revert to “I don't love you.”
One of the reasons it hurt so much was that I had no relationship of any quality with my own father, and was determined to have a strong relationship with him. I love our older son, Braden as well, but that relationship is very different, as he is torn between me and his biological father. Braden's other issues also get in the way of a deep, emotional bond. We're working on it, though.
I don't know if Riker knew how much he was hurting me, or if he just couldn't wrap his head around loving both parents. Maybe both. But it was killing me – as bad as so many other things going on in our family have been, this was a crusher for me – Riker thought I was a bad dad.
About six weeks ago, we started to see some chinks in the dam. Riker loved to play chess, and I'm the chess player of the family. So I made a vow that whenever he asked, I'd drop everything and play. First thing in the morning, in the middle of work (I work at home, but still, a distraction), even late into the evening. We played game after game – at four years old he can play a full game from start to finish. He can't win, but he can play. I quickly learned that he's not like Riley, who doesn't care if she loses. Riker has to WIN! But you can't always let him win, because sometimes he wants YOU to win. I finally started asking him before we played who should win the game – him or me.
At family meetings, he started saying the best part of his day was playing chess with me. He started hugging me, voluntarily, before bedtime. When I kiss his forehead, he actually says “wipe in”. Tonight, just as I started this blog post, the final wall went down. I asked him to get me a pop. He brought over, saying “You drink 7 million 6587435 of these every day!” I told him that's exactly how many times I love him. He smiled and turned to go, and then turned back: “I love you 100 infinity, and that's MORE”.
If that's not a turnaround Tuesday, I don't know what is. How do you explain this turnaround? Is he just growing up? Did I suddenly become a better Dad? Do I yell less? Yes, on all counts. If you're looking to make a turnaround, its important to understand the problem. It's vital to change behaviors. But it often must be done over a period of time. If your turnarounds aren't happening fast enough for you, remember to keep the faith. Make adjustments. Keep moving forward. In the end, turnarounds are always worth the wait.
----Thanks for the post! We all have things to work on, but I think personal relationships are the most important. A seed cannot grow, without soil, water and sunlight. Riker is growing to understand that things happen that are out of his control. I'm happy this "turn-around" happened :)
"Any man can be a Father but it takes someone special to be a dad." -- Anne Geddes