My 3 year old is brilliant, stubborn, strong-willed, highly active, and fiercely independent. Every day when his “listening ears” aren’t on, he does something unsafe, or he blatantly disobeys me, I work hard internally to censor myself and calm my voice before it leaves my body. I am usually quite good at monitoring what I say so that I appear levelheaded and peaceful. I want a peaceful house. But inside, after a long day of self-censorship, I am worn down. Sometimes I wonder about the discrepancy between the impulsive frustration I feel and the calm but firm words that come out of my mouth. Am I growing an ulcer or something with all the frustration that goes unexpressed? The things I say out loud vs the things I say in my mind often go something like this:
Out loud: Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it? Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it? Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?
In my mind: Get over here and sit the fuck down and put on your fucking shoes!!
Out loud: If you throw the toy, then the toy goes away. If you throw the toy, then the toy goes away.
In my mind: I am so sick of telling you not to throw your fucking toys!
Out loud: Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie.
In my mind: What the hell?!! Sit still and EAT!! Eat your fucking food!
Throughout the day, I make it a point to not raise my voice to him because it doesn’t do anything except frustrate me and make me feel guilty. His behavior usually doesn’t change whether I raise my voice or not if he’s doing something naughty. And, though it doesn’t make him cry or seem sad, I think it makes him a little more…sensitive. And curious. He’s way tougher than I am. If someone were yelling at me and ordering me around, I would be furious and definitely crying. When he’s having a day when his “listening ears” aren’t on, he seems unaffected by my frustration.
Today was the first day in 3 years that I lost my self control and not only raised my voice, but was really commanding him around. He had been pushing me all day. It’s starting to wear on me- this not wanting to do anything I suggest and not wanting to follow directions.
Me (holding 2 crayons): “Would you like the red crayon or the green?”
Me: “I want you to pick up your toy before we leave.”
Him: “No, I don’t want to.”
Me; “Can you please help me out by handing me that napkin right next to you?”
Me: “Can you hand me that napkin, please?”
Me: “BRADEN! Can you hand me that napkin?”
It doesn’t sound so bad, except it is- when everything becomes an argument, a power struggle, or so repetitive that I want to bite something.
So today I had low patience going into the day and it wore off as the day went on. By late afternoon I was mentally exhausted. I let him splash around in some puddles outside in the rain, even though it was 50 degrees- I was desperate. I showed him the boundaries I wanted him to stay in so that he wasn’t running into the main area of the street. When, after 5 minutes of splashing, he ran beyond the boundaries, I freaked. (As I usually do when his safety is a concern.)
These were the words I said:
“Get over here NOW!”
“What are you DOING? I said get in the HOUSE!”
“I will count to 3 and if you are not in the house by 3…” (then, what exactly? I never actually finished this sentence)
Once I started using this awful commanding voice, I couldn’t seem to stop because it didn’t actually get him to do what I was asking him to do and it didn’t get him moving any faster. I kept thinking, “surely he will respond to this much anger in my voice” and I got more and more serious and loud. But it didn’t make him obey me. He still dawdled. He still tested and pushed me. When I put him in a time out he just got up and walked toward me. (Short of restraining him in a car seat, I’m out of ideas for time outs.) I felt horrible and weak. Like not only could I not control my kid’s behavior, but I was too weak to control my own behavior.
We talked about it afterward and I apologized for raising my voice and being so stressed out. We hugged. I told him I loved him even when his listening ears aren’t on. And that I love him even when I am really stressed out. He then continued to misbehave for the rest of the day.
Now, of course, I fell guilty. I hope what he takes away from the day and remembers in his little spirit is that his mom fessed up when she acted less than stellar. That people are human and they aren’t perfect. And that when we don’t treat our loved ones in a way we feel really good about, it’s important to say sorry and forgive ourselves and each other.