Each day I pray to become the kind of mother I idealize – gentle, kind and understanding. However, each day I seem to fall short. In some way or another, I encounter every one of my daily tests with more anger and upset than the last, seeming to only disprove the idea that practice brings about perfection. If such things were true, I would by now be the master of sensitivity. But, I’m not. Instead I yell like so many fascists before me, barking orders, screaming rants, going off on tirades about one thing or another. I make a fuss over things that don’t really matter. And, worst of all, the one who feels the brunt of my upset is my daughter, the sweetest six-year old one could ever imagine. So, what’s wrong with me?!
That is a question I ask myself quite often these days. Why do I yell at my daughter so often and so loudly even though, clearly, she is a good kid? After taking a strong, hard look at myself in the mirror, I uncovered some pretty terrible truths. I am ashamed to admit it but, honestly, I yell at her sometimes just because I can. Because she is there. Because she is sweet and little and can’t fight back. In other words, I am her bully.
As all mothers do, I have feared the presence of bullies in her life from the moment she was born. One of my greatest wishes for her, when she was a baby, was that her life would be free from such pains, lined instead with the happiness of rainbows and sunshine. Reflecting on my own childhood, however, I know that too often this is not the case. I remember the emergence of bullies in elementary school and the helplessness I felt, being beholden to the cruel whims of my school-yard tyrants. Sometimes I would come home in tears, wishing that those monsters would dissolve with the hands of time. And, eventually, they did. For me. But now the tears resurfaced when I realized that a monster had returned. Only this time, I was it.
It didn’t happen overnight. No one wakes up in the morning and affirms that they want to be this way. Situations that make us feel powerless or overwhelmed often lead to this despised state. Sleepless nights, a failed soufflé, a long line at the DMV. Or worse – unemployment, divorce or death. The quality which shows a difference in people, though, is the way that these situations are handled. Some carry on with gentility and composure while others scream and yell. It’s a choice. And, so far, I have been making the wrong choices.
One morning, when my daughter spilled breakfast on her school uniform, it was my choice to scream about it. It was my choice to belittle her, enforcing the notion of her carelessness, causing her to feel bad enough about herself that she stared at her shoes for two minutes. It was my choice to carry on about how many loads of laundry I had to suffer through each week. How little time we had. How often this seemed to happen. Instead of just chalking up the spill to gravity or remembering the fact that I, too, spilled spaghetti sauce on my shirt just the day before, I took out my frustrations on her. And a little bit too easily, I might add.
When I think about it, it seems that I often yell because I am a mother and I think that somehow justifies things. My mother also yelled and she did so for what seemed like my entire childhood. So, I figure, since I still love my angry mom I know that my daughter will still love me regardless. At least that’s the hope I’ve always clung to. However, as the years consume her innocence and age increases her awareness, I know that I may be fooling myself. In the end, yelling may not be so excusable. In fact, these actions, these choices I have made, may be shaping her to become a person who is no quicker to forgive or understand than I am. And what’s worse than being a bully? Creating another one!
So, where do we go from here? If it’s all about choices, and I have made the first step in recognizing the error of my ways, I suppose what comes next is simple: TRY HARDER! Though it might seem like just another thing in my long list of “to do’s,” it is truly one of the most important tasks I could ever accomplish. I mean, I’m a mom. A stay-at-home mom, at that. This is my job, but it’s also my joy. It’s my life and it’s also my daughter’s life. It won’t count that I was an awesome housekeeper, able to keep dust off of counters and organization in underwear drawers, if my child grows up to be unhappy. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I sometimes feel that there is no “me” in my life. And, yes, I often get overwhelmed by my endless workload, the fact that I don’t get days off, and I have no co-workers to commiserate with about my experiences; but, none of that excuses a short fuse. And nothing justifies my tirades.
So, enough is enough. From here forward I aim to try harder. Do better. Allow for mistakes. Listen with an open heart. Laugh at gravity. Love beyond the good moments. Care for her, cuddle her, applaud her. Treat her, each and every second, exactly as I would like to be treated. Set a good example for who I would like her to be, and in so doing, be the Mommy I want to be – gentle, kind and understanding. After all, my daughter will soon find out that the world is a cruel place, but home should always be her refuge and I should always be her biggest supporter, building her up instead of tearing her down. Because I’m a mom, not a bully.