I got really angry with my child today.
I still feel angry now.
I’ve got to say that before I became a parent I would watch programmes like Supernanny and remark that my children would never be so ‘naughty’ or whatever you want to call it. I felt that I would set clear boundaries and stick to them and let my ‘no’ be a ‘no’ and not give in to tantrums. I felt that I would be firm yet understanding, and that I would be so much fun and would lavish so much positive attention on my children that they wouldn’t even have time to be naughty. I was going to be such an awesome Mum.
I was used to dealing with challenging behaviour in children. After working for a few years as a youth and community worker in London I felt that nothing would faze me. The thing is, there is a real difference between having your own children and running a few football clubs and craft groups each week for other people’s children.
Your own children are like, actually living in your house. All the time. They are in your bed. They are at your dinner table. (Apart from when they won’t sit at your dinner table). They are weeing in your bath and hiding in your wardrobe. There is no escape.
And when you are at your worst. When you are tired like, I really cannot remember what it EVER felt like to sleep all night kind of tired, and fed up and lonely and confused, and you just don’t know what to do anymore, that’s when it is your responsibility to push through and try to respond to that shoe that just hit you on the bridge of your nose in the best possible way that you can.
When I imagined the kind of mum I would be, I imagined Maria from the sound of music.
Turns out I have ended up a lot more like Miss Hannigan from Annie.
I now have a new sympathy for Miss Hannigan. I totally get why she spends all day drinking gin in her underwear and singing about stepping on kids freckles and straightening their curls.
The thing is though, what I’m starting to realise is that (bear with me, this is pretty arrogant) having a child who is sometimes really good at not doing what I tell her to and is very difficult to persuade to conform, might actually be a sign that I am doing something right as a parent. I mean, look, when my children are adults, what I’d really love more than anything is for them to be kind, happy, compassionate and caring individuals. I’m not that bothered about them being very conformist. In fact, maybe to be a truly ‘decent’ person, you also have to be a little subversive and maybe actually not be the kind of person who will always do as they are told?
Sometimes when I am thinking of what I can do, or threaten, to get my child to behave the way I want her to, I realise that I am actually just trying to think up new ways to break her spirit. I really don’t know how to get her to do as I say. We normally get there in the end but some days there is just so much kicking and screaming and there have been times when it is me who has ended up crying because I just find it all so hard to deal with.
Don’t think I haven’t tried explaining stuff calmly/ distractions/the naughty step/sticker chart/various reward schemes/timeouts/staying calm/getting cross/lowering my voice/raising my voice/talking about how her behavior is affecting my own feelings/bribery/threats about removing toys/denying privileges etc etc etc.
I have tried
I have read books.
I have read the internet.
But you know what?
My daughter has an incredibly strong will. She is not easily dominated or controlled or persuaded or convinced or bribed.
And she will just not do what I tell her to sometimes. (a lot of times)
And it’s not like I am always commanding her about and making her do everything I say. She gets to choose what we do and how we do it a lot, but it’s those fundamental things that will not change, like the fact that everyday we need to get washed and put clothes on, that we have to go to bed at the end of the day, that I cannot always play games, that I cannot and should not always buy what she wants in a shop. Especially when what she wants is one of those stupidly expensive kids magazines with a crappy hollow plastic toy inside.
Sometimes, we just have to leave the park, we cannot live there. Leaving the park is often pretty traumatic.
But this is not about her behaviour. That’s not really the issue. There is nothing wrong with her. It is normal behaviour. Pushing the boundaries is just something she’s doing at the moment and that’s ok. (it’s not ok, I need help) Kids do this. It’s healthy. This is really about me. This is about me being her Mum and being one of the people responsible for raising her and for responding to her behavior in the best possible way. The thing is though, I don’t really know the best possible way to respond and I’m starting to think that nobody does, not really.
There are certain things that I believe in. I try to listen and empathise with my child. I believe that compassion and understanding helps all human beings in any situation. I believe that it would be wrong for me to take out my anger on her. I believe that it would be wrong for me to hit her or to inflict punishments on her or shame her for her actions. I try to stay calm and get her to talk stuff through with me but often she kind of goes to a place where she is unreachable and consumed by rage and in that place she will just scream and scream and lash out and be beyond all reason. If I can manage to get her to submit to a cuddle at those times, she normally just cries it all out and we just have a hug and a talk about it, but often I cannot.
If your child has an iron will and an incredibly independent spirit then you might know what I mean. Maybe you, like me, have had people staring in town as you try to deal with a child rage explosion. It’s so hard to always respond in the right way and I’m so worried about getting it wrong. It’s not the embarrassment or how it makes me feel that worries me, (although those things are shitty to deal with) it’s that I might be making it worse for my daughter or that I might be missing something; the thing that is really wrong.
And let me confess something. Something awful. Although I try to remain calm and wait for these rages to pass, often in the middle of one, when she is repeatedly slamming her bedroom door with all of her might or when she throws a hard, heavy, battery filled, plastic, f***ing singing, motherf***ing toy at my face, I just start to get seriously angry with her, like really angry, like I would just like to raise my hand so high in the air and bring it down hard and slap her.
I will never hit my children but I confess that there are times when I feel like I want to and I am ashamed of that.
How can it be that I would feel like this about my child? My child who I love, who I laugh with and play with and make dinner for and read stories with and protect.
I wanted to hit her. I wanted to. I was so angry.
I confess that I have shouted at her. I really don’t think it’s the best way I could have responded but I have shouted at her.
I have also said, in a very fake calm voice, ‘you are making me feel really cross, please stop . . . (whatever it is I want her to stop doing).’
But that feels pretty weird, like I’m kind of lying to her, with the fake calm voice which totally doesn’t match my feelings.
I have also just left her to her screaming in her room while I hide downstairs with the baby, waiting for her to calm herself down. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it just feels like I’m avoiding dealing with her at all.
This is not one of those parenting blogs that really gives advice. There is a really good one here with some useful pointers on difficult days. I don’t know what you should do or how you should respond to your child. You are probably doing an awesome job already. You are probably doing better than me.
I love my daughter so much. I am proud of her every day. Her mind is incredible and the way that she thinks just fascinates me. She is funny and compassionate and incredibly determined and I hope I can do a good job of being her Mum. I hope I never break her spirit but I also hope I manage to get her to brush her teeth everyday without me having a nervous breakdown.
So is it ok to be angry with your child?
I really don’t know. I have no idea. I wish I never felt angry with my children but some days I do. I even feel angry with the baby when he won’t sleep which is obviously ridiculous. He is a baby. He is not trying to drive me insane with sleep deprivation. (Is he?) But I feel angry nevertheless. Maybe I’m angry with myself for not always knowing what to do. Ok, for very often not knowing what to do.
All I know is that we will be angry with them, some days, at some times and at those times what should we do?
I dunno. Anyway, I’m going to bed.
Here’s a song from Miss Hannigan while you think it over.