We were waiting on line at the rock wall at the Cherry Blossom Festival this past weekend when I heard someone yell, “IF YOU WANT TO STAND THERE LIKE A CRYBABY, FINE! I DON’T CARE!” Her child was standing in front of the rock wall with his head hanging down and he was having trouble with the first step up.
As a parent, we’ve all been there. That moment when you’re so frustrated, your inner Mommy Dearest rears her ugly head. You may even have an out of body experience where you see yourself do your best Linda Blair impersonation in the Exorcist, where your head starts spinning. Don’t deny it. No one’s perfect. You may yell, you may slam on the breaks of the car, you may start slamming drawers. You may even kick a door shut, hurting yourself in the process.
No one tells us when we have children that we’re supposed to suddenly turn into saints–all patience and ever lasting love and tenderness. As a selfish, self-involved, incredibly impatient person, having a child was the biggest challenge I could ever face in life. When Sara was born I gave up my career and then spent the next eight weeks calling my husband repeatedly in tears because I felt worthless and I resented him for leaving me alone with the baby while he got to go out and work. I blame that partially on hormones. Yes, that’s right. Hormones.
Sure, my life was forever altered by this bundle of life who pooped all the time, cried to be fed every 30 minutes. It was overwhelming and exhausting to be wholly responsible for a life. But during a quiet moment when she looked up at me with those watchful, knowing eyes, I felt an incredible calm. It was like she told me without words that I was going to be ok. That she trusted me to be a wonderful mom, no matter what. That she loved me without reservation for no other reason than, I was her mom.
Now, eight years later when she talks back to me or argues that her hair looks fine without brushing it, or her dirty clothes are on the floor in the living room because that’s where she changed her clothes, I take a deep breath, count to three, and beat down the Mommy Dearest and Linda Blair clawing their way out. I do this because I remember that look. The one that says, I trust you and love you for no other reason than you are my mom. It takes lifetimes to earn a trust like that. Yet, our children are born giving us that trust freely. It’s an amazing gift that should not be squandered or lost to a moment of trivial frustration.
To say I’m not perfect is to understate the obvious. Imperfect has my picture in the dictionary. I didn’t let my child drink anything but water and milk for the first two years of her life. Some people from her preschool class probably thought I was abusive when she was sucking down apple juice cups by the gallons at class parties because she had never had apple juice before. It’s not for me to judge someone else’s parenting skills. But when I’m witness to something that is, without a doubt, an abusive relationship, I have to speak up.
The woman continued to berate this poor child and ridicule him in front of all of us standing by the rock wall. I could physically feel every word like a blow. When I looked over at him, his face was red and sweaty. He was embarrassed and I could see him shrinking and becoming smaller and smaller with every word she said. Finally, he tiredly began climbing. At this point his mother had worked herself up to such a frenzy that she bull rushed him, dragged him off the wall, and berated him some more for sucking at rock climbing. He was horrified, and as he tried to back away he said, “I’m fine! I can do it, I’ve got it!”
She stalked off in a huff and said loudly, “MY SON IS SUCH A JERK!” When her son finally started climbing the wall slowly, she came back to boost him up. All the while, telling him how worthless he was. When he got out of reach, she said, “See? I told you could do it! Good job! I don’t understand what your problem was!”
To this mom, I don’t know what your circumstance is. I don’t know you or your family. All I know is that when I can feel every word you said to your son like a sledgehammer to my heart–and they weren’t even directed at me–I know that it’s a problem. I’m not a perfect parent. I’m not a specialist. But if you’re reading this or have ever felt like this, I implore you to please seek some help. No one deserves to be treated the way you treated your son.
Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale is an amazing support group with classes on stress relief and counselors who help your family to get along. You may not be a bad parent. You may be going through a lot right now. No matter the circumstance, you’re taking it out on your child. Good parents would want to be a part of this group simply to become better parents. As a parent there’s no one simple way to go about doing it, but I’m pretty sure that causing those trusting, loving eyes to cringe away from you in fear is the wrong way. Just sayin’.