Monday was a nearly perfect day. Well, as perfect as days can get when you have three children. Jacob got ready for school without any problems. Jonathan was happy. Ryan napped. Then we all went to the park and played in the glorious sunny, 60+ degree weather. The fighting was minimal and the kids all went to bed smoothly. I sat on Ryan's bottom bunk, stared at his quiet slumbering body and soaked it in. "I can't live without this," I thought. "I need to always have a kid in my house."
Then Tuesday happened. Tuesday quickly became everything that Monday was not. I was awakened by the older kids yelling at each other. And the fighting didn't let up once. After I dropped Jacob off at school Ryan whined and cried and complained about everything. He refused lunch. He refused his nap, all the while becoming more and more exhausting/exhausted. Jon also wouldn't nap and was equally fussy. When Jacob came home from school, the fighting ignited once again. At bedtime, I sat on Ryan's bed, craddling a not-sleeping and very fussy Jonathan, while Ryan screamed at the top of his lungs and refused to lay down. Jacob? He was with his dad at Urgent Care getting diagnosed with yet another ear infection. I wanted to cry. I wanted to melt into the ground and disappear forever.
How? How can one day be so magnificent and the next be so lousy? Sometimes I'm so in love that it hurts. Other times I'm just trying desperately not to roundhouse kick someone in the face.
Today Jacob stayed home from school because of his ear infection. The kids again had fought nearly all morning. Ryan kept hitting and kicking Jacob. Jacob kept yelling at Ryan for copying him. They both fought over all the same toys.The fighting and the whining and the tattling had just become a never-ending white noise machine at this point. I heard Jacob yell at Ryan to stop kicking him for the one hundredth time and I snapped. I waltzed up to Ryan, smacked him in the back of the head and yelled, "RYAN STOP HITTING! JACOB STOP YELLING! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!"
Ryan's face drained of all color before he turned bright red and started spewing tears. Jacob looked at me in terror.
I wasn't in shock from the fact that I had just smacked my own son. I've lashed out and spanked my kids before and immediately regretting reacting so viscerally. This wasn't an "omg, I feel so horrible for hurting my own kid" kind of shock. This was something else. Replaying in my mind what had just happened, I was struck with a realization: I had become one of them. I was a yelling, smacking, angry machine. In that moment, the three of us were one and the same.
I had smacked Ryan for kicking Jacob. I had yelled at Jacob for yelling at Ryan. My emotional response to my kids was exactly the same emotional response that I was trying to temper and discourage. They had hit a nerve of mine and I reacted physically. How is this any better than when Jacob yells at Ryan for grabbing a toy out of Jacob's hand?
I've been repeatedly (100 times a day, 7 days a week) trying to teach my kids to express their feelings with their words. Not physically. Not by yelling. Or name calling. Or storming off. But to explain their feelings to each other. To express their feelings to me so that we can work through things. Ryan grabbed your toy? Ok, let's explain to him why grabbing isn't nice and tell him that he can have a turn in five minutes.
But thinking back on all the yelling I have been doing lately, it suddenly struck me how much I behave just like them on a regular basis. Ouch. Hypocrite.
Again, I wanted to melt into the floor. I wanted to try to run away from my colossal failure. I almost felt sick to my stomach. How are my children going to survive their formative years? How am I going to survive their formative years? How can I teach something that I myself do not live?
The answer came shooting back at me, "You just have to change. You just have to keep trying." I'm only human. I can't be perfect. I'm not a perfect parent. All I can do is get up and keep trying. Hopefully I can show them love every day. And hopefully, they will realize that no matter how much I mess up, I'm really, really trying. And hopefully that will be enough.
But then I realized that the comparisons go both ways. If I can forgive myself for reacting inappropriately because I'm only human, then I can forgive the same behavior in them for the same reason. I get so frustrated when I have to remind them over and over again about the same things. Everyday I have to remind Jacob to put his shoes in the shoe cabinet, to put his dirty clothes in the hamper, to not yell at Ryan. Everyday I have to remind Ryan not to hit Jacob. Why can't they remember these simple things? It drives me batty! But isn't remembering not to yell at my kids just as simple? And yet, here I am failing (again).
We are only human. The lot of us. We are just a bunch of flawed characters. Why can't we remember the simple things? Why do we hurt the people who love us? Why do we always fall into the same bad habits despite our frequent promises to do better? Is trying enough? Is it ever too late to pick ourselves up and give it one more go? No. It's not. As long as someone is still there to forgive us and love us in spite of our flaws.
Gah. Why is parenting so hard?!