How to Let Things Slide
This guide is optimized for dealing with kids, but it works for other irritating people, too
I am not cool. This is self-evident: I am a dad, and I wear chunky Skechers when I go around town because I have a bad back.
But I am also uncool in terms of temperament — with adults occasionally but especially when parenting. I have yelled at my kids. I have done that thing where you yell at your kid, only then the facts come out, and it turns out you were yelling at the wrong kid. “Oh, you mean it was Jimmy who tracked the mud inside? Well, then it is you who are grounded, Jimmy! Let that be a lesson to you!”
The worst part is that I know losing my cool accomplishes nothing. I’ve read about it. I’ve written about it. And yet I still lose my shit when I get too much attitude from my kids. Especially from the 14-year-old because teenagers know how to be nasty on a level that makes smaller kids look like hopeless amateurs. And if you don’t have a 14-year-old, well, now the entire world has become as nasty as one.
Given that I suffer from residual damage after a terrifying brain hemorrhage I suffered two years ago, there are actual medical reasons that I can become, medically speaking, “disinhibited” at times. But honestly, I got pissy around my kids before that accident.
But I am trying to get better about it, and I’m finding that it is deeply rewarding to be cool. Those moments where someone expects you to be angry or punishing, and you instead let it slide? They’re gorgeous. There is humanity and bonding in instant forgiveness. The other person remembers when you are unexpectedly cool about shit. Your kids remember. So do coworkers.
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I want more of those moments, especially now that we’re stuck with this pandemic for a seeming eternity. Three years ago, I put a sign up in the kitchen that said “Everybody be cool.” By “everybody,” of course, I meant myself. I needed a permanent reminder that being cool has its privileges. So, here’s what I’ve learned from my kids about how to do it — with your own kids or with anyone else.
1. Separate the grievous offenses from the forgivable ones.
Robbing a gas station, hitting a classmate, committing arson — those are yellable offenses. Spilling a glass of milk? That goes into the “be cool” pile. Save your anger for when it’s genuinely merited. Otherwise, your kids won’t know what the fuck they can and can’t do at all. And make sure the forgivable list is longer than the unforgivable one.
2. Forgive the occasional grievous offense.
One thing I’ve noticed in my time as a parent is that a lot of kids, especially as they get older, know when they’ve fucked up. One time, some kids came over to play with mine, and one of those kids hucked a battery through the basement window, breaking it. The kid who busted my window was genuinely sorry. And I said to him, “It’s okay. Just please don’t do it again.”
And he didn’t. You need to give people a chance to distinguish between right and wrong for themselves. But that can only happen when you’re cool about it at the moment.
3. Write it; don’t say it.
I now nag my daughter by texting her. I shoot her a “do the dishes,” and presto! She’s at the sink a minute later. If I go upstairs and knock on her door and scream at her to do the chore while she’s busy listening to Tame Impala, it becomes an entire Chekhov play. Kids are biologically designed to not listen to you, particularly in voice form. You know how often they hear you talk every day? I get eye rolls before I even open my mouth. Inventing a pandemic vaccine is easier than getting a kid to listen.
Getting them to read what you have to say, shockingly, is much easier. You don’t have to write a long letter or anything. You’re not a War of 1812 soldier writing from the front. Just a simple Post-it that says, “Please don’t hit your brother” will do the trick.
One time, I caught our 11-year-old writing “No one likes you” to our eight-year-old over Gchat. I commandeered the eight-year-old’s account and wrote, “This is dad. Knock it off.” His brother wrote back, “Okay,” and that was that. Writing requires more effort than yelling. It’s a medium conducive to being cool.
5. Spoil them.
I’ve spent most of my time as a parent worried I’m being overly permissive with my kids, and judging other parents, who suck, for being even more so.
Time and quarantine have changed that. I’ve let go of more shit. If the kids want some junk food to get by, I get it. If they wanna watch a movie that’s a bit too old for them, I let it go anyway. If they swear, big fucking deal.
There’s a middle ground between being puritanical and letting them go hog wild. Too much of the former, and you get Mike Pence. Too much of the latter, and you get a Logan Paul sibling. Give them the occasional treat, and they’ll be more willing to hear you out when things are not cool.
6. Remind yourself to be cool.
I used to have the “Everybody be cool” sign up in the kitchen to remind myself to keep my shit together. No shame in writing yourself that little reminder. Because the cooler you are, the cooler everyone else around you will be. And we need that.