I snapped on my son the other night at a pizza place that we go too often. It was hot and fairly miserable and for additional reasons my son wasn’t having the best time. And honestly I was trying to support him through it when he pushed a couple of my buttons that I just hate having pushed because I am no better than a five year old. It is hard to remember what made me snap but it might have been his latest refrain “We have no rules in this family.” Anyway I picked him up roughly and gave him a bit if what have you as I stalked away towards the car. Five minutes earlier I had witnessed someone doing the same thing to her daughter thinking so smugly about how good my children were being.
My wife and I have an ongoing dialogue about rage and good parenting where I endlessly rationalize my anger as being human, and my rage as being an honest expression of my broken soul, blah blah blah…. In the midst of these dialogues I would never admit that I might even be half wrong—which is about what I think is the case. While I know it would be best if I never screamed and yelled I am Jewish kid from Brooklyn and yelling and anger seem to be in my DNA.
The house I grew up in was an emotionally volatile place with a lot of repressed stuff directed out in odd directions. My brother raged and beat me because I was a smart assed little kid and he had adolescent pain that needed an outlet for which I was readily available. My father was a ball of rage, the origin of which I had no clue as he was an inscrutable man who shared his childhood not in anecdote but with inchoate anger. And, for all of his anger he failed to protect me from my brother. My sister was very emotional and my mother just liked to say no.
There was plenty of joy and laughter mixed in but the main takeaway that I have as an adult is that there was no processing of the emotions. We simmered from conflict to conflict and while I am thrilled for it because as broken as I am (aren’t we all) I am amazed at the love I have for my siblings (and we still have conflict) and at the way we get along.
Getting back to the main thrust about rage and good parenting- I is who I is and while who I is could clearly use a good deal of work I’m not doing that badly. I don’t hit my kids I yell at them. And I yell at them for stupid things like not getting out of the house fast enough. Or not brushing their teeth after asking fifteen times. But what’s a boy to do? Volume works. I tend to get angry with them for getting angry which is the stupidest of all things. My daughter likes to point out that I am often stern with her as I am telling her not to be stern with me. I most often get mad when they are unkind to others which doesn’t happen often but makes me crazy when it does. And on occasion, I get pissed for no rational reason at all.
The thing about that is once it is out it is over. I get it out and it passes. Move on. Would it be better if I didn’t ever snap? Probably but I just don’t think it is going to happen and I would probably develop ulcers if I did.
Growing up the scenario was my raging father putting his balled up fist between his teeth before pounding on the nearest table, lots of screaming and yelling and then a retreat to neutral bedrooms where everyone could seethe alone.
And in my brain that needs to rationalize my behavior, therein lies the difference. There are no neutral corners in our house now. If I get angry and scream and yell, I wait for it to pass and then we process what happened. It is usually “I’m sorry”, followed by a “That’s okay daddy.” Now there might be some Stockholm syndrome at work here but I need to think not. When my son puts on his angry face, which he often does for good reason (because I can be a dick) he can usually let it go pretty quickly. Last week we went at it pretty good one morning over what I don’t remember, and within a minute of it being over I announced I was going to walk the dog and he asked if he could come with me and we walked hand in hand out of the house.
Anger and forgiveness are traits that are not often stocked in equal amounts but I try to keep both close at hand. I am flying fairly blind through the terrain of parenting trying to give my kids some values to carry with them into adulthood. Who knows if I am doing it well? I am just trying to do it honestly.