Life is all about perspective. So often in today's world, we get swept up in what we should be thinking or feeling instead of being allowed to be validated in whatever it is that we are experiencing. Just because someone else cannot identify with one person's reality, does not make them insensitive to the realities of others, nor does it make their realities any less real.
Let me start by saying we don't really hate our children, we may hate what they do, we may hate how they behave, but we do NOT hate them. We love them and simply struggle with difficult feelings about them.
Welcome to Therapy.
I saw a post on Instagram about a mom who was so mad at her child for something she had done, and instead of taking it out on her child, she reached out to her family in safety and expressed her frustration and love for her child at the same time. #beautiful But it left me wondering, if only we all had a safe place to go with our frustration. If only we didn't feel such fear and shame for feeling mad at our children, waiting for them to go to bed, and just wanting a day without them.
Let me tell you a story
Last week my daughter Joie, who is 16.5 months old was frustrated that I wouldn't read another book during bathtime. She was actually turning into a raisin, and it was time to get out. I gently said "no" and explained that we already read books, now it is time to get out and into jammies. Well, that wasn't what Joie wanted to hear. Within seconds she wound up, grit her teeth, made an angry face, and her little palm went straight across my cheek.
Yup. My 16.5 month old just smacked me across the face. I took her hand, and said, "No! We do not hit" and with that, she wound up and hit me again. This time I was mad, but I wasn't just mad that she hit me, I was mad because I didn't know what to do to stop her. I didn't know how to discipline a toddler, I was a mother who didn't know how to mother.
I took her by the hand and reinforced "NO!" but that didn't work, now she wasn't just mad, now she was sad and crying because I reprimanded her for hitting me. Then I put her on her stool as if she would understand "time out" because that's what I knew to do and the cries got louder. She stood up, looked at me, and went to hit again.
As I grabbed her hand to stop her I began rabbit holing in my brain. I was worried that my child had some innate anger issue that even I, a therapist, wouldn't be able to handle and that I was failing as a mom. How was it that I didn't know what to do? I was not only scared, but I was also ashamed and upset that my lack of knowing what to do now upset Joie. I was also so terrified by my feelings of anger toward her.
How could I love this child so much, and be so mad at her?
It's actually quite simple: she's a human.
That's the thing about being a mom, you don't really know what you're doing until you're doing it and you will love your children and dislike them at the same time.
Later that night, she accidentally banged her head into my eye socket. She didn't mean to hit me, but it felt like she did. There I sat, hysterically crying. I was so mad at myself for not knowing what to do, and I was so sad that I felt the way I did. I didn't want to be mad at her, I didn't want to ask my husband to put her down because I needed a break, but the truth was, I needed a break from her and that didn't make me less of a mom, it made me more of one.
After my husband put her to sleep, I crawled into bed with a bowl of ice cream and texted my mom friends to ask what they do when their children hit. I am immensely grateful for this community of women who have been so supportive since day one. When they provided me their suggestions, I felt relief, but at the same time such shame that I didn't know to do these things myself.
What kind of a mother was I?
They suggested a few things:
put up your hand to block their hand before they can hit you and say things like, "I know you're frustrated right now, but we do not hit" "that hurts mommy" and if they do it again, just block their hand and do not give attention to their hitting
show them how to touch nicely and stroke your face with their hand "make nice to mommy/daddy" or "be gentle"
I also learned by reading books like The Wonder Weeks and Touchpoints, that Joie was probably just frustrated not because we couldn't read another book, but more likely because of her frustration with not being able to understand why we can read books sometimes, but not all of the time. It begins as children but continues as adults. We get angry about what we don't understand, what we wouldn't do, or what we can't have, and then instead of self-soothing and calming down, we take it out on ourselves or those around us.
The moral of the story is twofold, first, as parents, our children will do things sometimes, many times that make us so mad that in those moments we feel like we actually don't like them. Guess what? You don't have to like everyone all of the time, and you can dislike someone and still love them. But, the key to all of this is the need for a safe judgment-free space to discuss how we feel, even when we feel these shameful and uncomfortable scary thoughts. Second, It's up to us, as adults to teach our children that it is okay to be angry, but it is also okay to calm ourselves down before expressing what we want, need, and desire. It's true, you get more bees with honey than you do vinegar, and if it takes some tears, thumb sucking, and a lovey or a walk around the block and a bowl of ice cream to calm down, we'll get more with that than any anger-filled alternative.
If you are looking for support and feel alone, therapy can be helpful, as is finding a mom or dad's group that exists in your community, or one online such as a parenting forum, or another parent that you know and feel like you can trust. Check out online communities such as Motherly, We Are Robyn, The Mom Forum, Scary Mommy, or books like Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, The Wonder Weeks, and Touchpoints for guidance about these kinds of feelings and understanding the developmental changes that occur in our children. The Motherhood Center also has some great virtual support systems in place.
Children will make us mad, they'll make us furious and they will absolutely push our buttons and boundaries. The thing is, we are human and it is okay for us to get angry, moreover, it's normal to get angry. It's okay to count down the hours until bedtime, we don't do it because we're bad parents, or not grateful to be a parent, or because we don't like spending time with them, but we do it because we're humans who need space and time to ourselves too.