Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On not beating the kids

A few weeks ago, I didn't beat my children, and it ranked as the major accomplishment of my day.

We were having one of those days (and if that doesn't mean anything to you, just stop reading now). Energy levels were at polar ends of the spectrum -- I was exhausted and achy in a five-months-pregnant-with-varicose-veins sort of way, and the kids were bouncing off the walls and any other surface that happened to present itself. It was extremely hot outside and the air conditioner hadn't yet been repaired. A video was playing, and no one was watching. There was fighting, tearing around, screaming, climbing, and debris. The noise level, the feist level, the mess level, and my irritation level were all rising at roughly the same rate. And then there was a crash in the kitchen, and I was faced with a shattered plate (not the first broken dish of the day) and a flooded floor (not the first spill of the day). I snapped in three pieces. And I screamed. At that moment I fully understood and sympathized with women who beat their children. It was all I could do not to seize the nearest child and lay into her.

I did not beat my children. I kicked them all outside (not literally, though my foot itched) and told them that mommy needed ten minutes by herself inside, and that they could play outdoors but they were not to come in. While fetching towels and sweeping up wreckage, I prayed for strength. I was just beginning to feel calmer and slightly at peace when the four-year-old burst in and scattered the extensive dust pile I'd just swept up. And for the second time in less than ten minutes, I screamed. She fled outside and collapsed in sobs, and I really didn't care.

The hardest thing I did that day was to force myself to open the door and pick her up and comfort her even though I felt like she deserved to cry. I stroked her head and cuddled her and apologized for yelling and eventually, as we sat out under the hot sun, I meant what I was saying. Things settled down, though I can't recall what we did the rest of the day -- maybe we got out of the house, or maybe we read a book, or maybe people finally took naps. We readjusted, and life moved on.

Mothers often talk about how frustrated they are with their children. What we don't discuss much are those times when the frustration veers into dangerous territory. To say, "I felt like beating my children the other day" -- and to mean it seriously -- is a terrible thing to acknowledge, especially for homeschoolers who feel like the CPS lurks under every rock. But some days it's the simple truth, no matter how ugly it sounds. And some days "I didn't beat my children" is a statement of accomplishment, even though it's an accomplishment that will never be praised or held up as an example.

You can't expect any gratitude from your kids: they'll remember your one negative action with ten times more clarity than the thousands of times you were patient. You can't expect any sympathy from the culture, because why on earth do you keep having kids when you can't control the ones you have? Your husband understands, but he can't really publish the fact that his wife is so excellent that she doesn't hit the kids even when sorely provoked. But to those mothers who've scraped up the last shards of grace with their fingernails and ground them with gritted teeth: today, I salute you. God grant you always pass the test, even if it's only by the skin of your teeth.


Melanie B said...

Thank you for writing this.

Yes, I'm ashamed to say I've had those days. When not hitting the toddler was an accomplishment. And I've had those late nights when I didn't shake the screaming baby. Though I did put her down and walked out of the room and let her scream her bloody little head off. I guess the moms who are soundly against "crying it out" never have those moments. For me walking away and letting the baby cry is sometimes the only thing I can do.

Whenever I see a new story about a mother who has hurt her children, I think, "There but for the grace of God go I." I am so glad that marriage is a sacrament because I know I'm in desperate need of those graces. And those available through confession too. Thank God I'm Catholic.

Kate said...

Mrs. D,

The mother that claims to never have a day like a much better woman than I.

I have had those days when my greatest accomplishment is not walloping my three year old. When my husband comes home and I flee for the door as he comes in. And I do...I understand where that rage some people take out on their kids comes from. I wish I didn't, but I do.

Thankfully I have the support of my husband and the grace of the sacraments to keep me clinging to the other side of that line.

There but for the grace of God indeed.

Jennifer F. said...

Ooooh yeah.

I'm so glad you brought this up. It's something I think about a fair amount: I think I'm probably on the right side of the Bell Curve in terms of ability to control my temper and generally being hard to provoke to rage. However...I have also had days where the major accomplishment was that I did not lose it in a bad, physical way with my children. It makes me wonder/worry what goes on in the households of people who do struggle with that sort of thing.

Anyway, loved this post -- especially the concept of a "feist level." Expect me to be quoting that ad nauseum.

Kate said...

Thank you for this post. I wrote about this same topic back in September . I've gone to confession over and over because I just keep having those kind of days. Sleep deprivation is the culprit behind my short fuse these days. (I just have to have a scapegoat.)

I often feel guilty and scared by my anger. I didn't use to be like this, but maybe, just maybe there's a reason for these bad days. I'm not condoning my screaming at my kids, but when I am flying high in the parenting trenches, I can become a wee bit self-righteous. I am Mommy. Hear me roar and watch me raise these perfect, little angels and keep a clean house and do this and do that... Yet, when I have "one of those days" (which, I admit, has been way too frequently lately), then I find myself falling on my knees and praying to God for his forgiveness , for his help, and for his graces. As my wise mom once told me after I admitted I was afraid by how angry I could become at my spirited preschooler, she told me, "Sometimes it's okay to be afraid. Maybe God wants you to admit that you need him."

