It was our annual “Anything Day” yesterday, a special day I plan with our three kids towards the end of every summer. They ate pop tarts and cupcakes for breakfast, and lots of treats throughout the day. We visited Water Country, and rode the slides, basking in the glorious August day together. They watched tons of TV, closing out the day with a Robin Williams classic, Flubber.
Unfortunately, last night the kids were tired and bickering. The night wound down in an explosive argument, after a day that had been riddled with fighting. Before the night ended, everyone gathered in the family room (G. was traveling). I calmly explained that it’s never a good idea to go to bed angry. We went around in a circle, and quietly talked about what we were each sorry for.
As we started to go around the circle, I could tell that everyone clearly felt awful. It was a culmination of things that had made “Anything Day” feel like an unappreciative, whiny, “I Want Everything Day.” I don’t know who felt the worst, but it could have been me. I yelled at them in the middle of the explosive argument, and I haven’t done that for close to three weeks. For almost three weeks I have spoken in a quiet voice, taking the time to resolve issues, while arguably gaining more love and respect from them along the way.
Each child did a wonderful job of redeeming themselves, their little pink noses and quivering lower lips indicated that they internalized what they had done wrong and felt deeply sorry. Their comments were well intended and thoughtful. They all wanted to be hugged.
It was only after I yelled that I realized how toxic raising your voice feels. As well, it’s the easy way out. It’s the way of saying, “I’m the boss here and I don’t need to deal with this crap right now.” It comes out in the same loud and scary way that a barking dog can abruptly startle you while out on a run. I know because like most people my age, I was yelled at a lot as a child. It’s a lazy way to not have to deal with the hard conversations, and more often than not you just look like a jackass. I was yelled at by my parents, my grandparents, and even my teachers back then.
Yelling is like rushing to write a term paper and turning it in before the last three rounds of editing are done. If you looked back at the paper later, you’d quickly see that it really wasn’t what you wanted to say or how you wanted to say it. If you’d taken your time, it could have been so much stronger.
Parenting is learning that you can make the hard choices or take the easy way out. It’s OK to go scream in the basement or go sit in your car and cry tears of frustration. And, yes, it’s OK to yell at your kids. Many people feel it is their right to do so whenever they want to and however they want to. They are yours, after all, and they will be alright because of it. However, consider how much better they and you could be if you force yourself to take the time to wade through the incredible amounts of patience required to keep your voice down and model mature behavior.
Disagreements aside, there were plenty of wonderful moments from our “Anything Day.” I rode several of the slides with the kids, screaming our heads off as we tore down dark tunnels, our feet dangling from purple inner tubes. On three separate occasions, each of my children thanked me for bringing them there, and told me it was so much fun.
When I tucked my oldest in, she was still sniffling, and said she couldn’t stop feeling badly about the day. I sat on the side of her bed, feeling half sick to my stomach that this first baby of mine is headed off to sixth grade in two weeks. I watched her long legs stretching out in the bed, reaching that much closer to the bottom. The other half of me felt sick over the reality that as a mother you endure big successes and big failures over and over again from the day you become one until the day you die. You don’t realize until you get rolling exactly what you have signed up for. And, some days, the failures just hurt.
Instead of bringing her into all that I was thinking, I reassured her in a hushed voice, “The good news is that tomorrow is a new day” She agreed, but still seemed stuck on all that hadn’t worked out. I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “There was lots of good. Find the good in every day. OK?” I said it again, slowly, and this time she nodded her head, as I stood up to leave her room.
Find the good in every day.