I’m a believer in peaceful, gentle parenting. And I’m a yeller. Not from the beginning, though. As challenged as some parents are by toddler behavior, I rarely felt angry with my children until age around age 4. Apparently, I view toddlers as cute and impulsive little wild animals, and thus have few behavioral expectations at that age. For my first 3+ years of motherhood, I was so proud of myself for my infinite patience and obvious knack for this parenting thing.
That was short-lived, because boy, can they trigger me now! Kids’ first mission in life is to grow into the people they are meant to be. Their second mission is to sniff out and dig up every last hot button we have and hit it hard to show us where we still have work to do.
I believe in teaching children to do the right thing through connection and modeling rather than control tactics. I believe children should be spoken to respectfully even when they’re being held accountable for problematic behavior, because all human beings deserve basic respect. I believe we teach them to handle conflict in a reasonable, respectful manner mostly by our own example.
Those are my heartfelt beliefs. Too bad my beliefs and my temperament are not quite matched up. So, occasionally, I lose my shit big time.
The other day was one of those times. I knew I had lost it badly because it was my 9 year old I was yelling at, and my much less sensitive 5-year-old was crying right along with him. Then my 9-year-old said, “Mom, you’re scaring us.” This snapped me out of it enough to stop and tell them I needed to go take some deep breaths and calm down.
The funny/not funny part? I was angry because I felt my son was obnoxiously overreacting to being told things he didn’t want to hear. Hahahaha. Way to model that exact behavior in response, times a hundred.
I regained my composure and did the repair work. I told them I was sorry, that I felt angry and didn’t handle it well, and it’s never OK to yell at anyone like that. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve had to have that conversation with them and it probably won’t be the last.
But I am getting better. I used to yell, at least a little, on a near-daily basis. Now the days I yell are fewer and farther between, and my bigger outbursts like that one are rare.
My kids know this is something I struggle with and work on. Obviously, it would be better if I hadn’t had this occasion to apologize to them. But I hope at the very least, I am teaching them about part of what it means to be human, and what you do next when you realize you’ve hurt someone. I hope at the very least, I am showing them what it means to consciously and continually work toward becoming the best person you can be for yourself and others. I hope.
I cried a lot and told the story to several friends that day. They said, “I’ve been there, too. We do the best we can as parents, and it is so hard sometimes.” And, “Don’t be too hard on yourself, they know how much you love them and they will be fine. You are human.” And, “Take lots of deep breaths, focus on your self care, and get back in balance. Get back on the horse.” My husband said, “Besides repairing your relationship with them, you need to repair your relationship with yourself.”
I’m still working on that one. I’ve been thinking a lot about remorse and guilt, and the fine line between holding yourself accountable and beating yourself up.
Author and researcher Brené Brown writes and talks about the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I did something bad” while shame says, “I AM bad.” Guess which one is shown to promote better relationships and mental health, and which is damaging to both?
When my friends and my husband spoke about self-forgiveness, I was resistant to that at first. I thought, “Nope, there’s no excuse for that and I can’t let myself off the hook.” But what is it I want? Loving these children well is absolutely my most important job, and I want to be the best mom I can be. Will telling myself how horrible I am move me in that direction? No, and in fact, it will probably make me more likely to yell some more. They say compassion for others starts with compassion for ourselves. I believe it.
So I decided not to wallow in shame any further. Instead, I took a look at what I’ve been doing, and not doing, that may have veered me off course and left me prone to that kind of eruption. I recommitted to my exercise, meditation, and gratitude journaling practices, all of which had slipped. I’m remembering to stay focused and present with whatever I’m doing, rather than chasing a million little distractions throughout the day. These are the things that help me respond rather than react to everyday stressors and curve balls.
And while kids are vulnerable, they really are resilient, too. The next morning, I wasn’t totally OK yet, but my boys were. And now their mama is back on the horse.
© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2015