A couple of days ago, I read a post written by a woman whose children had asked her, in a completely ordinary moment, “Mom, why are you so mad?”
“I wasn’t even ‘mad.’ It was just another day. She was sitting on the potty and I had gone in to pick up the toy she dropped, for the third time. I must have let out a big sigh, which is what prompted her to ask me that question in her sweet little voice.
I immediately changed my attitude and put her little cheeks in my hands and said;
‘I’m not mad! Why do you think I’m mad, sweetheart?’
I wish I could be this woman; I wish I could say of my reaction to my children’s needs and demands and tantrums: I wasn’t even mad.
The truth: I have been – am – so mad. Mad that they can’t be grateful, or patient, or respectful, even though I know that these are qualities that emerge with time. Mad that I can’t be gracious, or understanding, or calm.
Mad at myself for being mad.
I told my son that I was taking him on a special trip to the forest where the Ewoks from Star Wars live, and he yelled at me that he didn’t want to go, that forests were boring. I didn’t sit down with him in a quiet corner and try to parse out what about walking through an ancient forest filled with mile-high redwood trees made him feel so bored that he needed to scream about it; I just got mad.
Because I am. Mad. And sometimes, when you are mad, you are mean.
Kendrick has been traveling a lot for work lately. Which is fine, obviously, because I travel a ton myself, and also because I enjoy having full control over the remote every once in awhile.
But the other day, you know what happened? I spent five hours taking my children to mini golf courses and martial arts classes, feeding them, bathing them, walking the dogs, watering the plants, washing clothing, cleaning the kitchen, helping them practice piano, locating activity books/paper/different paper/crayons/different crayons, and (poorly) defusing several temper tantrums…and after all this they finally, finally got into bed (mine, obviously, with me laying there next to them because I am currently eating my words on the whole sleep-training situation).
And then my daughter needed her yellow cup and freaked the F out when I gave her a blue cup because that’s the only one that was clean (full floor collapse). Then she needed the Elsa and Anna cup with the straw. And then, once I finally located the Elsa and Anna cup with the straw (under the dining room bench, wayyyyyyy in the back with the tumbleweeds), she realized that ONLY THE BLUE CUP THAT SHE HAD REJECTED THIRTY SECONDS EARLIER WOULD DO. Meanwhile, my son made his way back into his bedroom and dumped his Legos (all of them) onto the floor. Then I lost it, and screamed at my children. (“SILENCE! GO TO SLEEP! RIGHT. NOW.” In my extremely low-pitched scary-parent voice.)
So then they told me me that I never play with them (only Daddy does) and that they don’t like it when I’m Mean Mommy. And then they fell asleep.
And also accurate: I am, from time to time (ok, daily) a mean mommy. One child will hit the other, and then a book will be thrown, and then screaming will ensue, and I’ll be all calm and taking deep breaths and using my level “explaining voice,” and then I’ll get pushed one millimeter too far, and I will lose my shit at my offspring.
Does this ever work? Of course not. It just makes them upset, and it makes me upset, and 100% of the time it ends with me apologizing and explaining that sometimes mommies get frustrated, too. Trust me, I know this even as it’s happening.
I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately. Which is kind of awesome because when I’m traveling I feel at home, somehow, and also because I enjoy having full control over the remote.
But the other day when I was in my actual home, you know what happened? I woke up at 5AM to get to work early so I could duck out early and take my kids to a movie. I wanted to do this because I’ve been gone a lot lately, and I wanted to spend some uninterrupted time together. I’m also exhausted, so I was OK with the fact that this time together would involve exactly zero movement and minimal interaction.
After hours of meetings, rapid-fire emails, muting-myself-on-conference-calls-while-inhaling-leftover-tacos-from-someone-else’s-workshop, rushing home, pouring my kids into the car while they demanded some sort of snack I’d never heard of, refusing them every single thing they saw in the mall on the way to the movie, and then struggling (poorly) to keep my cool while they both demanded I pick them up at the exact same time while also simultaneously emitting the sort of high-pitched shriek designed to incapacitate canines…I lost it. And I screamed at them. (Jesus Christ CAN’T YOU JUST GET ALONG???) Like a teenager.
So they melted down in puddles, cried, and said they wanted their mom.
And also logical. I hadn’t fed them before the movie, and then I’d made them walk miles across the wasteland of suburban commerce. I hadn’t been the superhuman they needed me to be; I hadn’t been able to keep calm and carry on my shoulders both their little tushes. So my bedraggled children and I sat “criss cross apple sauce” in the corner of the food court, and they explained to me how mom thinks of things that I forget, and told me that we spend all our time together “looking at the options” instead of doing anything fun.
So much for special time with Dad.
What’s the moral of this story? Today, it comes in list form.
- Definitely don’t scream at your kids. It doesn’t work.
- Know that you will definitely scream at your kids, because a tiny part of you will continue to believe with total certainty that IT WILL WORK.
- You will, at some point, realize that – when it comes to parenting – you’re doing it wrong. All of it. This is OK, because the percentage of parents who are doing it wrong is 100%.
- There will come a day when your children will tell you that you have always done it wrong, and are currently doing it wrong, right this very moment. [If you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, see 5 (1).]
- Your children are probably right.
- Caveat: If you are Gwyneth Paltrow, first, hi Gwen! Second, your children are still probably right, and you are still probably doing it wrong. But you were fantastic in The Royal Tenenbaums.
- When you are angry, you almost never say what you mean. Be careful with your words, but don’t beat yourself up when they come out wrong. Do apologize, though.
- Being a parent is different from being a friend, and it’s different from being a boss. You want to be both, but the truth is that you’re neither – you’re something in between, and something much more. Hearing your kids say they want the other parent; wincing at the mistakes you fantasized about avoiding your whole life; grimacing as you realize how similar your mistakes are to the ones your parents made; confronting the fact that the past is right here, right now, in the present – it can feel like you’ve lost something.
- You haven’t lost anything. You’ve gained an entire world – and yes, one that’s full of demands and tantrums, but also one that’s full of experiences like sprinkling glitter on the lawn so Santa can find your house. Making airplanes out of Legos. Feeling, once again, the joy that happens when all of a sudden you can ride a bicycle by yourself, and you take off flying.
- Kids are weirdos. They say all sorts of ridiculous stuff. So even if they say that they don’t love you, because they’re being little jerks…they love you, OK? They don’t love the other parent more. Or maybe just a tiny little bit more, right now, but they’re also insanely mercurial and disloyal and will flip on you like those HGTV stars when confronted with a midcentury ranch with “great bones.”
Last, but not least, there is this: Water is clearer when it’s calm. That said, you’re a human, not a lake – and humans lose their minds from time to time. We get exhausted, and we lash out at the people we love instead of being patient with them.
But you know what happens to rough water? It settles down; it always does. All it needs is a little time. And besides: Apologies, you know, they work wonders – and teaching your child that it’s OK to say “I’m wrong” even when you’re a grown-up? That’s something close to a miracle.
Even we Mean Mommies, as it turns out, are miracle-workers once in awhile.