I ran into a parenting dilemma the other night.
Not my first.
And surely not my last.
The Pickle was tired. We were all tired. And the next day we didn’t have anything going on.
So as we moseyed up the stairs to bed I informed her that she was not taking a bath tonight. We were just going to brush her teeth and then go in and read stories.
she had a little meltdown right there at the top of the stairs. Noooooo! Baaaaaaaaath! Noooooo! (something like that)
And I promptly ignored her and headed into her room to get things set up for night ops, as my military dad would’ve called it. I didn’t mind a meltdown from a tired girl after a long day. I also knew that once we got settled she’d be happy reading a book or two and then snuggling and getting in bed.
She took the meltdown one step further.
Crying and wailing turned into angry screams and banging on walls and doors and such.
Well, I was having none of that, so I promptly instructed her to get in bed. Go directly to bed. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two-hundred dollars. Because she chose to be so ugly and violent, she was neither getting toothbrushing nor stories. And I stuck to my guns.
We got her PJ’s on. Got her drink. And got her fuzzy blanket all up close to her mouth where she likes it and she quieted down. During which I gently told her that it was ok to be angry, but expressing it in such an ugly and violent way was not ok. I told her I loved her and I love to read stories and cuddle with her before bed. But when she has such a bad attitude, we’re both sad because we both miss out on fun stuff.
And after lots of hugs and kisses, she drifted off to sleep.
While I sat pondering for a good long while if I had made the right decision.
Anger is one of those tricky emotions. One that I don’t think I will ever fully master.
It’s necessary. It drives passion. It brings change. It clears the air. It does a lot of necessary things, but expressing it appropriately at all times… well, that’s just elusive to me.
I grew up a fight or flight kinda gal. Mostly opting for flight. But as a mom? Oh boy, have I got some fire in me. Fire from somewhere that I don’t particularly like. And while there are times I feel it is justified, most of the time (when it comes to my toddler) I’m just pushed past my breaking point and she ends up at the brunt of my selfish outbursts.
So as I watch her growling and grunting and screaming in her pre-verbal fire I can’t help but wonder how I can channel that in a healthy way. She didn’t scream at me, she screamed in general. She didn’t hit a person, she hit a wall. She wasn’t mad at me, she was mad at the situation and she was mad that she wasn’t getting what she wanted. As a toddler, there are only so many ways to express anger. Not all of them are bad or unacceptable.
But by the time I heard her even, sniffling breathing and turned to find her fast asleep, it was too late. I had already communicated to her, not in so many words, that expressing anger in this way was not ok. But was it true? Didn’t she do the only thing she could do?
She can’t exactly walk up to me and say, “Mom, can we talk? What you said coming up the stairs really frustrated me. Because I’m used to taking a bath at night and you know that getting out of my routine without a heads up kind of throws me off guard. And it’s hard, especially when I’m tired, to wrap my mind around doing something different. Could we talk about how you could do this better next time so I don’t feel so angry inside?”
She can’t do that.
But she can scream. And growl. And hit things.
How am I supposed to train her to express her anger in a healthy way when I’m not even sure that I know how to express anger? In the moment, how do I make the right choice to ensure that she will grow up to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult who is able to deal with conflict in a positive way? Where do I draw the line between being the mom/boss and being the teacher? Setting boundaries for her behavior and creating teachable moments within her behavior?
I know I can’t lose sleep over this. I don’t know if I did the right thing the other night or not. I don’t even know if there is a right thing. All I know is, I want to do my very best… even when I’m tired or weary or distracted.
And I could read every book and blog out there about how to deal with anger in toddlers, but that would not change the fact that we are human and we get angry and sometimes we just need to show mercy.
Both to the toddler.
And to the mommy.