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"A Bad Heart"

The other night, when I wrote this post, it was after we'd put the kids to bed early following a horrendous, dysfunctional evening marked by limit-testing, impatience, and tantrums (and the kids had been awful, too -- heh heh -- somehow that humor doesn't work for me here, probably because you already assumed I was talking about myself, didn't you? Dammit.). I e-mailed a few friends in desperation: "What have I done wrong here? How has this happened? They're so WILD, they're constantly FEEDING off of each other, and then I snap and scream at them, negating everything I've been trying to teach them, HELP ME! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?" I got some sound feedback from some very helpful people: don't beat yourself up, it's hard for all of us, anyone who says discipline is easy is LYING THROUGH THEIR LYING LIAR TEETH, you know, the usual phrases we tell ourselves to put into perspective the fact that we're justifying our worth as parents by comparing ourselves to murderers: "I can see why people snap and abuse their kids. THE DIFFERENCE, though, is that we don't really do it." Huh. So that means I deserve a medal, I guess. Because I didn't murder my kids when they ran away screaming at bath time again, I only imagined myself murdering them. Somehow I thought this part of life would be different. Or maybe I didn't put ENOUGH thought into how this part of life would be; I just wasn't prepared and that's why I find myself standing in the hallway, eyes darting, skin flushed, every muscle in my body flexed, sweat pores over-worked, with these simultaneous thoughts running through my head:
  • I'm going to rip his head off, I can't believe he just THREW THAT TOY RIGHT AT ME and ran away laughing, LAUGHING, has he no respect?! WHAT A BRAT!
  • I can't say I'm going to rip his head off, even in my mind. I could go to jail for something like that anyway. Besides, eventually this kid might be manipulated into investing in a decent nursing home for me. Must...keep...patience.
  • GAH! I can't keep my patience! This is ridiculous! Ridiculous, I say! Why can't we get through ONE GOD-FORSAKEN MEAL without having some major meltdown about something? Why does bath time equal "do the opposite of everything our ineffective mother tells us to do" time? WHY, WHY, WHY??
  • Okay, so all of this time I've spent reading these helpful books on the right language and tone of voice and mentality to use with kids in order to teach them boundaries without being an intimidating authority figure they'll ultimately shy away from, learning the difference between being an authoritative parent and an authoritarian parent, that was all a waste, wasn't it? Because HELLO! LISTEN TO YOURSELF, YOU'RE SCREAMING AT YOUR KIDS YOU IDIOT!
  • See? The screaming did no good anyway. Bryce just ran away laughing hysterically. Quinn followed him. Now, instead of getting ready for a bath, they're both even MORE hyper, and hiding under the bed. WHAT NOW? If I go in after them, they win. If I ignore them and refuse to even GIVE them a bath, is that really a punishment? Wait. Was this Bryce's plan all along?

If I hadn't had a few very helpful people talking me down, though, I would have remained mired in my guilt and horror, playing the painful game of parenting limbo wherein my dysfunctional reactions to the kids' attempts to press my buttons would have pulled me down deeper and deeper into circles of hell as yet unknown. While I hate to find myself in situations where I'm comparing myself to a murderer in an attempt to point out how very normal I am, those sentiments did compel me to do some reading, to take a brief refresher course in the philosophies I claim to espouse when it comes to parenting. I read a few articles which discussed a number of tips and tricks I already knew by heart. I slapped my forehead in shame and disgust at the notion that I'd had a dozen opportunities to turn the previous night's horror around, and instead, had opted to scar my kids for life by teaching them that, hey, I'm mad, you're wrong, and I just earned the right to disrespect this entire household by shrieking and stomping and taking threatening poses even though we all know I pose absolutely no threat to anyone around here (except for maybe the threat of early hearing loss, what with all the desperate shrieking).

The next day, we tried some "new" ideas. They weren't new ideas to us, but we had temporarily forgotten to implement them, so they felt new to the kids. The night went hypnotically smoothly. The kids ate lentil soup(!) and sauteed potatoes(!) with no meltdowns. Bath time and bedtime were, primarily, pleasant and peaceful wind-downs to the day. I kissed Bryce good night and said, "I saw you trying really hard today to be peaceful and remember your manners. I really appreciate it." He said, "Yeah. You were trying, too." This seems like a sadly, profoundly beautiful statement coming from a four-year-old anyway, but when you hear what he said to me the night before, it's even more heart-shattering. After our horrible night of conflict and chaos and failure, he'd asked for a kiss and hug, and I'd grudgingly complied, for the sole purpose of getting myself out of his room and pretending the evening had never occurred. As I'd pushed myself off of his bed after impatiently pecking his cheek, he'd said, "Mom. I can't feel your kiss."

Tonight, Night #2 in our renewed focus on Mission: Responsible-Patient-Consistent-Authoritative Parents, was a little more challenging than last night's peaceful revelation. There was no parental yelling or dysfunction, so we remain on track. However, Bryce hit the wall after dinner and was trying very hard to take our Mission off course. There was yelling, there was throwing, there was defiance. I held firm, did not scream at him, and while I may have bloodied the inside of my mouth by violently biting my gums in an effort to keep my patience, I prevailed. During one of his brief breaks from the attempt at causing household chaos, I said curiously, "Bryce, why do you think you lose control like that?" He stepped out of the bath and looked around, thinking. "Well, sometimes my heart is just bad, and it makes me lose control. My heart feels very tight, like this, and it makes me act that way" and he wrapped his arms around his chest so closely that his fingers almost met in the middle of his back. "Like this. Very, very tight."

I don't know what I was expecting him to say, but I guess I figured it would be something along the lines of "because you're mean" or "because you don't let me eat enough candy" or "because I'm not the center of the universe and it really makes me angry." Sometimes my heart is bad and it feels tight which causes me to lose control did not make the list of predicted answers from the four-year-old. The kid KNOWS he's intense. He knows he acts insane and that it wreaks havoc on the rest of the house. And yet, he can't always stop himself. Sounds very familiar.

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