The above picture captures a moment, yesterday, when I reacted to my kid battling me about his daily math/writing practice for the 899th time this summer.
Yes there was screaming; Yes, there was a crazy-eyed, red-faced, stomp-fest; Yes, there was a ragey lecture on losing the “privilege” of discussion/negotiation and my kids’ obvious spoiled entitlement and laziness. NO it was NOT pretty.
Sure, I’ve yelled at my kids plenty of times. But this marked the first time I have ever yelled my kid into “broken-down-tearful-submission.”
And it worked.
It worked if my goal was to get my kid to scramble to try to avoid my booming wrath and disgust whenever I asked him to do something.
It worked to make him a little more tense, a little more small, and a little more insecure. It worked to make my kid feel a little less safe to let down his guard or access his vulnerable emotions in his own home.
It worked to make him wonder if he was a total f*cking idiot and/or worthy of contempt and disgust.
It worked to shatter his internal locust of control and sense of adequacy, and to make him more likely to release his insecurity on his little brother. (He later pointed out that he was reading “baby books” since comic books don’t count as chapter books. This is a kid who normally is the first to build up his brother with support and approval. Coincidence?)
It worked to teach him that emotions are about reactive confusion and anger with a side-dish of shame, and maybe best to be shoved deep under the surface.
So yes, my authoritative freak-fest technically resulted in blissful, quiet submission. I just wasn’t sure his aquiescence was worth all the additionl baggage.
The only way to start to resolve a sticky emotional situation is to IDENTIFY THE CRAP YOU YOURSELF MAY BE BRINGING TO THE TABLE. (Sigh.) So I later checked all my own crap that I was bringing to this particular scenario. (Heavy sigh.) I checked my own need for control. I checked my fear that my kids’ academic resistance would land him in a cardboard box under a bridge someday. And I checked my own bratty, irrational, misplaced anger that my husband was unable to magically rescue me from these parenting struggles by “manning” these boys into submission. (Parenting stuff almost always blurs into relationships stuff.)
(Deeeeeep sigh. This is HARD.)
And once I checked that crazy stuff floating around deep in my brain, it was easier to see the situation, to see my SON, clearly. There were REASONS he was arguing every day, and it was up to me to manage my own reactivity so that I could guide him to understand and navigate those reasons.
Later that night I explained to my son that it’s ok and normal to feel controlled or overwhelmed, to be annoyed that you don’t get to do what you want to do during work time, and even to feel like something is confusing or hard.
Those feelings and experiences don’t make you a bad kid and they don’t make you an idiot. But it is up to you to manage those feelings by communicating and doing certain mind/behavioral tricks.
I told him a couple quick things to do: center yourself to the moment; chunk the task, remind yourself of the reward, use I-statements, ask for help without whining, blablabla.
And without ragey contempt from Mom (and even some apology and self disclosure of times when I was an argumentative kid myself), my kid was able to be open to the idea of trying these tactics out (although the awareness of the feelings and permission to have them were 90% of the change agent.)
So this morning, I considered it the greatest moment of the entire summer when my kid calmly said “this makes me feel overwhelmed,” and I said, “what do you think you could do?” And he said “just do a little at a time.”
There are so many points to this experience and reasons why I share it so openly: No parent is perfect; It’s never too late to correct course; Challenging your own “stuff” helps see parenting scenarios more clearly; the goal of blind-submission comes as a cost while the goal of self-awareness and possessing tools for self-sufficiency is infinitely harder; But establishing what specifically is going on, and offering teaching and tools instead of ruling by dictatorship is 1000% worth it.
That’s it for now, says lady who thinks it’s never too late to learn and grow, whether you’re a kid, a parent, or a clinical psychologist 😉