Monday, November 23, 2009

Parenting FAIL.

I have a terrible temper. No, really. I'm a pretty patient person, so it takes a lot for me to lose my temper, but when I do ... it's not pretty. I don't know if it's my Prussian forebears or just my own personal inadequacy, but it's a fault I've been working on for years and years. I'm a person of intense feelings, which can be wonderful when you're talking about joy or love or empathy, but when it comes to anger I have a difficult time regaining control once I've lost it.

I come from a family of yellers. Our anger doesn't usually last a long time (I have a hard time sustaining it longer than 30 minutes) and we're not passive-aggressive, thank Maude, but in my family, when you're mad, you yell. When I was a teenager, I had some doozies of yelling matches with my parents - fights that have gone down in family legend and probably caused all of my younger siblings to experience some level of PTSD. We all survived it, but looking back I wish we'd been able to find a way to manage those years with less screaming on everyone's part. However, we didn't, and so - like a lot of you, I'd imagine - my model of parenting consisted of spanking when young and yelling when older. I don't blame anyone for that, mind you - like most parents, my mother and father did the best they could with the tools they had available to them, and, hey, I turned out OK. I just wonder if there was another way, sometimes.

It's something I've really been trying to come to terms with as I parent my own kids. The spanking thing has been pretty easy to avoid. Not that I don't understand the impulse, but it's something we decided not to do a long time ago, and the social pressure against it (at least in our parenting and peer circles) reinforces that decision. The yelling/losing of temper issue has been much more difficult. It wasn't until sometime this last year that I even seriously considered that it might be possible to parent (mostly) without yelling. Not in a repress-your-emotions-and-go-insane kind of way, but in a head-it-off-at-the-pass kind of way. I do know that yelling is rarely effective for me. I do know that I hate to see the Hatchling mimicking my or Mr. Squab's angry behavior (with her dolls, for example). So I've been thinking about it, and trying some different techniques, and seeing what I can do about controlling my epic temper, particularly in the area of parenting.

I've been having a particularly difficult time with it this autumn, as all of our tempers have been tried by the ridiculous cycle of illness we've been experiencing, in addition to which the Hatchling is clearly entering into a "disequilibrium" phase and is trying my patience to the utmost on her bad days. This afternoon was a real nadir. Both the Hatchling and the Sprout woke up from their naps in absolutely foul moods, which in the Sprout's case manifested itself in nonstop cranky fussing, and in the Hatchling's case manifested itself in vicious temper tantrums approximately every five minutes. EVERYTHING was wrong and EVERYTHING was my fault. Make her ask for things politely? TANTRUM. Give her the snack she just asked for? TANTRUM. Ask her to pick up the toy she just threw at your head? TANTRUM. Turn on her favorite movie in the hope that it will calm her down? TANTRUM. You get the idea. Lots of "NO!" and "IT'S NOT FAIR!" and general "AAAAAAAAHHHH!" And I just ... Could. Not. Take it. I tried patient reasoning. I tried calmly giving her options. I really, really tried. And then I started yelling. And then I found myself in the kitchen, slamming the stainless steel coffee pot on the counter to relieve my feelings. And finally, I put on a jacket and put the Sprout in her warm fleece and told the Hatchling that we were going outside to wait for Daddy and she could come if she wanted. And when she started pitching a fit about getting on her shoes and jacket, I just took the baby, and walked out to sit on the back steps.

We were out there for all of about five minutes, and I left the doors open so I could hear what was going on. But oh, it felt like failure. I was sick to my stomach afterward and I still feel totally deflated and defeated. Because, you know: SHE'S THREE. Of course she's going to have bad, tantrum-y afternoons. And I know it's just because she's going through some kind of mental growth spurt, and this is how it works, and in a few weeks or (ack) months I'll have my happy girl back on a more full-time basis. She's three: she gets to act that way. Not without consequences, sure, but three-year-olds get a pass on losing control of themselves occasionally. Thirty-eight-year-olds, not so much.

Why is it so hard? What can I do to get better? I know you'll tell me to cut myself some slack, and I do - I'm not interested in being anything like a perfect parent, even if that were possible. But I really don't want to lose it again like I did today, or, god forbid, even worse. (I mean, if a three-year-old can punch my buttons this hard, what the hell will I do with two teenagers?) There has to be a better way. Anyone have any tips?