Last week, I yelled at my 15-month-old son. I feel terrible about it.
Sure, I could sit here and write a dozen excuses to justify my behavior. I could talk about how sleep-deprived we both were, or how we were fighting a cold and feeling pretty miserable. I could talk about how much we were struggling to get through a meal, or how we’ve been cooped up indoors on another icy winter day, or how much crying and whining had filled the air over the last three hours.
But I had to remind myself that I’m the adult here. I’m the one who should be able to stay calm and ride through this horrible day. I’m the one who needs to understand that part of my son’s frustration is that he can't communicate how he feels.
And yet, there I was, feeling the last piece of straw as it broke my back... Feeling my irrational, emotional brain completely taking over my senses as I raised my voice and yelled at my son. Even as the cutting words left my mouth, a wave of guilt and regret was already smacking me in the face. I immediately held my son, trying to calm us both down, trying to undo what just happened and apologizing for my breakdown.
Yes, I’m being hard on myself and I hear your collective parenting voices saying, “We’ve all been there, it’s okay." And while I appreciate the imagined words of comfort, my behavior still was not okay. Before becoming a parent, I made many promises to myself; I think we all do this. We want to be better parents than our own parents were, we know more about effective parenting than any other generation, and we are more knowledgeable than ever about the consequences of our parenting efforts. I swore I would never spank, berate or ridicule my son or tell him to “man up." I vowed to try to understand things from my son's point of view, to be present, patient, calm, approachable and reasonable.
In short, I promised I would never become my father.
I know I should forgive myself but I don’t want to brush this off and move on as if it wasn’t a big deal. I want to be mindful of what happened, of my own limits, and how I behave in these stressful situations. To me, parenting effectively means constantly learning from experiences and actively avoiding behaviors that do more harm than good.
So next time I’m about to lose my cool, I’m going to walk away, take some deep breaths and remind myself of my resolutions. And then I'll walk back onto the battlefield, calmly.