I’m very concerned by how often I hear moms talk about constantly losing it around–or at–their children. I don’t say this to condemn–after all, I’ve been a mom for less than seven months and to a sweet baby (no toddler tantrums yet). I have spent enough time with children and teenagers to know how they can drive you to the brink of despair and to the edge of yourself. The closer you are to a particular child, the more that child knows exactly what to do to make you mad.
But I think there’s more at stake here when we yell at our kids or lose our tempers in front of them.
My mom never yelled at us and rarely raised her voice. She never touched us in anger (for example, dressing us, bathing us, or buckling us in carseats roughly). I think it was because she always kept her sense of humor and didn’t let our bad days and bad attitudes give her a bad day or bad attitude.
I remember as a teenager I wanted to make her mad. But it was impossible. I could harshly insult or pitch a fit and she stayed the same–calm, collected. She would often come to my room later (where I had fled) and talk it over with me.
I think she was able to detach herself from me and my siblings in a healthy way. She knew that we were children; she was the adult. In a book I read recently, the author said this:
Every child will test the rules to some degree…When children test adults, it is often their way of expressing feelings that they don’t understand, and from our responses they gradually learn how to handle their emotions appropriately (118).
So I am trying to be intentional and think through how I want my son (and any future children) to handle emotions. In And Baby Makes Three, the Gottmans explain that we can either think about what we pass down to our kids, or we can be unintentional, but
…we let our babies learn by what we do, regardless of whether we’ve thought about the consequences of our actions on our babies. Either way, by the daily choices we make we create a legacy for our children (27, emphasis mine).
What legacy do I want my seven-month-old to have? What do I want him to remember about how I handle my frustration toward him or how his dad and I deal with our disagreements (the latter is one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately after starting And Baby Makes Three)?
I hope it’s not too tall an order to refrain from yelling at him or losing my temper at him. I hope I can be like my mom–that I can maintain a sense of humor when I am pushed. I hope that I can stay calm when he is frustrated and tired and hungry no matter how frustrated and tired and hungry I may be. And when I mess up in how I handle my emotions, I hope I will demonstrate humility and grace in my apology.
Kids need us to be a stable force in their lives–to be consistently kind and patient in order to model for them how to handle their anger. They need to learn emotional literacy*–the ability to experience and talk through their emotions without handling them in a socially unacceptable way. I know this because these are the things I needed from my parents. And no matter how frustrating the colicky nights and fussy days have been so far, (and no matter how difficult those mostly-delightful high school students were at times!) I’ve always had my mom’s cheerful, patient voice in my mind–the legacy she passed down to me.