I’ve been tired lately. So very very tired. I guess we all are. It’s sort of a badge of honor when you become a mom. Your work triples, your sleep gets cut in half and your temper and patience is shortened to the point of non-existence. We can barely check our attitudes when we’re that exhausted…snapping and losing it seem to always be just one spilled bowl away.
I had slept pretty badly the night before. I was up three times between my son needing me and my mom bladder, after going to bed too late just so I could have an hour of peace. I was strung out from too much work, my nerves were raw from the unending whining and screeching from my tired toddler, the house was a disaster…again. My plate was overwhelmingly full, the bank account was way too low, and my husband was asking question after question of things I couldn’t answer. Basic, every day questions.
Then my 2-year-old son, after literally screaming in my face, picked up his bowl full of food and threw it angrily. And I slapped him.
It was a knee jerk reaction. But the betrayal and fear in my tiny son’s eyes as I saw the angry red marks from my hand print forming on his beautiful chubby cheeks in those nanoseconds after, made bile rise up in my throat.
I was raised with spankings when I was bad and backhands when I was mouthy. I had always said (joked even) that I “firmly believed in beating my kids…” because a spanking wasn’t beating, and a backhand wasn’t abuse. It wasn’t a daily occurrence, nor do I have any negative flashbacks or fear of my parents. I was not raised in an abusive home. It was simply something countless generations before did as a needed discipline when the child got out of control.
I’m typing that now and laughing through my tears. The obscene audacity of it. We say “when the child gets out of control” as though tantrums and frustrations and stress and anxiety are solely an adult problem. I was so strung out that day. My god was I strung out…and he was just angry. I wasn’t listening, blatantly ignoring his requests of different food, so he reacted the only way he knew how to get my attention. Then I slapped him for it.
My generation was raised the same way my parent’s generation was raised, so when I heard of this new fangled “attachment and peaceful parenting” crap, I scoffed. “I’ve seen more than my fair share of kids who just need a good spanking,” I’d preach. “Parents just need to teach their kids respect.” No. Obedience. No….submission. That’s what it was. In my ignorance I believed it was “respect”…but what went through my mind that day was anything but. I wanted my son to submit.
The events that followed immediately after (we’re talking minutes) felt like years. The moment it happened, I nearly ripped the tray out of the highchair to comfort my son. He was starting the type of sobbing that when you cry so hard you can’t catch your breath even though the tears are already streaming. I desperately looked at my husband and said, “That was harder than I meant it to be.” I dropped to my knees to apologize and to hold my little boy…but he shoved and kicked me away. He scrambled to get away from me. He was desperate to be in my husband’s arms…away from his mother. It took what felt like forever to calm him down and get him back in his chair to eat, all the while he would cling to my husband whenever I approached him.
I felt sick and sobbed into my husband’s arms as my son finally contentedly ate dinner and watched cartoons. “I marked my son!” I sobbed. “What the hell is WRONG with me?!” I spent the rest of dinner simply petting and kissing my son, staring at the light-red hand print on his face, while he ignored me and ate.
It took two weeks for my son to forgive me. I was still the main caregiver, but he was colder to me and less willing to snuggle. Two-years-old and I had broken his trust to the point that he only snuggled while nursing.
I, on the other hand, have not even raised my voice since. I get down on his level when he’s in trouble. I do what I can to reason with him and communicate, but mostly I listen. Adults despise being ignored. Why do we think it’s okay to ignore children? That day rocked my world to the core. I didn’t just slow down, I took three steps back. If I’m overly tired, we have a Netflix marathon day. If I have work and he needs attention, I save what I’m doing and play. More than anything, though, I love on that boy like he’s deploying tomorrow.
I was raised in a house, in a generation, where parents would say “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” I never understood that. Not until I lost all control that day. I may have stung his cheek, but I scarred my soul. He may have forgotten it happened already, but I have no idea how to forgive myself.