Nothing tests a person’s patience like their own children. Being a mom has made me face the sometimes ugly realities of how I deal with my own emotions. For the most part, I consider myself to be a very patient and understanding person; perhaps even more so than the average Joe. (I wouldn’t have been a very successful babysitter if I didn’t at least have this one quality to keep me from taking my whiny spoiled brats of charges to a park and leaving them there). But everyone has their breaking point. Mine has become increasingly shorter due to a combination of sleep deprivation, balancing a busy life and adjusting to being a mom of two.
Case in point: we were trying to get out of the house one morning. Running late already, of course, as I was so tired and couldn’t drag myself out of bed at the first ring of the alarm. It also doesn’t help that on any typical morning, my husband, Jake, is already at work before we even wake up. Breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, diaper bag packed. “Do you need to go to the bathroom, Lily?” I ask my three-year old. “No!” she replies. Sweater, coat, hat, mittens on Lily, wrestle Vivienne into a full body snowsuit and car-seat, multiple bags for the day hoisted onto my shoulder (seriously, I have so many bags that if you ever see us leaving the house in the morning you might mistake me for a nomad off to begin a long journey).
“Why don’t you try to go to the bathroom, honey, before we have to leave?” I plead. “No!” she replies again. Door locked, kids loaded in car, turn key: “Mama?” Lily says timidly, and I close my eyes and sigh, prepared for what she is about to say. “Mama, I have to go to the bathroom.” At this point, I become irrationally angry with this little child of mine and explode. Sighing exasperatedly, I snap, “Why couldn’t you have gone when we were in the house? Why do you think I kept asking you?” I clench my teeth together to keep from screaming, “We’re late already and now we’ll be even later! You have been potty trained for almost two years – don’t you get it by now? *#$%!!!” On the verge of tears, Lily says, “Sorry Mama! I just have to go now!” Drag baby in car-seat and child out of car, unlock house, wait for pee, repeat leaving the house scenario.
And while I’m driving to wherever it was we needed to be so urgently, my brain implodes and I am overcome with guilt. Lily is a mere preschooler with a tiny bladder and developmentally, it is normal for young kids to not have to go one second and then really have to go the next. Why do I snap in this way? This isn’t the first instance where anger, frustration and annoyance have induced this kind of reaction. Are my tendencies towards displacing anger and passive aggressiveness simply coping mechanisms I learned along the way or patterns I formed growing up? And why, if I logically understand what I’m doing, does it seem uncontrollable in the heat of the moment? As an adult, shouldn’t I be able to keep my emotions in check, channel my inner zen, breathe deeply and act in a more rational way?
Regardless of the reason, I am horrified that I responded like this to my sweet daughter, who was just trying to tell me she had to go to the bathroom! (How lovely would it have been if she had peed in her car-seat instead?) A circumstance so minute does not, in any way, constitute this kind of intense reaction. I apologize to Lily for getting mad when I drop her off at preschool, but fear my bad habits of snapping suddenly have already taken root in her mind as an appropriate way of dealing with your anger.
Realizing that my children are watching everything I do and listening to everything I say is overwhelming. If you had to take a test to become a parent, the aforementioned scenario would definitely earn me a check mark in the “not suitable” category. Later that night, Jake reminds me that being a parent is hard, period. After all, we all make mistakes, and parents have the added challenge of having a constant set of eyes and ears observing our every move. Fortunately, he explained, there are hidden benefits to our kids seeing us making mistakes. Cleaning up the pieces of our screw-ups and dealing with the aftermath of our mishaps is the main point, because being able to say “I’m sorry” and owning up to your mistakes are good life lessons. While this doesn’t excuse my irrational behavior, I am thankful to have this added perspective. And I am happy to report that I’m getting better at not immediately snapping, even on those “short fuse” kinds of days.