You Gotta Know When to Walk Away

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about walking the fine line between “nurturing” her child’s sensitivity and teaching her child that she can make choices about which things upset her. I think this is a great example of showing emotional intelligence, which Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer define as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

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?

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16 thoughts on “You Gotta Know When to Walk Away

  1. Elizabeth July 2, 2013 at 5:54 pm Reply

    As the writer of the Facebook post mentioned in the introduction, I feel like I’m given too much credit. I try to understand Adriana, try to accept my kids and myself as we are, and I don’t always appreciate our…quirks. I lose my temper with my kids all the time. I wish I didn’t and I try to learn from it and try to teach them that everyone struggles with how to deal with anger and frustration.

    • flawson July 3, 2013 at 8:13 am Reply

      I’m not sure whether I’ve seen you really lose your temper, but I see when you get frustrated sometimes, and you still seem to show incredible self-control and self-restraint. Reading your blog (, I can see how aware you are of your kids’ personalities, their strengths, and their challenges. I don’t mean to put you on a pedestal, I just really do admire your parenting skills.

      • Elizabeth July 3, 2013 at 11:07 am

        Well, thank you very much. I’m flattered!

    • flawson July 3, 2013 at 8:42 am Reply

      And you know, you write things like, “I try to remember that when one them is acting in a way that makes me not want to sit and hug them, that is when they most need me to just sit and hug them.” That’s some awesome parenting right there.

  2. Mara Migraineur July 2, 2013 at 6:08 pm Reply

    I hate wrangling with my kids. It happens especially with my daughter. If I’m feeling okay I can usually help us see our way through it with compassion. But if I have a migraine or am heading into one, I have no empathy. I just want (need?) her to shut up. It becomes really difficult and sometimes ugly, as you described. I feel like traditional parenting advice doesn’t cover those of us trying to raise children and cope with a chronic illness.

    • flawson July 3, 2013 at 8:23 am Reply

      I got the term “emotional intelligence” from Daphne telling me how much she admires your emotional intelligence with your kids. She said you instinctively know what your kids are really upset about and are able to address it directly.

      Your honesty in your blog post ( helped me feel brave enough to write this post. Thank you.

  3. karla July 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm Reply

    The grass is always greener on the other side; I tend to wish I got mad just a little sooner before the situation got out of hand.

    • flawson July 3, 2013 at 8:25 am Reply

      Huh, I hadn’t thought about that. Anger is the emotion I feel fastest, except maybe for fear.

      • karla July 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm

        It’s like tempering your eggs by adding just a little warm pudding before just throwing them in the pot and sadly watching them scramble. We need to “temper our temper” with a little cool before we tell our kids something like “We are not going anywhere again until you start using the toilet.”

  4. flawson July 3, 2013 at 8:26 am Reply

    Incidentally, is anyone here old enough to know the song that the post’s title comes from? Hint, it’s a Kenny Rogers song. I still love “Coward of the County,” but that’s not the song.

    • Elizabeth July 3, 2013 at 11:09 am Reply

      I know the song. But I also knowa lot of Woody Guthrie lyrics so I may not be a good indicator.

  5. Mara Migraineur July 18, 2013 at 9:47 am Reply

    Wow. I am just now seeing your reply to me. Thank you. I feel really honored.

  6. […] get quickly frustrated and angry and possibly end up hurting her physically. As I wrote in “You Gotta Know When to Walk Away,” I never hit my kids, but I have gripped their arms tightly before and roared at them in rage. […]

  7. […] come a long way since I wrote “You Gotta Know When to Walk Away.” It feels really good. I’m still not a great parent, but I’m getting more confident and […]

  8. […] been hospitalized for depression, still deal with thoughts of suicide, and have been a bit rough with my […]

  9. […] and depression, and having low blood sugar is one of my triggers. I already struggle with keeping my temper now, how much worse might I […]

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