Mom confession time: I have lost it and yelled (screamed, really) at my family nearly every day this past week. Each time it happens, my husband and son look at me like I’ve just turned into Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. This is satisfying in the moment, I’ll admit: “Behold, Mom’s wrath!” — but after that wears off, I’m usually not too proud of my behavior.
To use another Goodfellas analogy, all week long I’ve felt like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, with the FBI helicopters chasing me while the meatballs are burning back home. This is probably because guests are coming to town, big deadlines at work are looming, it’s India-hot outside, my son’s watching way too much TV already and it’s only the second week of summer vacation, and I can’t get that weird crud out of my bathtub grout.
Mostly, I’m yelling at my family because I don’t feel like anyone’s listening to me. (My response? “Oh yeah? Well listen to this!”) So I fly off the handle and say things I wish I could take back. Sometimes this sets up a chain reaction and we’re all doing it at once, creating a tiny flash thunderstorm in our living room, complete with lightning, stomping and door slamming.
Afterward I think, “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I pause before I react? Why can’t I keep those high-decibel words from flying out of my mouth?” The truth is, even though my goal is to be a calm parent, sometimes I just can’t manage it.
One of the rules in our family is that if you mess up, you need to own it and apologize. So this morning I sat down on the couch with my son, took a deep breath and said, “Sorry I’ve been losing my temper a lot lately. I’m just a little stressed out.”
My ten-year-old paused and then said, “It’s okay. Everyone gets angry…even me sometimes.” And then he patted my hand and looked me in the eye the way he used to do when he was a toddler.
And in that one tiny moment I felt like maybe, just maybe, I was actually getting it right. Maybe teaching our kids that we are human and that we get angry and make mistakes — including ones that we have to apologize for — actually shows them that it’s okay if you mess up. Maybe letting them see our less-than-together selves is all right, because it allows them to see that no one is perfect, but we will still be loved by our family, nonetheless — burned meatballs and all.
Do you ever lose your temper as a parent? What do you do after you’ve lost it?
Elisabeth Wilkins is the Editor of Empowering Parents and the less-than-together mom of a 10-year-old son. She and her family live in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. (She does not look like Joe Pesci in real life, even though she sounds like him sometimes.)