Guest Post: Unnecessary Toughness

Monday, November 19, 2012

Unnecessary Toughness

by Justin Mannato

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas Edison

My Director and I were driving Peanut to a play date. On our way, we passed Peanut’s school. She was so excited to see her school on a weekend that she pointed it out from the back seat. “Look! There’s my school,” she shouted. We rolled to a stop sign at the corner of the street where her school is located. My Director acknowledged Peanut’s observation with equal excitement. I, however, was lost in my thoughts. Thinking I needed help, Peanut repeated herself and provided specifics. “Look, Daddy. It’s right there next to the hockey court.”

Instead of reciprocating her excitement; instead of recognizing that she’s actually excited about seeing her new school, where she had just started Kindergarten a month earlier; instead of validating her, I corrected her. “That’s a tennis court, sweetie.” Saying “sweetie” didn’t make me sound like any less of a douche.


I know the parenting handbook backwards and forwards. I know if she says something incorrectly, I should be positive and discreet. Something like, “Yes! There’s your school, right next to that tennis court!” While we are all permitted moments of weakness and failure as parents, I must admit I tend to be too hard on Peanut sometimes.

My Director calls it “piling on.” Peanut will do something wrong. I will correct her and if necessary, punish her. Nothing wrong with that. It’s called parenting. But I don’t stop there. I will then proceed to recall every similar wrongdoing she has committed since the beginning of time, point it out, and use it is as an opportunity to punish her for those prior offenses as well. Piling on.

I think I do it because I am aware that Peanut will most likely be an only child. Stopping at one will afford us — and her — certain luxuries. More trips. More toys. More money for more surprises.

Photo by Justin Mannato

In return, I am overcompensating. I don’t want her to be spoiled, feel privileged or let her off the hook. I actually make her share snacks or room on the couch with the dog. That way she knows what it’s like to have a sibling who also wants what she’s having. (Yes, our 12-pound shih tzu Luna pretty much runs things in our house.)

What I also realize, though, is that Peanut really is a good girl. I’m not just saying that because I’m her dad. After all I am, as I have described above, her harshest critic. Perhaps unfairly. Or perhaps it’s working. I’ve seen kids her age who talk back to their parents, don’t say please or thank you, make demands and not requests, and generally are a humungous pain in the a$$. Peanut does none of that.

Here’s one downfall of my only-child Tiger-Dad ways: She doesn’t like to fail. When we do homework, and she writes a “g” that looks like a “q,” or a “9” that looks like a “p,” she gets very upset and embarrassed. This is where I have learned not to pile on. “Making mistakes is how you learn,” I tell her. “When you make a mistake, you know what you have to do next time to make it better.” No judgement. No piling on. Just empathy. “I make mistakes all the time,” I admit. “Every day at work I make a mistake. And you know what I do? I learn from it and just do it better next time.”

What I realize in that teaching moment with Peanut is that something I practice at work applies to parenting as well. I am a tv news producer. (Which explains why I refer to my wife as “My Director.”) It is a fast-paced, deadline-driven, high-stress job. I manage a team of eight people who are working quickly to put a clean, clear, and compelling show on the air. Sometimes there is a typo in a graphic or script, or the wrong video gets on the air. I point it out, get an explanation, and move on. I’m not going to pile on because no one feels worse about it than the person who made the mistake.

Same with Peanut.

A few weeks ago during his sermon, the pastor in church shared a story about his teenage daughter. He picked her up from school and said he could tell she was clearly upset. She was afraid to tell her dad that she had failed a test. She had never done that before. “Congratulations,” he responded. “It’s about time you failed at something.” He then took her out for ice cream.

It is in failing that we succeed. My failures as a dad make me a better parent to Peanut. Her failures as as a child help her learn and grow. We are figuring this all out together.


For more on Justin, please visit his blog  Daddy Knows Less or  follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

1 Comment
  • 1
    Kristin says:

    Talk about piling on. Coolness visiting Coolness. Great to see DKL here!

    What strikes me most about your initial hockey court story, isn’t the correction as much as the reminder to be present for our children – to hear what they’re saying. For everyone, really.

    I criticize my kids too much as well, and I don’t have the only child excuse. I’m getting better though, and part of it is that I’m starting to buy into the “don’t correct the spelling” philosophy in our Kindergarten. It is not easy, however.