Oh, come on, you say. You’re exaggerating. Everyone yells. You were probably just like, Stop sticking pins in the dog! Or, Stop dangling your brother over the edge of that cliff!
Or some other totally justifiable yelling thing.
Nope. What I said was something along the lines of: OH YEAH? WELL I CAN HAVE A TANTRUM TOO!
It was horrible. Afterward I did all the things—I apologized and repaired, I breathed, I prayed (that kind of sick-of-it-all prayer that starts, “Even though there’s no God and I’m just an idiot talking to the wall right now…”). During naptime, I wrote in my journal. I watched a few minutes of bad TV. I went back in vaguely refreshed.
I called my best friend to come over and support me because Scott was going out after dinner and I didn’t trust myself to be calm and collected.
How do I know to do all this stuff? Because I WROTE A BOOK about it.
After all this, do you know what your charming friend who writes about parenting did after dinner?
I yelled at them again, and it was equally weird and appalling. My husband and friend both stared at me with their mouths agape.
Later that night, I wrote in my journal: I’m good at writing about being a mother but I suck at mothering.
Which may be a little bit true some days.
[I have] to forgive myself…Not because my missteps aren’t egregious, but because I am their mother for better or for worse, and they need me to keep trying.
Not by way of defense, but to contextualize, here’s the perfect storm that led up to it…
I had some wacky hormones that resulted in a migraine for five straight days, and I was pretty much functioning with the use of only one eye because the other one had a weird shadow floating in front of it—a shadow that was intermittently stabbing said eye with tiny knives. Also—everyone in this house has been sick for two months, including multiple bouts of pneumonia and stomach flu. Even without the constant sickness, we are in the middle of a massive transition, with the addition of Bright Eyes. Everyone is struggling to find our footing.
That said, stressy life or not, yelling at kids with trauma histories is extra crappy, for a few reasons.
First, it doesn’t work. It just models more of the exact behavior you’re attempting to address. Usually, they scream right back in my face.
It also erodes your child’s trust in you. Trust is the key ingredient to healing trauma. Yelling just reinforces their idea that the world is an unsafe and unpredictable place, where the people who are supposed to love them will only hurt them and as a result they need to be in control of absolutely everything.
It can cause a big setback. Knowing all of this, I stood there and totally lost my temper.*
I share this with you not as some self-flagellating confession, but because in spite of all my shame and regret, I still had to wake up today and face my family. And while not all of us scream like some deranged Joan Crawford clone, I know I’m not the only one making terrible mistakes and having to brush myself off and attempt to do better next time. And then having to forgive myself when I don’t. Not because my missteps aren’t egregious, but because I am their mother for better or for worse, and they need me to keep trying. I have breakfast to make. I don’t have the option of twisting myself up into an origami of shame and staying there for days.
I also share this with you because I think we spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to each other’s internet personas—the beautifully filtered IG photos, the beach days and birthday parties. The heart-stopping adorableness of everyone else’s kids and living rooms and table settings and fluffy puppies and Christmas mornings. Mine included. My kids are darn cute and my dogs are pretty fluffy.
Of course we share the pretty, polished stuff. I enjoy looking at that version of our family. I imagine a life I don’t quite have into being, by catching just the right moment and filtering it and framing it and waiting for all the likes to roll in. I like like like like like it, too! It’s just not the truth. It’s a truth. But it wasn’t my truth yesterday and it’s not my truth this morning.
I will have to believe in myself the way I believe in them. Not because I’m deserving but because it’s the only way.
This is what I wrote in my journal last night, in the aftermath of yell-a-geddon:
Please let me be closer to the mother I pretend to be. This good, patient, creative, humorous, warm mother I dream into being in the clouds, while somewhere down on earth I am small and selfish and frightened and still an angry adolescent, railing at all I’ve traded and all I’ve lost and sure that truly in my heart of hearts I’m poison. I watch them sleeping, their tiny forms under the covers, and wonder how it is I’ve been entrusted with these two precious souls. This I know—I can’t hate myself into being worthy of them. It’s a law of physics or something. You can’t hate yourself into being better at anything. I will have to believe in myself the way I believe in them. Not because I’m deserving but because it’s the only way.
If I know anything, I know that you can’t believe in yourself because you’ve earned it. Paradoxically, you have to start with that belief, in spite of the evidence to the contrary. I’m worthy of my children because they’re my children and here we are. And I believe that today I will do better.
If I fight to accumulate enough of those days, I know from my experience with Tariku that I will turn around and find that years have passed and somehow, in spite of all my faults, there is a delightful, strong, joyful, confident child standing in front of me.
About the Author: Jillian Lauren is the author of numerous books, including her newly released memoir, Everything You Ever Wanted, that talks about parenting and adoption. This blog was originally posted on jillianlauren.com.
*An edit has been made to this sentence from the original.