This morning was rough.
I screamed at my toddler.
I screamed so loudly that my head hurt afterward.
I screamed so loudly that I was afraid that my neighbors, the very same neighbors that a few weeks ago sent me a text stating that Kevin and I were “THE BEST parents”, would hear it and be alarmed.
I’m not proud of it.
I’m downright ashamed of it.
Running on Fumes
Here was the scenario: I was running on six hours of sleep and was having an unproductive morning. I wanted to run to the grocery store. I already was frustrated with how long it was taking to get everything in order. I also was frustrated with how many times I had to repeat myself to Levi, who has made a habit of doing things his way instead of the way he’d been instructed to do things. Stubborn, independent child, just like his Mama.
I told Levi to get on his shoes. Five times. He went upstairs and declared that he wanted to wear his brown flip flops. The problem was, he could only find one. This was, as toddlerhood would have it, devastating.
I came to assess the cause of of the cries only half-way dressed, Lucy attached to my breast. I told him, with as even a tone I could muster, to put on the brown sandals. He refused and began to arch his back in defiance. Somehow, I distracted him enough to get one sandal on and the other part way on. Suddenly, he realized that I had put shoes on his feet, and he began to scream and flail, ripping the shoes off and throwing them.
I tried to have him take deep breaths, tried to get him to make eye contact, continually tried to get him to listen to me, but he continued to thrash around and scream at me and insist that he wear those stupid flip flops.
Crash and Burn
Imagine a plane falling out of the sky. Under the influence of gravity, it accelerates, speeding to the ground, and then erupts into a firey explosion. That, I’m sorry to say, was me under the influence of the stress of it all. “Mayday, mayday!” my brain was crying out, and though I know a whole lot about child development and toddler behavior, though I knew the right things to do, though I knew I could not take this behavior personally, I couldn’t get back into the air.
I ripped the flip flop out of his hand and threw it on the ground. I yelled a few crass words and Lucy, who had unlatched by that time, began crying. Levi grabbed the flip-flop and ran away from me into the other room, and I followed close behind, insisting he stop and listen to me. He didn’t.
Though I do not believe in spanking, I felt every impulse to smack his behind in anger. He continued to cry, and I knew it was because now I had frightened him. I knew I should calm down, leave the room, do take a few deep breaths myself, but I didn’t. Instead, I screamed at my child, and when I was done, all three of us were crying.
I hated it even while I was doing it. I hated myself for sinking to such an inhumane level, for exposing both of my children to the ugly side of their mother. I am supposed to be the one who is a source of comfort, of peace, of safety for them, and I had just acted as a destructive force they would then need comfort, peace, and safety from.
Sorting through the Rubble
I walked away then, Lucy in my arms, my chest physically aching. I apologized to Luce first, held her close, and she calmed quickly. After a minute, I went back to Levi and asked, very quietly, if I could apologize to him. His wet face was sad, and he said, “No, not yet.”
I understood, and didn’t push it. I went back to my room and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, all red-faced and disheveled, and a voice inside said, “You’re a wretched mother.” And I believed it.
A little voice got my attention. I looked down and saw Levi. “See, Mommy, I got my shoes on all by myself.” I looked down. Two brown sandals were strapped securely onto his feet. “I’m sorry,” he said.
I sat on the floor and began to sob there. “It’s ok, Mommy,” he said and gave me a hug.
But it wasn’t. And I told him so. I apologized for how I treated him, explained that I had done something terrible to him and could he please forgive me.
He kissed me on the lips and said yes.
I found myself verbalizing to my three year old that I was a bad mother. “No you’re not,” he said, and patted my back, and I wondered at the irony of the situation.
Kevin and I have talked extensively about the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt ensues because one does something bad. Shame, on the other hand, is a core belief that one is bad. We’ve talked about how we want to work to prevent our children from experiencing shame, and have worked hard at never labeling them as something negative, but rather their behavior.
Levi is a smart, caring, thoughtful, independent child who is human and does bad things sometimes. He’s disobeyed. He’s shoved his sister. He’s said unkind things. But he is not a bad child.
I have to remind myself that the same rules apply to me. I am a devoted, loving, patient mother who is human and does bad things sometimes. I’ve act selfishly. I’ve struggled with my priorities. I’ve screamed at my child. But I am not a bad mother.
Beauty from Ashes
Because of the grace of God, I have been a recipient of forgiveness, even at my ugliest and most unworthy moments. I saw that grace in the eyes of my toddler today. And it is with the same grace that I can extend forgiveness to him when he does wrong things.
We both sinned against each other this morning, and it was hurtful and horrible and I hope and pray it does not happen again. I pray that I can model the grace and patience and wisdom and hesed of God when my children disobey and not fall into sin myself.
But I am human, under the sanctifying work of the Spirit. I will make more mistakes. But I pray for the humility and ability to ask for forgiveness of my Father and of my children. And I will acknowledge guilt and learn from it, hoping that it will help me to improve, but I will refute the voice of shame within and choose to believe that, by God’s grace, I am a good mother.
About an hour after the blow-up, Levi was perched on the top of the shopping cart, facing me. He wrapped his arms around me and held on tight. I sang into his ear and kissed his hair and said a quick, selfish prayer that the morning’s interactions would fall away from memory.
Levi whispered in my ear that he loved me.
It was as if God himself had said it.