I lost my temper this weekend.
Our kids were being especially challenging. Refusing to eat any food option for dinner, nearly hitting the baby with their feet/legs from constant rolling around/gymnastics across the living room, and an answer for absolutely everything to counter any suggestion mom and dad may have.
At one point, a small glimmer of hope as we tried to get dinner ready. One of our daughters took it upon herself to play waitress, going around and asking everyone, pen in hand, what everyone wanted. It kept her busy, she was enjoying it and it gave us the time Meg and I needed to try and just get something done in the kitchen.
Until she asked her big brother what he would like to eat.
She tried again to take his ‘order.’
One more time to nothing and I finally shouted from the kitchen, “Can you please answer her?!”
“I don’t want anything to eat!” he angrily shouted back.
“It’s just pretend!” I retorted. “Just pretend what you want to eat!”
Upside down in a half somersault, half cartwheel, he angrily yelled “I don’t know how to pretend.”
Sidenote: this is a blatant lie, as he’s constantly creating stories on paper, making creations from the great beyond with LEGOs and often overheard with elaborate action figure set ups and scenarios from his bedroom.
So the angry response of “I don’t know how to pretend” set me off. I yelled. I told him if he didn’t know how to pretend that maybe he didn’t need his art supplies, maybe he didn’t need his action figures, or his LEGOs, or any of the other countless things for pretend that he says he doesn’t know how to do.
I was frustrated. I was angry. Then Meg intervened telling not just he, but I too, that a time out was needed. So we went to our respective rooms to cool off. Which was needed. By both of us – the seven year old AND the 39 year old.
The kids aren’t the only ones who can head down that slippery slope of things that can’t be taken back. It’s incredibly easy for all of us, adults included, to fall down that incline and be forced to live with what comes out on the way down. I’m very appreciative for the foresight my wife had to know he and I were both heading down that slope and needed to it pause and clear our heads. Incredibly grateful.
A few minutes later, as I sat in a room reflecting on my reaction, there was a knock at the door. In he came, giving me a big hug and telling me he was sorry. We both sat down on the bed and I told him I was sorry too. I shouldn’t have gotten as angry as I did. I shouldn’t have said the things I did. It wasn’t right. I was frustrated, but it didn’t make it right. He tried to take the blame “It’s my fault, Daddy.” and I was quick to correct him that it wasn’t. It was mine.
No matter how frustrated he or I may get it, it doesn’t give us the right to become that angry and talk the way we did to each other. The only one who can control what I say, how angry I get, and the words I use to react with, is me. The same goes for him. I made sure to tell him that. I was frustrated, because he was being a bit of a jerk to his sister, but that still didn’t warrant my reaction. Again, I apologized, and we tried to start anew, a lesson hopefully learned.
In both my younger days, as well as my younger parent days (wide-eyed, idealistic, and looking at what parenthood would be like very differently than how parenthood truly is) I just pictured a sit down, talk ala any 50s-80s family sitcom (or 30s-40s Andy Hardy movie) where parent knows exactly what to say to quell the problem, teach the lesson, and save the day.
Life isn’t like that. I rarely know what to say in the moment and find myself in a state of improvisation, trying to piece together the balance of rationale and words to try and explain what went wrong and how we can make make it better. It’s never the perfect on-screen moment I picture in my naive youth.
But honestly, it’s something. Even if we parents are just making it up as we go each day, running from one fire to the next, if we’re trying, if we’re doing our best, letting ourselves learn from our mistakes, and admitting that we too are capable of mistakes, then maybe we might just succeed in raising these little folks to become good people.
We’re not perfect. Maybe we don’t need to be. We’re just flawed humans like everybody else, trying to evolve, to grow, to become better people. And maybe being willing to admit that to our kids can help them grow too.
In recent years, I had felt very proud that I had sort of, gotten myself to a point where my emotions don’t get the better of me. Where I can take a step back, take in what’s happening, and not react with emotions outweighing logic and thought. It felt like a huge step forward from the very emotionally-driven actions and reactions of much of my youth, teen years and young adulthood.
So, it was absolutely devastating for all involved when last weekend I flat out lost it, disappointing myself and my family.
I won’t lie. It has been rough in this transition from parents of one to parents of two. There is an incredible amount of sleep deprivation, lack of energy, and very thin patience in ways I never thought imaginable, for things that don’t really mean anything in the scheme of things, yet seem so incredibly irritating.
