By Lauren Gonzalez
“NOOOOOOO!” Joey clung harder to the handlebars of his tiny Strider bike as I struggled to lift him up and into the car. “NOOOOOO! NO TRUCK! I WANNA RIDE MY BIKE!”
I wrestled and pried his little fingers from the rubber grips, explaining to him that the park – our usual hangout with a splash deck and water features to keep the kids cool – was closed. We had to go elsewhere.
There’s a reason toddlers aren’t known for being agreeable. Anybody watching could have understandably assumed I was kidnapping this child, based on the amount of shrieking and squirming he exhibited as I finally separated him from his bike, using all of my remaining strength to hold him down in his car seat. Buckling him securely, I slammed the truck door, and with one arm picked up his bike from the street and heaved it into the truck bed with alarming force.
A silver family sedan drove by me slowly and quietly as I returned to the driver’s side, launched myself into the seat, and slammed the door behind me. I was too embarrassed to make eye contact with the driver, but I wondered what they thought – that I was an awful mother? Were they concerned for the safety of my children? Or, possibly, did they understand exactly what I was feeling, and hope to offer glances of solidarity in the struggle?
I started the engine. In the backseat, the kids sat silently watching me, perhaps tiring from the heat, or maybe fearful of my next move. I pulled away from the curb and onto the street, not knowing what else to do but head to the nearest splash park and try again. All at once, the tears came. Hot at first, stinging my eyes, then enormous, heaving sobs. Thank goodness for my sunglasses and hat, which shielded the motorists around me from the emotional downpour.
I had reached my breaking point. Darkly, I questioned all of the decisions that led me here. Why did I ever agree to watch these children solo while my husband left to Alaska? Why, oh why did we move so far away from family, and the certain childcare help that could save me from these moments? And I considered the irony of my wishing myself away from these needy little beings, when just three years earlier, struggling with conception, I wished so hard for their very existence.
Underneath all of it, the shame and guilt hit me hardest. I have a history of holding in my feelings of frustration and disappointment until they explode into outbursts of anger. I’ve been known to throw a shoe or a stuffed bear, slam a baby gate, or yell as my anger boils over into rage. It needs somewhere to go, some outlet.
Society doesn’t offer much in the way of dealing healthfully with anger, especially as parents. According to pop culture and television, men are mostly taught to express anger overtly, with fists and fighting, while women are left to express it in more passive aggressive ways – making catty comments, exposing dirty secrets on social media, or perhaps taking a key to the side of a sports car. None of these approaches are suitable for parenting.
Yet there is so much about raising children that can elicit anger from even the coolest of cucumbers. Kids are stubborn and willful, they are messy, they produce constant chaos and noise. It’s normal to lose your shit from time to time. We’re only human.
But so are our children. They will make mistakes, they will make us angry, and they will remember our responses. I’m sure my kids will learn many unhelpful habits from me, but I am determined that they not inherit these ridiculous anger tantrums. More than that, I am determined that my children never feel fearful of me. So where do we put all of this anger and rage that bubble to the surface in daily interactions with our kids, and how do we change old patterns and model better behavior for them?
We don’t go it alone. We make our partners, trusted friends, and family a source of help. We let them know when we’re struggling, when we’re empty and depleted. We learn our boiling points, and take breaks as regularly as we’re able, even if it requires a little creativity. We don’t set ourselves up for failure – we know what pushes our buttons, and we avoid those situations when we can.
We use our “alone” time wisely, to recharge and refill ourselves, even if that sometimes means neglecting things we “should” be doing (like laundry, errands, or work). We try to model the behavior we want from our kids, and when we fall short, we pick ourselves up and try again. We forgive ourselves when we mess up, and ask for our children’s forgiveness. After all, they know we are not perfect, and it is our job to show them how to live wholly in the midst of imperfection.
As I came to a red light, I sat and grieved for the behavior my kids had just seen, afraid of the possibility they could feel fearful of me, their mom, whose primary job is to protect them. Over my sobs, I heard a little voice from the backseat: “Mommy, it’s OK. It’s OK, mommy.” The words cut like lightning through my storm.
Pulling up to the playground, I parked the car, wiped my tears, and blew my nose. I climbed down from my seat, and opened Joey’s door. Gently taking his little face in my hands and looking into his eyes, I told him mommy was okay. I thanked him for being such a sweet boy, told him it was not his fault – mommy is not mad at him, just at the situation. And I said I was so, so sorry for losing my temper, and that was not a good way to behave. Looking back at me, Joey chirped, “Can I ride my bike now, please?”
“Yes, Joey, we can ride bikes now.”
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer/ blogger, whose kids provide inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles highlighting the challenges, joys and bare realities of motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides that will enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.