I'd love to hear what you do when your children push your buttons until you are seething. How do you hold it together? What do you do when you do lose it? What does 'losing it' look like for you? What situations lead to you losing it and what have you changed to mitigate/avoid it?
What is the most violent immediate future you've ever avoided by calming down out of the moment? A shake? A slap? A butt smack? Nothing? What I mean is, most parents face their anger in their child's defiant eyes, or when a child has done something dangerous to a sibling. All (most) of us just shift the physical impulse off to the left while we handle the situation, but have you ever been scared by the possibility you saw in your own emotional reaction?
Most of the time, I try to be patient when the kids are doing things that make me seethe. I can handle my kids being defiant if that is the only thing going on and I find that my Discipline Spectrum generally tends to guide me in the right way. However, I find it gets to be too much for me when everything else is going wrong too. If other things that are creating stress for me, if I haven't had a break in a long time, if I'm exhausted, if I'm sick or injured, if I've had a disagreement with someone I care about, then having my kids test my patience over and over again on top of that it can make me lose it. Essentially, if I am really far off of the balance I strive for, then I just don't have the patience.
I wrote some of my feelings on this after a particularly bad day in Berlin this summer. This was when we had only been there a little more than a week. Everything was new to them. Everything was new to me. I went from sitting in an office all day to being alone with the kids all day. We didn't have any of our things. There wasn't a backyard to send them out into. There wasn't even a television to offer a brief sanity break. There was nothing.
In Age three: defiance with a smirk, I wrote:
Both of my kids at three, it seems, reached the age of defiance with a smirk. Not only are they completely selfish, but they also seem to take joy in preventing others from meeting their needs and have little sense of potential danger or discomfort for themselves. Refusing to go the bathroom before we leave the house and taking joy in the fact that her brother and I are frustrated that we can’t leave the house until she changes her mind (even though she also wants to go where we want to go). Having the ability to open closed doors to return to the scene of a previous crime and attempt a destructive and dangerous feat once again (e.g. swinging from the curtains in a borrowed apartment). Running in front of your feet with begs to be carried one moment (and getting tripped over in the process) and running off wild in the wrong direction or pausing to pick up dirty cigarette butts the next. Refusing to leave a playground or store when her brother has to go to the bathroom. Throwing toys or books across the room when they don’t do what she wants them to do. Asking for a specific food and then refusing to eat any of it. I could go on.
In that post, I characterized our difficulties as a "battle". A couple of commenters noted that seeing it as a battle is part of the problem. I do recognize that, but I was being honest about my feelings on that particular day. It did feel like a battle and it is usually when it gets to that point that I feel like I'm going to blow a fuse.
What does losing it look like?
I have never been physically violent with my children. I know intellectually that hitting my kids is wrong. But I also don't seem to have the instinct to hit my children when they make me angry. Even when my daughter slapped me in the face. Even when my son threw a toy car at my eye. Physical violence isn't a reaction that I need to fight off. I know people who strongly believe that spanking is wrong, but that have spanked their children when they put a sibling in danger because they just reacted and didn't know what else to do in that moment. But that isn't an instinct I've ever had.
That said, I have physically restrained my kids or physically removed my kids from situations. I have held them or carried them as they screamed bloody murder. I have done that in public (never a fun prospect) and I have done it at home. I have also screamed. That is probably the instinct that I have most often that I don't like. When I run out of other options I scream. I don't mean the routine screaming a lot of parents do when reminding their children over and over again about things they are supposed to do ("PICK UP YOUR ROOM ALREADY!"), but more the "STOP THAT NOW!" scream, sometimes in combination with physically restraining the child. If I get to that point, I have lost it. That is the reaction I try to fight off. That is the one that scares me, both because I don't like seeing myself like that, and because I don't like seeing the look in my child's eyes when I get to that point.
I also cry. If no one is in immediate danger, but if my kids have just been horrible to me all day long and if none of my attempts to be patient or to connect with them have worked, then I have gone to another room and sobbed. Sometimes the kids ignore me, but usually they come to me to see what is wrong and that creates a new opportunity to discuss the problem. However, that discussion doesn't always mean that the problem magically disappears. In Berlin I sometimes had several days in a row where I ended up in tears, but it did mean that at least they recognized that Mommy can't just take it all the time.
What I do when I'm about to lose it
I breathe. I count to 10 under my breath. I leave the room. But that isn't always enough. If the destruction is continuing or if they follow me and keep up with whatever they are doing, then things just escalate.
I'm not a fan of using television as a babysitter. But I am a big fan of using television to avoid mistreating my children and damaging our relationship. That is why, in Berlin, we did end up buying a small television. I knew that I needed something that would distract and calm the kids when they weren't calm and I wasn't calm so that we could both take a breather. The television gave us that, along with the added bonus of helping them with their German.
I also think that fresh air is a great solution. Here in Canada, that is easier. Especially now that the kids are a bit older, we can just send them outside when everyone needs a breather. Even if they just go out for five or ten minutes, sometimes that is enough. But fresh air is also a good mitigation strategy in general. I find that the more time our kids spend outside, the less likely we are to get to a point where I feel like I'm going to lose it.
Trying to turn things into a game or a playful moment helps too, but usually if I am ready to snap, then it is already past that point for me. That is an idea that needs to kick in a bit earlier in the process for it to be a good option for me.
My biggest fear when I'm ready to snap or when I do lose it is that I have lost all connection with my kids and lost all ability to influence them via that connection. I generally believe that human beings who care about each other and are connected with one another will also treat one another with respect. When my children seem to have lost all respect for my needs and my feelings, then I get scared that we have lost that connection.
My other fear is that I've raised little monsters. I wonder if maybe I should have been a stricter disciplinarian and created schedules and rules and penalties and all sorts of things like that to keep them in line. I worry that they are not only going to be horrible to me, but that they are going to be horrible to everyone else.
Those fears, thankfully, are usually short lived. It doesn't usually take that long to reconnect and once we have reconnected or regrounded ourselves or reestablished some normalcy in our lives, then I realize that the absence of connection, grounding, or normalcy is what was causing them to act the way that they were acting and that they are not, in fact, little monsters but just human beings reacting to changes in their environment.
What I don't want or need
In the moments where I feel like I'm going to snap, as much as I feel like I need help, I don't really need advice. I do not need someone telling me how great time outs are. I do not need someone telling me that I was disrespectful to my child and that if I just focused better on connecting with her that these problems would not arise. I do not need someone saying that I expect too much of myself or that I expect too much of my children. I do not need someone telling me that we need strict consequences for misbehaviour. I need a hug. I need empathy. I need help. I need a break. I need space. I need time to think. Once I've had that, I need one-on-one time with the kids to reconnect with them and I need a few days of calm for us to get back to normal and leave our stresses behind.
How about you? What is it like for you when you feel like you are about to snap?
Image credit: Pink Sherbet Photography on flickr