Some people are really good at figuring out how other people are feeling and why it makes them act a certain way. I am not one of these people. I used to think that years of reading and empathizing with fictional characters made me more aware of what people might be feeling and thinking, but when it comes to the two people I am closest to, I can be painfully clueless.
My children are three and six years old, and much to my constant surprise, they act like it: throwing tantrums, using language incorrectly (screaming “toast!!!” when in fact they want bacon), refusing to cooperate, and draining every ounce of my attention, my energy, and my soul.
Perhaps from my description you can already tell that a big part of my problem is my attitude. I perceive them as doing things “to me” instead of just being who they are. This is something that is really important to me. I say that I want to teach them the value of being themselves no matter what anyone else says, but in reality, I just want them to do what I say, immediately after I say it, and without complaint.
I really forget what it’s like to be a kid. To not be able to communicate clearly, to feel frustrated about not getting what you want, and being oppressed by rules you didn’t agree to. (Never mind that some of these rules are based on physical laws, like two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time).
My kids are actually really quite well-behaved, which makes it worse when I lose my temper. I really feel like a bad mother getting angry at them when they’re just being normal children, but sometimes when they just keep complaining or keep doing something I’ve repeatedly told them not to do, I just lose it.
It’s scary when I lose my temper. I don’t beat my children or anything, but I do sometimes handle them more roughly than I should. I yell loudly and harshly. There’s a look in their eyes and a tone in their cries that expresses just how scared they are of me in that moment. It’s god-awful, and I hate myself every time.
I tell myself that I’m just tired, hungry, depressed, whatever, but I still want to find a way to “pause” between feeling frustrated and interacting with my kids. I’m trying to remember the video that’s been going around of Patrick Stewart talking about domestic violence. He said, “Violence is never, ever a choice that a man should make.” I change that to “Violence is never a choice a parent should make.” Like I write above, I’m not hitting my kids or throwing things at them, or anything like that, but I do sometimes grab one of their arms to get their attention. The other day I was changing my daughter’s clothes while she was resisting, and I pulled her shirt off kind of roughly.
I’m trying to work on just walking away when I’m angry. That’s what I did after apologizing to my daughter for being rough with her. After I calmed down, I talked to her in a calm voice and explained that I needed her to get dressed for school, and that I “needed her help,” and she cooperated after that.
Sometimes pretending to be someone you’re not is a bad thing, but my trying to be like my friend who understands, accepts, and appreciates her child’s sensitivity is something my children and I could really benefit from.
What do you find most challenging to handle when dealing with difficult people in your life (be they children, co-workers, etc.)? How do you handle it?