By MICHAELA FOX
Recently a close friend of mine tearfully confessed that she had lost her cool and smacked her child, after being pushed to the brink. She was deeply regretful and I knew she considered the smack a major parenting failure. Her eyes bared her pain, and also her vulnerability. I recognised this pain. I recognised her regret. She was reflecting back an experience of my own and most likely many other parents too.
We all have parenting moments we are not proud of. We would like to erase them from our memory. My friend was ashamed of her actions and full of self-loathing and guilt. I shared her pain, too, as I have stood in her shoes and acted in ways I deeply regret.
Children bear witness to some of our most shameful behaviours and worst mistakes. Most parents can tell you with grim precision what they were, and the feeling of shame that followed. I can tell you mine.
It happened shortly after my third child was born. Neck-deep in the demands of three children under three, and suffering from bone-crushing fatigue, I was struggling to stay afloat. Adding to my catalogue of pressures was the terrible trouble I was having with one of my children. She was miserable, and as such I was miserable, as well as exasperated, conflicted and angry. Her behaviour was ruining my time with my baby and interfering with my enjoyment of my other child who was delightfully happy.
When we are pushed to the brink at times, explaining how it got to that point is senseless. Often the tipping point is an insignificant event; it’s what has led to that moment that causes us to explode. Recounting the event can rarely convey the rawness and power of emotion.
I can’t even remember what my child did on the day I wish I could erase. And that itself shows how inconsequential it can become in time. But I do recall with haunting clarity the rage that welled up inside of me. I lost my cool and snapped. As I screamed at my young child with unrestrained emotion, I barely recognised myself. Who was I? What kind of mother screams at her barely two-year-old?
As my emotion boiled over, I did the only thing I could think of to diffuse the situation. Only I didn’t do it lightly. I grabbed my child with force and flung her into her cot and shut the door. Her cries intensified.
I then fled to my room and buried my head in my hands in shame. Trembling and unable to process the intensity of my emotion, I cried. I didn’t recognise myself in that moment. I had been in stressful situations before: before children I had a very demanding career and nothing, nothing, had pushed my buttons like this. Coming from someone who is reasonably calm, the sense of almost losing control was scary. As a mother who doesn’t believe in smacking, my assertive grip and heavy handling of her was, in my mind, inexcusable.