I recently stumbled upon the blog post “You Just Broke Your Child. Congratulations.”(which, in all fairness, you might want to just go ahead and click over there to read so that the rest of what I’m about to say makes more sense). It was written by Dan Pearce of Single Dad Laughing, and I’ve gotta say, it made me feel some feels.
Not because I, like many people who are normal loving parents and whose comments I read following the Facebook post that sent me to the article – haunches of worry and self-doubt poised – thought ‘but sometimes I do lose my temper, sometimes I raise my voice, sometimes I am busy, sometimes I’m just too damn tired’ – because I am one of them, and I do sometimes feel that way.
No, that part didn’t bother me. I know who I am, my kids know my love is unending, and the occasional shortness and withered befuddlement and stern insistence is always served with a big ol’ side of love, and shows that I am human, vulnerable, capable of a wide range of emotions and reactions and able to come back to the most important one for my kids and myself: Love.
The thing that got me with Pearce’s piece was the familiarity. Not in myself – but in someone I know very well.
We’ve all seen the angry dad at Costco. We’ve all heard tales of the nasty-words mom at Wal Mart snarling into the glazed-over eyes of her child about how stupid he is. We’ve all seen a child flinch or jump when an unexpected burst of anger out of someone they love and trust catches them off-guard in an otherwise carefree moment. We’ve all had to listen to a child discuss their self-taught coping skills for when they’re faced with erupting anger, like “I just squeeze this rubber ball I carry around” or “I just sit down and turn off my ears.” Haven’t we?
It is because of this – the things I hear, still, and have no control over, still, that made me stop in my reading tracks when Pearce said the following:
“Do you not understand that anger is almost always an emotion for people who wish to control others while simultaneously failing to control themselves?”
… “do you not see the speed at which a child is crushed or becomes completely defiant when anger rules the roost? Are you that desensitized to the luminosity of your child’s spirit that it doesn’t crush you completely when they flinch or cower in your presence? Is that really what you want your child to do? To fear you?”
Reading this made me shudder and feel grateful for my current life, and to feel compassion for those who are exposed to anger on a regular basis – kids and adults alike. After I’d taken a moment of contemplation, I got back into the work of Mothering.
Recently there was a night on which my normally very easygoing son was fighting tears and choking down frustration, having fallen so far behind on a homework assignment that I, too, was feeling exasperated. It was his first day back with me and the first I’d heard of the assignment, due in two days.
Through increasingly deep breaths I ran through all of my Find That Patience tricks and was trying to convey how we are all here to support and help him. To demonstrate this I started listing people off, but he had a quick answer as to why each one wouldn’t work.”She just tells me to ask him!” “He just gets mad and yells at me for getting so far behind!” “She just says this is supposed to be really fun and all the kids love this assignment but it’s STUPID and I HATE IT and it’s just — just — it’s just SO STUPID!!” So I move on to myself, “you’re getting grumpy with me too!” and finally to Paul, who was making dinner in the kitchen – possibly even whistling. At this point my reserves of useful skills had drained away, and my explanation of “sorry you hate this assignment kiddo, but you have to do it anyway” wasn’t terribly helpful.
So in steps Paul – cool as a cucumber, with a cough drop for my son because he’s doing that throat thing he does when his anxiety gets too high. He somehow has all of the right questions to get my son engaged and interested again, and the patience to get through all of the false starts.
And I take a deep breath.
My daughter and I play six rounds of Guess Who? in the kitchen, we do the dishes and talk about the boy she has a crush on. Then the kids go to bed – calm, relaxed, and happy. Happiness: it is on the top of my list of essential things in life, and tonight, right now, my kids have it.
I am once again overcome with gratitude for the loving, strong, compassionate, sensitive, smart men in my kids’ lives. The women, too – my kids are blessed with a plethora of loving adults in their lives and I could go on and on and ON about the women and all that they contribute. But the men…the men I am especially thankful for because they have the big job. I share it with them.
Sometimes it isn’t enough just to love these children. We have to work extra hard to undo the damage. And they – the men, simply because they are men – have to wipe away the image of what it means to be a Man that my kids often see. Being a man doesn’t mean yelling, it doesn’t mean shaming, it doesn’t mean belittling. It doesn’t mean skipping out on family time because you’re not in the mood or you’re tired, again and again, until the kids just stop asking.
It means getting up and making breakfast together, listening to how that intricate lego…thing…was made. It means calming down and getting to the root of the book for which a report is due in two days’ time. It means being kind. And when I say that I mean being really, truly kind, not ‘this is my church face’ kind.
Thank you, Good Men. For not putting all of your own childhood complaints, your internal bullshit, your arguments with the world, before my children. For not telling them they can’t. For not breaking them. Ever.
You boys make the world go ’round. Please keep it up.