Parenting

I Smacked My Toddler Today

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I hit my child today.

The reason is moot. Pointless. Inconsequential. There is no excuse for my behavior. I lashed out without thinking or breathing. But the repercussions were instantaneous. I burst into tears, as did he. Water leaked from his little eyes, leaving wet trails down his nose and reddened cheeks. I heaved and sobbed. There was no “chill.” I collapsed in a heap on the floor because of my actions — I hated myself at that moment.

It’s been hours and I haven’t recovered. I doubt I ever will. Because I know what he felt. I know the disgust, betrayal, sadness, and fear, because I felt it too. I grew up in an abusive home. I married an abusive man. And my son deserves better. I know (and should be) better. But I wasn’t. Not now. Not today. Because today, I hit my child.

Today, I smacked my son.

Ironically, my son called for me after the transgression. “Mommy,” he screamed. “Mommy!” because (normally) I am the one to soothe him. I pick him up, holding him close. I wipe the boogers from his nose and tears from his eyes, and we snuggle until his heart slows. Until he is okay. But today? Why does he still want me today? I don’t want me. I can’t stand me. Because today is so different from who I usually am, from who I want to be.

You see, usually I am the calm and quiet parent. I do not yell. I believe in addressing matters firmly but compassionately. I use my words, explaining things like feelings and consequences. I tell my child what they did wrong and why. We live in a “hands to ourselves” household. I have no tolerance for biting, hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, or shoving, but I deal with those actions gently and firmly. And I do my best to care for my children in a safe and nurturing way. I want them to feel secure and protected. Loved and okay. But today, all of that changed.

I changed today.

I see my mother in his eyes. My reflection has morphed. I am a broken woman, the product of years of torment. Of physical and emotional abuse. I am a sad woman — one who has no self-esteem and little self-worth — and I am an angry woman, one who strikes her children for being…children. I was once beaten (with a belt) for breaking a hamper. My father struck my hand whenever drinks were spilled. And I can see that girl in my son’s eyes too. Her frail frame trembles. She shakes, cowers, and cries… just like my son.

Like my scared baby boy.

I fight through my own disappointment and scoop him up like he wants, per his request. I see the red mark on his hand and tremble. Just like her. You are just like her. But — I stop myself — you don’t have to be. We can be better.

For him.

For me.

For we.

“Sweetie?” I squeak. “I’m sorry I hit you. Mommy shouldn’t have done that. Mommy was wrong.”

He looks up at me, wide-eyed and full of wonder, in a way only a two-year-old can. And then, without a word, he buries his face in my chest. We sit, still and in silence, for several moments. For several minutes. I cannot tell you how much time passed. And then — in an instant — our snuggle sesh is over. He wriggles out of my arms and runs to his trucks.

“Mommy,” he says. “Mommy play?” And we do. For nearly an hour, we do. Because today, I’m changing myself and my story.

Today, I’m saving my son. And myself.

Does this make today better? Is the lesson worth the cost? No. I’ve apologized to my son a dozen times since. I’ve explained how wrong I was. How unacceptable my behavior was. There is no justification aside from anger. But it is nice to know that my son still loves me. It is nice to know I am not the monster I fear so deeply. My mother and I are different people. I can break the cycle, if I work for it.

It it is nice to know this is salvageable. I haven’t ruined my son.

But I have ruined “me” enough. I have disappointed myself enough, and while the red mark has already faded from his hand — it is nothing more than a distant memory, a mark made in a moment of anger; an injury sustained in a second of rage — I will never forget it, or his face, because I won’t let myself. I can’t let myself, and I don’t want to. Remembering keeps me truthful. It keeps me accountable, and by remembering, I can change. Because today, I hit my child.

Today, I hit my child.

But today, I decided to change. And I swear, with every fiber of my being, that it will never, ever happen again.

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