An anecdote, apropos of nothing

Every so often, my wife will get into some sort of conflict with my son when I’m in another room. This isn’t something that happens a lot, mind you; once or twice a week, maybe, generally around bath- or bedtime. The details don’t really matter all that much. He’s either doing something she doesn’t want him to do, or he’s not doing something she wants him to do. Sometimes he manages both at the same time.

And my reaction, generally, is to let her handle it. Not because I don’t care, or because I think discipline is her job; we co-parent as much as we can, and on the rare occasion where we disagree on how to handle something involving him we sort it out when he isn’t around. Because here’s the thing: if my wife and son are having an issue, particularly if he’s already upset and not just being a butthead, the second I show up– even if I don’t say anything– I have escalated the situation, just by my presence. Now my son’s not scared of me, there’s no threat of physical violence here– I’ve never laid a finger on him. But if he’s already upset, the second he’s outnumbered he’s twice as upset as he was before.

I have made things worse, simply by showing up. It might be my intention to calm things down or, alternatively, to lay down the law and quell the misbehavior, but what I have done is escalated the situation.

Now let’s imagine that I walk into the room, and my belt is in my hand. I don’t say anything; I’m not screaming or yelling or carrying on. I’m just there, leather belt in hand, perhaps doubled over on itself.

That’s gonna be even worse, right? Even though I haven’t actually done anything. I’m just standing there, with my belt, and I’ve made things more frightening, more violent, more alienating, more dangerous. Just by standing there.

Funny how that works.


8:34 PM, Monday, June 1: 1,809,109 confirmed cases and 105,099 Americans dead.