Anyway, thank you for this honest post. It's nice to know that there are other moms out there who love their children but sometimes lose their cool.

God bless you!

rachelrimmer said...

Thank you so much for this. I told my husband yesterday that I scared myself recently when my anger at my 11 yo hit an all-time high. I come from a violent background-that is no excuse. I've had to learn about my "triggers". Those physical signs we all have when we are approaching our breaking point.Some days are good-some not so good. I try to learn from each episode, as it were, and not repeat the behavour. I have never beaten my children-I did have to remove myself from the situation, though. Much can change with a 10 minute breather.The impulse always passes and sanity returns.

Meredith said...

Who *hasn't* felt that way about their kids at one time or another?

I appreciate your raw honesty.

--another 5 months pregnant and varicose-vein mama : )

mrsdarwin said...

Meredith, I'm glad there's someone out there who truly understands! :)

I'd forgotten about wanting to shake the crying baby -- mostly because mine are past that age now. But that's a circumstance that takes major self-control -- it's the middle of the night; you're exhausted and groggy; although you know that the baby isn't really responsible for what she's doing, you just wish the kid would shut up. I completely agree that sometimes the best thing to do is just walk away.

mrsdarwin said...

I come from a violent background-that is no excuse. I've had to learn about my "triggers".

I have a lot of respect for this kind of self-recognition. The fact that you're willing to acknowledge the past but not be bound by it means that you've already broken that cycle of violence for your own children.

A tricky thing about having to correct children is that often the physical behaviors you need to employ -- chasing down a child who's running off, yelling a warning, separating fighting children -- have a tendency to exacerbate or even inspire anger where there was little or none before. It's the flip side of the trick actors sometimes use to arouse emotion by mimicking the physical manifestions of that emotion. Being conscious of that can help diffuse an irritating disciplinary situation.

Aimee said...

Amen. I had one of those days yesterday, and today was a pretty close second. Always comforting to know I'm not alone.

Jen said...

I have never met you, but I love you for writing this. I found your site via Danielle, and I was nodding at just about every part of this post. CPS lurking under every corner is how I feel all the time. I always feel horrible for how I feel on the bad days, but reading this made me feel so much better for several reasons. One, I am not alone. Two, it is normal to feel this way. Three, I'll get through it. The culture only compounds my frustration because, like you said, they just say, "Why do you keep having kids?" and it's a temptation to say to yourself, "Yeah, why do I?". Thanks so much for this post. I really, REALLY needed to read it!

TS said...

You can't expect any sympathy from the culture, because why on earth do you keep having kids when you can't control the ones you have?

Back in the '40s priests were fete'd, celebrated even by the culture at large (i.e. "Bells of St. Mary). They drove the newest, best cars. They were respected, had their laundry and cooking taken care of. And then...something happened. The success was somehow the beginning of the end; it seemed many priests were priests for the wrong reasons.

Similarly now we have heroic mothers who are heroic even more so for not being recognized as such by the culture. Inspirational post and an anecdote to self-pity for me at least. (At least for a few hours anyway.)

Amber said...

Great post, Mrs. Darwin, thanks for writing it. I've definitely had one of those days too. I've had that moment when you scream at the kid and she starts crying and runs off somewhere and you think "good, that will keep her busy for awhile" before you manage to collect yourself enough (strictly out of a sense of duty, not because you actually feel any empathy towards said child at that point) to go and comfort her.

It is a hard thing to talk about though, I agree. I find it hard to admit even to my husband sometimes! I know of course that he understands, but still pride gets in the way.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...


I think your kids are going to grow up great--partly because you ARE mature enough to go and pick up that 4 year old.

Bridget said...

I so know how you feel! Thanks for this post!! I was just reading a post on another blog about Catholic attachment parenting and I was feeling like a horrible, lousy mom (especially b/c I want to night wean my 8 month old who is causing the sleep issues!! I feel a little better! LOL :)

CMinor said...

I greatly empathize. But brace yourself--they become teens.

Anonymous said...

Check out Operating instructions by Anne Lamott for an excellent riff on this same subject, if you haven't already. (Also one of her later books, I think the one on Grace, speaks of this).

bearing said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Grandma Darwin said...

Thanks for that post. I feel somewhat vindicated, although not without regret for those times I didn't comfort after yelling. Thank God for His forgiveness.

Jessie O. said...

So very true! I remember literally crying and praying on my knees that my first baby would please, please, PLEASE sleep for longer than 40 min. And I wasn't even catholic yet!

He never did sleep for longer than 40 min. until he was 10 months old, but God gave me grace and every child since has seemed a piece of cake!:)

Thank you so much for sharing a personal but so very common moment with us.

veronica said...

I've had that day. I know I'll have more. Thank you for your earnest writing. It really does help to know we're not alone.
-another 5 mos pregnant, varicose vein mama-