Every time a meme about moms yelling at their kids comes across my news feed, I feel a small sense of comfort because it reminds me that it’s not just me.
My girls are both incredibly stubborn children. “Strong-willed” does not even begin to define their attitudes. I know I’m supposed to be thankful that this means they’ll be strong, independent women when they are older, and they come by their stubbornness naturally, but it makes parenting them incredibly difficult.
When my oldest was younger, she was extremely intuitive and empathetic. I was so proud of how much she cared for others, and still today, teachers and friend’s parents will tell me how sweet she is, but I sometimes struggle to see that sweet little girl at home. Turns out that the same traits that made her so empathetic when she was younger have made her extremely sensitive as she gets older. Anything that doesn’t go her way is seen as a personal injustice. Anything that challenges her or requires her to put in effort she doesn’t feel like applying results in a total meltdown.
My youngest might be more cooperative and more willing to challenge herself, but she bucks at any sort of a routine. Bedtime has always meant war, getting her dressed every morning is a marathon, and don’t even get me started on bath time (tonight my husband registered her screams at 110 decibels).
I read parenting columns all the time, trying to find what will work for our family. I feel like we’ve tried everything. We’ve done positive reinforcement and punishment. We’ve done time ins and time outs. We’ve framed things as choices and we’ve framed them as ultimatums. We ask nicely, we explain why things are okay or not okay, we get down on their level to talk to them, we discuss the lessons that should be learned (sometimes with a very frustrated “I told you so” thrown in). We establish routines, we do our best to remain consistent, and we support each other’s parenting decisions, but nothing seems to work.
My girls bicker incessantly; they argue with my husband and me constantly; it feels like everything is a battle with them. Even my mother, who has often reminded me over the phone that I was a dramatic child, had to admit during her last visit that she doesn’t remember my brother and I being so difficult and that it took everything she had not to lose her patience with my youngest’s bedtime antics.
I hate yelling at my kids, but sometimes it really does seem to be the only way to get through to them. I can ask nicely a thousand times, but they won’t do what I need them to do until I raise my voice. While I love the ideas behind gentle parenting advice, sometimes it’s truly not practical. I don’t have time to sit and sing kumbaya with my child when we are all trying to get out of the house and off to work and school on time. I am not going to run my already-exhausted self ragged because my children don’t like the choices they’ve been given.
Certainly, other parents struggle with similar issues, and my kids’ behaviors are pretty normal kid behaviors, but it is the unwavering consistency with which they challenge me that drives me crazy.
The other night, after completely losing my temper with my girls, I looked at them and cried, “You two are only ever going to remember me as ‘Mean Mom.’ You are only ever going to remember me yelling because you can never just do what we ask you to do; everything has to be a fight!” Maybe it wasn’t the best way to express my feelings to them, but my emotions were running high, and I truly worry that they will only remember me in my moments of frustration. It’s more than just the mom-guilt of thinking I’m failing at this whole parenting thing that bothers me. I worry that they won’t remember all the things their dad and I did for and with them, that they’ll never learn to respect how hard we worked for them.
I know that my kids are still growing and developing. I know that I am the adult, and I am supposed to be the mature one in any situation, but I think sometimes all of the mom-shamers, advice columnists, and parenting experts forget that parents are humans too. When my kids won’t cooperate, it doesn’t just make me mad – it hurts my feelings. I do so much for them because I love them, and sometimes it feels like their unwillingness to behave is them showing me that they don’t love me, even if I know that’s not true. When my kids test my patience with their own lack of patience, when they wait until I’ve just sat down to ask me for something, when I tell them “no,” they might think I’m being mean in my response, but I’m just trying to set some boundaries for them (and myself).
Life has its seasons, but this season has knocked the wind out of me and held me down.
I can only pray that someday, when my stubborn little girls become independent young women and look back on this season of their lives, they won’t remember the times I was a “mean mom.” Instead, I hope they will see me as a mom who loved them, fed them, clothed them, helped put a roof over their heads, showed them what a healthy marriage looks like, and taught them to be decent human beings.
And more immediately, I just pray they’ll put their shoes away the first time I ask.