For days and sometimes weeks at a time, I have it figured out. I rigidly control my temper, squash my first instinct, which is to yell and blather and lose control. And then, in an instant, it’s gone. And once it’s gone, it usually stays gone for a week or so while I pull myself together and regain that rigid control. And then the cycle starts all over again.
I so badly want to be the mother who is in control of herself. Who doesn’t yell at her child. No, it isn’t even about yelling. It’s about screaming. Every mother yells sometimes, even if only rarely. But screaming, losing your head completely, feeling like you are just going to explode like a volcano, or actually exploding like a volcano, and then seeing the confused fear on your child’s face? That’s not good parenting.
People defend me from myself a lot, telling me not to be so hard on myself, but the truth of the matter is, there are just some things that aren’t acceptable. And this is one of them. I do not want to be a parent that my children are frightened of. I do not want to be a parent who regularly loses control, then guilts herself into maintaining it until the next time, and then adds on more guilt each time she loses it.
That’s not who I want to be. But right now, it’s who I am.
Part of my having PTSD, part of the way that manifests for me, is feeling like I need to be control of everything around me at every second of every day. When I feel control slipping away from me, it makes me anxious, and when I get anxious, I either have a panic attack or get angry. And the wait time from me starting to get anxious or angry to me having a panic attack or losing my temper are both very short wait times. I’m a naturally impatient person, and when you throw in my PTSD (and right now, my hormones), you get a very volatile sort of mix.
Becoming a parent has allowed me (okay, forced me) to let go a bit, and taught me a little patience. Not having Briana dressed by ten in the morning every single day is not going to kill me. Peanut butter smears on the couch are not the end of the world, and a spilled cup of milk is just that…a spilled cup of milk. Tantrums are a fact of life, hearing “no” from my toddler twenty thousand times a day doesn’t faze me, and potty accidents happen. It’s not those things that cause me to lose control.
But if I’m trying to get Briana ready for bed, trying to change her diaper, trying to get her dressed, and she keeps twisting away from me, trying to turn it into a game, giggling…I don’t know why, but it really sets me off. I start out keeping calm, but the more she pushes, the harder it gets, and pretty soon I’m feeling my blood start to boil, and my voice is getting louder, and she’s still doing it because she sees she’s getting a rise out of me, and I know that she is going to keep it up because she sees me reacting, but I can’t stop the reaction, and the fact that it’s my fault she’s still acting up makes me feel like I’ve lost control of the situation, and then, just like that, I’m yelling or screaming at her, and she’s crying, and I feel like an idiot jerk-face for making her cry. (Run on sentence there was intentional. Read it with a frantic note in your head, voice rising every couple of words until you’re yelling at the end…there you go. That’s how it feels!)
Or when she’s having a rough night and won’t sleep. For the first couple hours I’m fine. I go in, I comfort her, I try to soothe her, I rock her if she asks. But after the millionth (denied) request for a cookie, or watching her play with her water cup for five minutes instead of drinking it, or having her scream for twenty minutes because I finally took the cup away and told her to sleep, I feel that familiar I-am-losing-control-of-myself feeling, and I start to panic because I don’t want to lose control of myself, and then, there I go, losing it again. And then we both end up crying. It’s stupid.
It’s this absolutely vicious cycle, and I’m really not sure how to break it.
But I am trying, darn it. I’m trying harder to fix this than I’ve tried for anything in my life. I don’t want to be this kind of parent.
So, for the last couple days, when Briana says “NO” when I say “let’s go change your diaper,” instead of getting all frustrated and ending up having to struggle to pick her flailing body up off the ground to go into her bedroom where the diapers and wipes are, I say “Briana, it’s time to go change your diaper. Do you want mama to carry you or do you want to hold mama’s hand and come with her?” Nine times out of ten, she wants to take my hand and lead me into the bedroom. (The tenth time I had to tuck her under my arm like a package and carry her, but that made her giggle anyway, so I’m still calling it a win.) And when she starts twisting away from me, instead of yelling, I’ve been calmly repeating “Now is not the time to play, mama needs to change your diaper” however many times it takes, in a very neutral tone. And if she’s really being stubborn about it, I tell her she can have her diaper changed or go to timeout. She hasn’t chosen the timeout option yet.
It’s weird, but now that I’m changing the way I’m making an effort to stay calm, it’s like she’s stopped trying so hard to set me off. Or maybe I’m just not getting triggered so much into losing my mind because she’s not feeling the need to act out? Maybe I’ve inadvertently made the boundaries more clear by staying calmer instead of yelling all the time. Maybe because I am staying calmer, she is able to stay calm, too. Of course, it’s only been four days…so maybe it’s just been a good couple of days. Who knows?
All I know is, I’m not going to be a parent that my daughter has to be afraid of anymore. I won’t promise I won’t yell anymore, because I don’t want to break promises to my children. But I promise I won’t scream like a raving lunatic, wild-eyed and frightening. I don’t want my daughter to have fear in her face because of me, ever. It breaks my heart.
So, since it’s after midnight, this is Day 5 of the new No Screaming Mama. And I’ve not yelled either. Be proud of me. Every day I don’t scream at my kid isn’t just a victory for her, and it’s not even just a victory for me as a mom. It’ s me taking back a little more of the sanity I lost, taking back just a bit of power that the PTSD has over my life. It’s a victory for me as a woman, as a person, as a human being. I do not have to be in control every second of everything going on, and when I don’t have control, I don’t have to be afraid or angry. It’s the little things that feel really big sometimes.
Wish me luck.