And it seems as though all our tempers have been bubbling.
The weekend had, for the most part, started off so well. We went out together as a family and got a Christmas tree. The little guy had even decided an impromptu round of Jingle Bells was in order in the car.
Then came lunch, and he knew what always follows lunch – a nap. No one had mentioned it, we just talked about eating, but he knew. And without discussion, without a word, we asked what he wanted for lunch and he completely and utterly broke down into a crying, yelling fit about not eating anything and not napping.
After the eventual nap, which my wife, literally, had to carry him upstairs for, things seemed to calm down.
Note in the midst of this is a crying, fussy newborn. So compounded together, every little thing that our little guy was saying, doing in his obstinance was suddenly becoming the most irritating thing ever.
It was a fight to go upstairs, a fight to sit on the potty. Even putting on pajamas was a fight because he wanted one specific pair of pajamas, but those monkey pajamas that he had worn to death that week, were currently in the wash. And instead of talking about it, the instant reaction was to throw himself on the ground, crying at the top of his lungs, with no words used at all, despite any attempts by us to do so.
There I was, with the dresser drawer open to his PJ drawer and as all this chaos is unfolding, one of our beloved cats (meant seriously, never snarky. I never snark when it comes to cats) jumped in the drawer. I pulled him out and set him down. He jumped in again. I picked him up and set him down. He jumped in again (all amid the crying, screaming and sheer insanity around us).
I pulled him out one more time, set him down on the ground and stood up, with more rage in my being than I can remember feeling in a very long time. It was palpable. It was visible. So visible in fact that my wife yelled at me to get out of the room and away from everyone in the family immediately.
I did. I went directly into our former office (now turned quasi-nursery) across the hall and sat on a floor with my head down, because I couldn’t believe that I had let things bubble up so incredibly that it was terrifying to my family that I was losing my sh*t. From the other room I heard the little guy screaming at my wife, “Don’t you yell at my daddy! Don’t yell at my daddy!”
And I sat, head down in the other room, wondering how it all got to this.
A few minutes passed and in came the little guy, tears wiped from his eyes, giving me a hug and all of us saying we were sorry to each other.
It doesn’t change what happened. I still allowed myself to move to the farthest brink of anger, allowing all the pressures of this new household dynamic of parents, toddler, cats, and baby to come undone, falling out of the air like juggling balls I’ve lost all control over.
In that moment, I felt like I had my biggest failure as a father so far. For those of you who’ve been through it longer, grown-up kids, I’m sure you’re chuckling “just you wait. You haven’t seen anything yet,” and I’m sure you’re right.
But there have certainly been lessons to be learned here. Without a doubt, there are takeaways that, while not always easy to implement, or even remember in the midst of such chaotic, emotional moments, they are there to help prevent the situations from escalating to that point again, or worse, even further.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t pretend to. My journey into and through parenthood, like so much else of life, is just a work in progress. And everyone’s case is different.
What I can tell you is that I have learned with our little guy that meeting anger with anger does not beget peace. Quite the contrary. A three year old yelling at you and being met with an adult yelling back does not diffuse the situation. If anything, it only makes matters worse. There are definitely times for discipline, times for time-out, but there’s also times where it’s a matter of finding other words.
After reading this article from Positive Parenting Connection, I have realized just how much I say “don’t” to my son in the course of the day. I can’t imagine what that’s like for a child to constantly be hearing that what he’s doing is always wrong.
And it’s not always wrong. We just, as adults, have the way we want things to be, ways that a three year old just has no grasp of. They haven’t lived the lives we lived or worry about the things we do. Nor should they.
So, I’m trying my damndest to replace the don’ts with other words. For example, when he didn’t want to use the bathroom to go potty after waking up (instead wanting to use the portable training potty in the living room) I told him “we’re going to use this one and then go downstairs.” He still didn’t want to. He lazily placed himself on the floor, going limp. I told him I needed the help of a superhero who could stand up, that we’d never be able to stop the bad guys if we couldn’t stand. And slowly, he did.
I don’t always have it well in hand. I’ve already noticed ‘don’ts’ that still come out or times I stop and realize I’m saying it and have to attempt to try and find new words.
This is not a cure-all, this is not groundbreaking research. What it is, is a start. A start of a new attempt on my part to change the outcomes of so many situations as of late. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result, then maybe it’s time I try a different approach.
But that’s just it. I’m trying.