When it comes to children and pets, I can be extremely patient, and I confess to being rather proud of this trait. A lot of people tire of my daughter M’s 5+ minute monologues, but I can stay tuned in. J and M’s father has declared the car a quiet zone when he’s driving, but I relished our 45-minute commute discussions when the girls were 3 and 4 years old. I’m glad that my friends consider me to be someone who can step in with their kids when they’re feeling overwhelmed by poor behaviour or neediness.
Still, I have my limits. Yesterday afternoon, after returning from school, M was in rare form. She was frustrated, it seemed, with everything. She whined about having to put her school bag away, about my choice of snack, about the heat of the day, and about our cats choosing to play with a toy other than the one she had selected. She forgot all her basic responsibilities: washing her hands; picking up her dishes after snack; putting her dirty clothes in the laundry hamper; clearing her desk after homework. Every time I reminded her, she had some excuse for not having done what she was supposed, and I was a “meanie mama” for asking her to do it.
She may very well have been mirroring my own general sense of annoyance; the previous evening had brought an extremely unpleasant obligation I had hoped to put off until the weekend. I tried to shield the kids from my mood, but they’re observant souls.
J loves to dance, so it’s not unusual to find her twirling around the living room. Today, though, M decided that J was no longer allowed to dance, simply because she found it irritating. When I reminded M of our mantra, “Not your body, not your business,” she turned on me, screaming that she just didn’t want J to dance. That earned M a time out, which she spent kicking the door to my bedroom. Once she was done with time out, I told M to take a rag and clean her shoe marks off the door.
It was when M insisted that she had not kicked the door and that the very visible shoe marks didn’t exist that I felt my face get hot and heart beat harder. I knew that anger was seconds away, so I placed the girls’ dinner on the dining table and told them I was taking a time out “to calm my body down.”
It’s been so long since I took a mommy time out that J and M were thoroughly confused. Why did they need to go to time out? I explained, quickly, that I was feeling very angry, so I was going to take some quiet time to calm down. I was going to lie down, drink some water, and take deep breaths, just as I’d taught them to do.
Fortunately, my daughters, at 6, are old enough to be left alone in the dining room at dinner time. When they were little, when the screaming and whining got to be too much, I would place them in their cribs and make myself a cup of peppermint tea, telling them that mommy needed a time out. When they were 4, I once asked a neighbour to sit with the girls while I went for a walk, because I knew I had reached the end of my rope, and my husband wasn’t expected back from Afghanistan for several months more.
I love my kids. We generally have a fantastic time together, and are usually excellent at negotiating solutions to high-stress problems. Still, there are moments where I need to be human for a moment before I return to being mommy. I’d much rather step away from the situation than give in to the urge to yell. I yelled at M once earlier in the week after she ignored repeated requests to pick her dirty panties off the floor, and I’ve felt horrible ever since. It was just one sentence: “I said, put your panties in the laundry!” There are, however, better ways to engage the children’s attention.
What do you do to keep your cool when your kids are acting up? Are you a yeller?
Sadia’s identical twin daughters, M and J, turned 6 years old just last week.