|Image by Greg Westfall|
My 7-year-old was sitting at the dinner table, messing around with a pencil sharpener instead of doing his homework, while my 5-year-old was dancing in the living room, waving some streamer she’d found rather than cleaning the mess of plates and cups she’d made on the table. I was on the sofa with stomach pain. My wife, Mel, was at a church. She had the baby.
It was just after 7 p.m.. I’d been having horrible stomach pain for several weeks at this point, and my doctor suspected it was an ulcer. It was probably a result of stress from raising a family, and the fact that I drink 6 or 7 cans of diet soda a day (I have a problem).
When Mel left, I was feeling fine, but suddenly things had changed, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball. I went from sitting to lying on the sofa, one hand over my stomach, and began directing my kids. So much of parenting is dictating, monitoring, and repetition. Tristan was supposed to be in bed in one hour, and yet, despite repeatedly being told to get his homework finished, he was still dragging his feet, making strange grunty fart noises with his mouth.
And Norah, she was still dancing and singing, and having a jolly time in the living room, despite the fact that I’d told her over a dozen times to clean up her mess. Both the homework and cleaning the table probably would’ve taken each kid less than ten minutes, but they’d dragged it out.
“Listen kiddos,” I said. “Daddy’s not feeling very good. Can you please just get your stuff done? I’m in a lot of pain right now.”
I don’t fully know why I always assume that if I tell my children that I’m not feeling well that they will be compassionate. Because it never works. Both looked at me with greedy eyes. Like they knew that I was down, and felt comfortable taking my wallet.
I hadn’t started yelling yet, but now that I was in pain, and the kids weren’t listening, I didn’t have the patience to keep calm. It takes a surprising amount of concentration, a real focus on feelings and emotions, to keep from yelling at my kids. I don’t fully understand why this is. I love the hell out of them. I think they are cute. In so many ways they are my world, and yet they frustrate me most of the time. It’s such a strange relationship of love and irritation that makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I feel like I should unconditionally love them, but what does that really look like? Does that mean I can’t get frustrated? Does it mean that I have to always, 100% of the time, put up with their crap?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that as I lay curled on the sofa, felling intense pain in my stomach, I started yelling. I started issuing ultimatums that were over the top.
“Tristan, if you don’t get started on your homework by the time I count to three I’m taking your Nintendo DS and breaking it in half.” And I told Norah, “If you don’t clean that table I’m going to take all of your baby dolls and light them on fire.”
Both looked at me with big eyes, as if they knew, suddenly, that I was serious. That I finally meant business. I really hate yelling at my kids, but after an hour of repeating, and nagging, and persuading, and trying, and hoping, and wanting, eventually, I get rubbed raw. I get frustrated, and I see no other resolve but to start yelling and pointing, and stomping my feet, and snapping my fingers, and sounding just like my mother did when I was child. The pain in my gut made all of these emotions worse.
But you know what I what I hate the most about yelling? It’s how it gets results. I know that if I get flaming pissed my kids will get busy. I think that is a huge part of why I all ways fall back on yelling. I keep trying to convince myself that if I just act nice, use positive reinforcement, gentle nagging, expectations, anything but yelling, my kids will come around.
But rarely does it work. The kids drag their feet, and push it to the line, until I feel like I have no other resolve.
And once it was all done, and I was red-faced, and emotional, and the homework was finished, and the table was clean, and the kids looked at me with big watery eyes, I felt like an asshole. I always do. Sure, it takes a good hour or so to calm down, and in the moment I always feel a little justified. I feel like they pushed me to it, and I had no other recourse. But once that all fades away, I always feel like complete and total garbage.
Both Tristan and Norah were in bed by the time I started feeling bad about yelling. My stomach still hurt, but not nearly as much as my guilt.
I went into Norah’s room first. She was in pajamas with little hearts, wrapped up in a Frozen bedspread. I sat down on the lip of her bed and said, “I’m sorry for yelling. I don’t know why it always comes down to that, but I’m sorry.” Norah smiled at me, like she usually does, then she put out her arms for a hug.
Then I went into Tristan’s room. He was lying in bed, wrapped up in a quilt. All I could see was his little round buzzed head. I told him that I was sorry, but he didn’t respond. I felt like I should’ve had some heart warming, Atticus Finch, fatherly thing to say, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like.
“Listen,” I said. “I hate yelling at you. I hate it a lot. But sometimes, I’m not sure what else to do to get you to listen. I know you hate homework, but I know how important it is, and there is no way I’m going to let you not understand that.”
He didn’t say anything. He just nodded. I kissed his head, and left. In the past year or so, he’s started to be a lot slower to forgive, and it makes me wonder if all this yelling will make him hate me, like I hated my parents as a child.
Parenting is hard.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley