the unforgiveable curse

The Bee and I had a difficult day on the Fourth of July. It was kind of overcast and cold, which squashed our plan to spend the day at the pool. The kids were whiny and spent most of the morning squabbling with each other. In the afternoon, she said something really mean to me, and I just snapped. I went up and hid in my room, reading a book, for about an hour, and left landisdad to deal with the kids.

One of the things I struggle with most as a parent is how to teach my children to fight with the people that they love, without hurting them irrevocably. It’s a lesson I’ve never learned that well, and therefore I am neither the teacher nor the example to my children that I want to be. I remember once, when I was an adolescent, that my  mother told me, “you fight just like your father,” when she and I were fighting about something, and the reality is that I have never learned to argue like a civilized person.

When the Bee was mean to me, I wanted to lash out at her, and tell her that I hated her, or to just storm out of the house and not come back until after dark. I don’t hate her, of course, but there is a part of me that just wants to win in a kind of one-upmanship (one-upgirlship?) kind of way. That is the terrible curse that’s been handed down from my father, and my father’s father, the curse of thinking that ‘winning’ is more important than protecting the person you love from being permanently damaged. I can’t imagine what lesson the Bee would learn, if I ran away from home in the middle of a fight, but I know I don’t want her learning it.

There are times, of course, when I can have a normal argument with the kids, or my husband, or just about anyone. Times when I’m well-rested, and haven’t spent several hours listening to the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, when I’ve had an hour to myself to read the paper or talk to a friend on the phone. But “most of the time” isn’t good enough, I’m afraid.

The thing I struggle hardest with, is how to teach my children the delicate balance of how far is too far to go in an argument. I don’t want them afraid of the thing I am most afraid of–that they will end up in an estranged relationship, like the one that I’m in with my father–I don’t want them to ever think it is even a possibility. But how can I teach them that it’s not a possibility for us, when they can see it’s a possibility for me?

Recently, the Potato has started to tell me, “I am not your Potato anymore!” when he’s angry. Unfortunately for him, he pronounces the word “Potato” as “Pee-tay-toe,” so it sounds pretty adorable. (And yes, the Potato does in fact refer to himself as the Potato.) It’s a good thing he sounds so cute when he’s saying it, otherwise it would practically kill me.

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July 6, 2007. thoughtful parenting.

13 Comments

  1. Kimberly replied:

    I hear ya. Diva Girl has absolutely no sense of boundaries once angry. It’s flat out irrational rage all the way, and it’s really hard to deal with. Especially once she hits that special point where it is on with me. And I don’t know what to do with it, how to show her that the way she’s going is inappropriate and will do her more damage than good.

    Worse, the Zen Baby is picking up her vibe, telling us things like “I hate you so much!” when she doesn’t get her own way. Which, living with Diva Girl, is often.

    I dunno l. But if you figure it out, please share the secret.

  2. Suzanne replied:

    I have no idea how to do this either, for perhaps the opposite reason — I don’t like to argue at all and will just give up/give in/keep silent instead. I don’t want my kids to be pushovers like me, but I don’t exactly model the behavior (kind assertiveness) that I want to see in them.

  3. Her Bad Mother replied:

    Oh, wow. This is a tough one for me. WonderBaby already is showing signs of a temper. How we’ll negotiate this temper – and her conflicts with us – we DO NOT KNOW.

  4. Jackie replied:

    Add me to the list of people nodding their heads in this entry. I’m not estranged from my parents, but in the case of my father and stepmother, that’s mainly because I had my kids when I did– we had drifted far apart before being grandparents made them rush back to me. For me, this is one of the legacies of divorced parents– I have no model for a couple that argues in a healthy fashion, and neither does my husband. We’re working on it, though, but it’s definitely hard.

  5. CamiKaos replied:

    When K was four she started saying some really unforgiveable things… Really. Pretty awful. On my bad days it did take me all the strength in me not to cut back deep… It was rough.

    But eventually when K said something insulting I leared to have her take a time out. While she took a time out I was able to calm down enough to tell her why we shouldn’t say things we can’t take back…

    It took a few times, but it kicked in eventually

    Which is a big relief because I have a hot temper, a wicked tongue and a the tendancy to forget who my friends are.

  6. Jennifer (ponderosa) replied:

    My parents handled their anger by turning emotionless, by distancing themselves. Shutting themselves off, effectively saying, “I don’t care about you enough to keep going over this!”

    I do the exact same thing. I have told my son (my oldest), “That’s it, I’m done parenting for today! Good-night!” and then walking away. It always makes him cry & makes me feel like a shit.

    IS there a good way to fight? The least harmful way to fight, it seems to me, is to keep fighting until it’s resolved and you can apologize.

  7. chichimama replied:

    Not much help here, but much sympathies. I don’t always fight nicely with my kids. I try, but I didn’t have great role models in the fighting department.

  8. Library Lady replied:

    Bee is around the same age as JR and I know they are both going through that (believe it or not) pre-pre-adolescent hormone thing. It can make your sweet darling Dr Jekyll turn into Miss Hyde and it ISN’T YOUR FAULT–it just happens.

    You gave yourself a needed “time-out”. Sometimes the only thing you CAN do is walk away. I have had a few occasions with JR recently where I am so fed up I have walked out of the house (with Daddy in charge of course) and taken a breather. And she is always ready to kiss and make up when I get back in–she’s had her time to think about what happened.
    I don’t think of it as running away from a conflict, more in terms of “when we can talk calmly about this, we can talk about it, but I DON’T want it turning into something ugly”.

    You know what triggers you and you won’t allow it to control you or hurt your children. And that’s good parenting to me.

  9. jo(e) replied:

    I too found this the most difficult part of parenting — how to teach my kids healthy behaviors when I am still struggling to learn them myself.

  10. Ashley replied:

    Definitely agree. My son has hit a point lately that you can’t argue with him, much less correct him, without getting major attitude back. I find the attitude impossible to deal with and have yet to find a way to handle it “well”.

  11. Narya replied:

    I think the time-out thing–for everyone–is helpful. It’s just helpful to walk away for a couple of minutes and then come back to the conversation, after someone, perhaps everyone, has gotten some clarity on what’s going on.

    The other thing that I found helpful in fighting with my soon-to-be-ex husband is to take a step back and say, “what do you want, RIGHT NOW.” (We actually fought pretty well; it’s not what broke us up.) It works with his son, too, sometimes.

  12. Susan replied:

    I’m not sure what the answers are, but you are raising such an important question. Maybe just being mindful of the need to teach our kids how to fight well in a healthy relationship (as well as how to love well in a healthy relationship) is the key.

  13. BBSP at five years, the remix « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] #4–I often struggle with anger management. […]

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