Those who don’t intimately know me might not ever know that I have an anger problem. I definitely do. I guess I’ll confess it here because I’ve decided I need to nip this in the bud and deal with it now. Kind of like an accountability confession, I guess. I have a tendency to be a yeller, a behavior I learned as a child, and it really worries me how this can/will affect my daughter if I don’t get it under control. I don’t like the way I feel when I start yelling and I don’t like that “out of control” feeling. I work so hard to teach my daughter how to reign in her feelings and learn to control them but it is completely hypocritical if I can not model that for her.
I don’t have any memories of my mother yelling at me, she did such a fabulous job being patient and kind towards my brother and I. I remember as a pre-teen and teenager seeing my friends screaming at their mothers and their mothers screaming back at them and I just couldn’t imagine how they could have such little respect for each other. My biggest fear is to have a daughter that would talk/scream at me like that because I just wouldn’t know how to handle it. My mom and I never had a relationship like that.
I have stopped and considered that if I don’t stop yelling I am pretty much guaranteeing a daughter that will treat me with the same disrespect. Yes, she drives me absolutely batty sometimes but there is no excuse to yell. I tell her all the time that yelling doesn’t solve the problem and so I need to accept my own advice. I also have never felt motivated to change my behavior, to be humble, forgiving or loving towards someone who is yelling at me. If anything I tune them out, get angry with them or plot out revenge. Sometimes I even stare at them and think how silly and immature they are being and try not to laugh at them. I assume my daughters natural reactions are the same.
I mention this because I was very proud of myself yesterday. The first time we had to take Camden out of a restaurant for bad behavior was about 3 or 4 months ago. Maybe longer? I can’t remember. Anyway, it was a disaster. On the way home she began screaming at the top of her lungs in the car and crying and pleading with me and I kept telling her to stop talking that I needed not to talk because I was too angry but she wouldn’t stop trying to talk to me. I LOST it. Bad. I screamed at the top of my own lungs and I will never forget the fright in her eyes. I well up every time I think about it. I had hurt my own ears I had yelled so loud. I also felt awful because I was pregnant and I can only imagine how much I frightened the baby. It is one of those parenting moments that you bow your head in shame over. I even knew while I was doing it that it was wrong but it felt so “good” to scream it out and it was one of those “I know I shouldn’t do this but I don’t care” moments. Only after I was done did total regret and remorse take over. I cried the whole rest of the way home and when we got home I was able to apologize to her and explain that my behavior was not acceptable, etc but since that time I’ve known that I need to get myself together.
So yesterday was a nice turning point. We went to a really great place called Smoovies with my friend Emeth and her daughter. This is about one of the coolest restauarants/hang outs I have ever been to. I’d love to own something like it someday. The owners are wonderful people that homeschool their kiddo’s. And they have green bean fries! We tried those yesterday and they were soooooo good. I couldn’t believe it. Drool.
Anyway, we were having a great time but towards the end of the afternoon Camden starting getting grouchy and defiant. I assume she was tired. She started back talking, wasn’t listening and was overall being rude. I warned her that if she didn’t do X,Y,Z (can’t remember what now) that we were going to have to go home. Well, of course she didn’t do X,Y,Z which sucks because I really didn’t want to go home but I also refuse to have a child that knows they can get away with whatever they want in public. So I grab her hand and escort her out. Major meltdown explosion. Screaming, wailing, the whole bit. I calmly explain why we are leaving. She turns off the waterworks, “I’m not mad anymore. I’m all done crying. We can go back!” she pleads. I hold firm and explain that we are still leaving. Here come the deafening screams and kicking. I put her in her carseat and I try to slow my heart rate.
