Last night I had one of those parenting moments that make you hate yourself the next day. Tom was out of town on business. I needed to make the kids’ dinner. Three lunches needed to be packed for school the next day. Homework needed to get finished. Several loads of laundry were waiting. And projects from work were still hovering over my head.
Then one of the kids came home late for dinner after staying to play too long at the neighbor’s house, and I slipped into an unpleasant personality type I’ll call “Mrs. Snit.” My tone of voice changed. I shut cabinet doors more forcefully. I rushed around the room barking out commands in true drill sergeant style. I gave a lecture about how the kids should manage their time better and then somehow transitioned into an equally boring rant about bad grades on spelling tests.
Finally, when the kids said the green beans (which they usually love) didn’t taste quite right, I didn’t stop to taste them and see if they had a point. I piled the complaint on top of an already bad mood and let my response take off a few innocent heads sitting at the kitchen table.
That’s when my oldest son, who clearly sensed that something wasn’t right, said, “I’m sorry, Mom.” I spun around from the kitchen sink full of dishes and said, “For what?” He paused a moment and then said in complete honesty: “I’m not sure?”
That’s when the shame hit me. Because I was on the wrong side of that apology. And I hated myself immediately for letting the normal pressures of an average day turn me into something my kids didn’t understand and didn’t know how to fix. It’s not their job to fix it. I was the one having a childish fit.
“You guys didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “After you’re done eating, you can go upstairs and get ready for bed.” They took me up on that offer almost immediately, sensing that, in times like these, it’s better to steer clear of the crazy woman in the kitchen. I certainly couldn’t blame them. I don’t like her either.
So I put myself in a maternal time-out on the sofa, hoping a few minutes alone would help me shift into a better gear. And for the most part, it worked. I helped with my oldest kid’s homework, and I reminded everyone to brush their teeth without sounding like a shrew.
At bedtime, three kids wandered downstairs, one by one, for a goodnight hug, and I felt thankful they had somehow put my jerky behavior to bed as well. With warm arms wrapped around my neck, I whispered “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
They seemed to have already let it go, and that generous acceptance convicts me even more. One of the hardest parts of parenting is managing my own weaknesses and struggling between being a person with faults and quirks and hang-ups and being the loving, steadfast rock that children deserve.
The kids shouldn’t have to tiptoe around my mood. When they look back on their childhood one day, I want them to see a mother who was mostly smiling and easy to be with, not one who was uptight or temperamental.
I suppose we all come out of childhood with emotional baggage we pick up from a variety of sources for different reasons. But I’ve got to constantly remind myself that my aim must always be to learn to do better, to love them completely, and, above all, to lighten that load.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.
Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography