Today, I totally lost it with my 4-year-old son — my sweet, sweet son who spends his days covering me with kisses and telling me he loves me, who won’t let me kill a bug, who spends his afternoons drawing portraits of me with highlighter pens, and who tells me matter-of-factly that “rainbow” is his favorite color.
He’d been home sick for two days with a nasty cold and had been up at 5 this morning because he was too stuffed up to breathe. By noon, I knew he needed a nap, and I desperately needed him to take it so I could get some work done.
My husband had been working late all week, I’d hardly slept in days, and I had deadlines. I was cranky. He was cranky. I needed him to sleep.
And of course, he wouldn’t. He fought me with all the energy he had left, snot flying out of his nose with every protest.
I tried shushing him, telling him stories, and rocking him in my arms like a baby. But he would not sleep.
So I lost it. I yelled. I cursed. I placed him roughly down on the bed, anger coursing through me.
I never get like this. I don’t have much of a temper. I get upset, of course. I raise my voice. But I can usually keep my rage under control.
I know this happens sometimes, that parents can’t be perfect. But I also hate when I see a parent lose their temper in front of their kids. It was something I witnessed often as a child, and I swore I would never do it with my kids. When I see another parent raging at their kids, it makes me sick to my stomach.
And now I was that parent.
My son immediately started crying and shaking. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry,” he sobbed.
He buried his head in my shoulder, and it struck me how immediately he still trusted me with his feelings. But that only made me feel worse. In that moment, I felt a terrible mix of the lingering anger that had been firing up in me and intense guilt for having raged at my child.
I apologized profusely. He accepted my apology and soon fell asleep against me.
With him limp in my arms, I let out the biggest exhale. Any amount of anger or frustration I had was gone. And now all I felt was sadness and shame. I cried into his hair, whispering, “I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so, so sorry.”
Even a few hours later, I couldn’t shake that feeling of having done something horrible, no matter how I rationalized it.
Why do we parents do this to ourselves?
Yes, there are parents out there who absolutely should feel guilt and shame for how they treat their kids. I don’t think emotional or physical violence is anything we should take lightly — not for one second.
And even in cases where abuse is not happening, it’s absolutely important to try to keep your home relatively peaceful — to practice enough mindfulness and self-care that you don’t take all your frustration and anger out on your kids.
I truly believe that kids pick up on that sort of thing and absorb it into their tiny sponge-like souls. We need to be gentle with them whenever possible.
But I also think that many of us are just too hard on ourselves sometimes. Practicing gentle or mindful parenting does not mean that you will be a perfect parent. It doesn’t mean that you won’t lose it sometimes. All of us will probably mess up our kids at least a little bit. That kind of goes with the territory of being a parent.
Here’s the thing: If you are even thinking about these things at all — if you are making an effort whenever possible to be kind to your kids, and keeping in mind that they are little humans with big, vulnerable feelings — then you are already doing a whole lot better than most.
It’s not about what happens one (or more) shitty afternoon of your life. It’s about the big picture, the groundwork of trust that you’ve laid down for your kids.
Let me tell you, once you have that trust, it’s not easy to break. And your kids will forgive you so easily that you’ll be blown away. You won’t believe your good fortune to have been gifted the kindest kids with the biggest hearts.
So do yourself a favor: If you ever lose your temper around your kids (and believe me, you absolutely will), take a deep breath, say you’re sorry, accept your kids’ forgiveness, and then just move on. You have better things to do than wallow in self-hatred or guilt.
You’ve got some beautiful, amazing, damn good souls to raise.