The first time I yelled at my son he was 16 months old, to the day. I had raised my voice before and had even become frustrated over various things, but this time was different. Typically, I am very good at redirecting, explaining my feelings, teaching alternate or correct behavior and moving on. As a family we are committed to giving choices and alternate acceptable actions to promote positive behavior modification with problem solving. Something was different, however, on this particular morning.
This time I let out an anger-filled, despair laced, bone chilling scream that turned my stomach. I share this in embarrassment, anguish and guilt. This is one of the ugly sides, for me, of being a “new” mommy.
I want to start off by saying that I was raised by one of the best mothers a girl could ask for. My mom is still one of my best friends and closest allies. She was and still is a loving, caring mother. She was also a screamer. She was raised by the same type of mother and so I also grew up in a household with a lot of yelling. In fact, yelling, light spanking, and grounding were the main forms of punishment in our home. This was typical for the culture and time of Baby Boomers raising their children.
Even though I am grateful for my beautiful life and have little complaint about the way I was raised, there are some things I have decided to do differently as a parent. True to my generation, a couple of those things include re-directing and teaching instead of “punishments” such as yelling and spanking; using “early bedtime” as a threat or otherwise “easy out” to behavior modification; and creating empty threats about catastrophic things that will take place due to certain behavior, unless of course, the catastrophic thing is a real and truly possible outcome.
Our lives change monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily with a constantly growing infant and now toddler. Therefore, our boundaries, hopes, wishes, and composure as parents are constantly being tested. There have been many times where I have caught myself doing things that I swore I would never do. I have to admit that I have given in to mindless cartoon watching in order to get a couple of loads of laundry done, I have offered the comfort of the binky that is “only for resting” during rushed but overly whiny mornings, I have allowed certain sugary snacks to be consumed just to see a smile, and I have gotten very lazy on some days with the rule of reading two books a day.
This time, though, was different than all of the rest. This time I had an experience where I felt totally out of control, totally bewildered, and like an ultimate failure.
I had become someone I never want to be. It was more than bending or breaking a rule. It was a moment when I didn’t recognize myself. I couldn’t control my anger and it flowed out of me through my tone, my facial expressions, the volume of my voice and the angry words I chose to use. It was all over a bowl of dog food and water and once my tantrum was complete, I wept in shame and despair.
In reflection, I know that there were many choices I had made up until that point to create the perfect storm for a meltdown. I stayed up past my bedtime the previous night to watch a show instead of preparing our household for our morning routine. I took extra time in the shower, not giving myself enough time to feel composed and prompt on our way out the door. In my rush to be on time, I set the dog bowls of food and water down earlier than normal just to have it out of the way. Even though I had repeated “hands off” a million times that morning, I simply kept saying it instead of physically moving my son out of the kitchen. And, in my hurried morning, I made the mistake of leaving him to his own curiosity while I ran to the coat closet. All of these things led to a soup concoction of “way too expensive” dog food and water covering our entire kitchen floor. In the middle of it all was a soaked baby playing happily in the disaster and a bewildered mommy trying to get to work on time. I take responsibility in this way not to take blame but to remain accountable for the type of parent I want my son to be raised by.
To this moment, I feel ashamed about the negative feelings I projected onto my son that morning.
While writing this I realize that the event was marginal, unimportant, and will most likely be forgotten in a matter of months. What will not be forgotten, however, is how I felt observing the confusion and shame on my son’s face. When I am worn down, I revert to behaviors that were ingrained in me as a small, impressionable girl. In recognizing this, I am also positive that I don’t want my children to have to experience the same.
I am reminded each day, as each new test comes my way, that I am human. When I don’t take care of myself, I’m not the mom I want to be. Even though I mess up and let myself down, I know how to pick myself up and try again. I’ve learned that this is just part of being a parent.
I also know that I need to give myself a break when I fall short of expectations; apologize for my mistakes; and correct my wrongs even when it means trying to explain such complicated emotions to a 16-month-old.
It is so easy to commit to this when that anger-filled, despair laced, bone chilling moment is not at hand, but in reflection we become more self-aware and with practice and dedication we become the parents we want to be. For me, this means I want to be a scream-free mommy and so, I start the journey to accomplish this over the lifetime of our first born and the siblings he will someday share his parents with.