Emeth can only look at me with horror filled “I hope my child never does that” eyes and says, “I’m so sorry.” I want to say, “not as sorry as she’s going to be” but then I laugh (internally) at myself. She’s 3. I’m 27, get a grip. I say good-bye and try to situate myself in the car amongst a screaming, thrashing 3 year old. I close my eyes for a minue and then in a calm but firm voice inform her that screaming will not be tolerated. I acknowledged her anger and that she was mad to leave the restaurant but under no circumstances was she allowed to scream in the car. If she chose to scream again she would be going to her room when we got home. She accepted my challenge (what 3 year old wouldn’t?) and let out a gut wrenching scream at the top of her lungs. I tried to find the humor in this all instead of wanting to naturally turn around and pop her on the mouth (we don’t spank in our house for many reasons I’ll have to discuss another time) so then I chose to smile to myself (she couldn’t see my face). It helped me. I then calmy told her that since she chose to scream when we got home she would be going to her room. Sobbing and words beyond recognition ensued from there.
I felt my own anger rising and realized I couldn’t do this on my own. The habit was too strong. At this point I decided to pray for patience and guidance (something I don’t normally do). I breathed a few times and then said some pretty neat things that I can’t recall but the general idea was that I told her that we were all done talking in the car because I needed to focus on driving so that I could keep us safe and that we would talk about our problem when we got home. She was still really upset at this point and crying so hard that she was beginning to cough and make herself sick. She wisely noticed and then screamed, “I don’t feel good!” I felt like telling her “serves you right for throwing such a fit” but instead I leveled my own feelings and calmly pointed out to her that her body didn’t feel good because she was so angry and out of control. I told her that if she didn’t calm herself down that she might throw up. I told her she should try breathing and closing her eyes and that we’d talk about our problem when we got home. I was shocked that within a few minutes she had completely calmed herself down and was no longer crying.
She fell asleep for the last 5 minutes of our trip home and when we got home I picked her up out of the carseat. She opened her eyes and immediately started to well up with tears, remembering what all had taken place. I decided she was ready for reassurance (when she’s angry she normally will not accept physical contact) and held her closely against me. She melted into me and lightly sobbed. As I started walking towards the bedroom I realized that how I acted and responded during these next few minutes were going to determine the outcome of the situation and her willingness to either understand the situation from my point of view or turn into another full blown tantrum where she would forget why she was even angry. I continued to hold her and walked into her room.
I immediately felt her body tense up and she started to protest as I imagine she felt that I was going to abandon her in her room to stew in her own anger, disappointment and shame at having lost control. Instead, I laid down with her on her bed and said nothing. I reminded myself that the only way to truly help her accept the situation was through empathy and understanding. I waited. I decided to let her initiate conversation. I made eye contact with her and squeezed her tighter when she returned the eye contact. She lamented that she didn’t want to leave Smoovies. I empathized and agreed that I didn’t want to leave either. I acknowledged that she was very angry that we had to leave. She nodded and cried a little. I waited until the moment felt right and asked her if she knew why we had to leave? She nodded and said yes. I calmly and gently told her that it hurt my feelings when she treated me the way she did at the restaurant and we talked about listening and being respectful, etc. She genuinely apologized without being prompted and it felt like a huge victory.
Knowing that there was still some unresolved feelings I assured her that there were such things as bad choices but that bad choices didn’t make you a bad person. I confessed that her father and I make bad choices too but that the beauty in all of it is that we can learn from our bad choices and we can choose to seek forgiveness and that we can choose to change and make good choices. I pointed out to her that often times we can feel whether or not we are making good or bad choices by the way our body feels. I then reassured her that I always loved her despite her choices. That sometimes I would be disappointed with the choices that she makes but that I loved her no matter what. It was very cute because she then proceeded to drill me on this. “Do you love me when I’m angry?”, “when I’m sad?”, “when I’m mad?”, “when I’m grouchy?” I reassured her, that yes, I loved her even during those times. She then told me about how the next time we went to Smoovies she would choose to have a good day and make good choices, etc. We giggled about a few things that I can’t recall and then that was that.
I did it without yelling or losing control. It was beautifully simple but amazingly difficult to carry out because of my own shortcomings. I’ve read similar stories in many a parenting book and it always sounds so easy and so “duh” but when I am in the heat of conflict with my child I realize that I myself regress to behavior that is amazingly childlike and out of control. I am realizing that parenting is less about parenting my daughter and more about parenting myself and if I am wise and patient and parent myself well that my daughter will likely follow suit. More importantly you can not successfully impart upon a child what you do not know how to carry out yourself.