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Today, my four-year-old son punched me in the face. He was mid-tantrum and I went to pick him up and take him to his room (which in hindsight was probably not the best idea I’ve had), and he managed to writhe around in my arms and clock me right in the cheek. Hard. He also gave me the ol’ 1-2 in the belly. I’m ashamed of my reaction, but my lizard brain took over and I spanked him.
Now, before you go all sanctimommy, gentle-parenting on me, know that I am firmly on your side of the spanking debate. I do not spank. I abhor spanking. I am a professed attachment parent, and do all the things attachment parents do, a big one of which is NOT SPANKING. Today, though, I failed. I don’t know how it happened, but he sucker-punched me and I reacted. Three pops on his bottom. 1-2-3. Quick. Not hard, but hitting just the same. Violence.
Suffice it to say, we were both destroyed. We both cried and hugged and apologized to one another. It was brutal. Awful.
This parenting thing, man, it’s hard, isn’t it? For me it is, and I bet it is for you, too. I never know what to do, never know the right way to handle situations. Mostly, I just guess and keep my fingers crossed. Sometimes it works and sometimes, like today, it’s a huge cluster.
My parenting mantra is: “Do your best and hope he doesn’t turn into a sociopath." And I guess that’s really all we can do, because if we’re honest with ourselves, I think none of us really know what the hell we’re doing. We ask our friends, our parents, our siblings, we google, we read parenting books, and when it comes time to put the rubber to the road, to implement all the techniques we’ve learned about, put into action all the research we did and studies we skimmed, we flop around like a fish out of water, gasping for breath, trying to get our bearings in an unfriendly and unfamiliar environment.
Tantrums are intimidating as hell.
It’s a big emotion coming out of a tiny person. It’s intense and it’s scary. And I, for one, suck at reining them in.
Today it went like this: The big kid is freaking out, screaming and jumping up and down, the baby is crying, mama is trying to remember the right words to say to diffuse the situation. Acknowledge the emotion, give it a name so he knows what he’s feeling. Right? That sounds good.
“Ok, buddy, you’re mad right now.”
Except he’s screaming so damned loudly that he can’t hear you, and just seeing your mouth moving has sent him into complete overload, so now he’s so ramped up that you’re afraid he’s going to damage his vocal chords.
Sometimes we screw up. We don’t always do it right. But we love them so much, so big, so intensely, that we pray it makes up for the times we screw up.
You put the baby down so you can get on the same level as the tantruming preschooler, but the baby is freaking out now because his big brother sounds like a banshee. The baby is clinging to you, pulling on your shirt. “Mama mama mama mama mama mama mama mama,” increasingly more panicked. The preschooler begins jumping up and down. The baby trips on a toy and falls down. You pick up the baby, try to soothe him while being firm with your big boy.
“Ok buddy, you’re really upset, so we need to go into your room for a while until you can calm down.”
Oh. Hell. No.
He freaks. Completely loses his shit. Like, outer limits, off the rails, tantrum of the year. You go to pick him up, saying soothing sounding things all the while, “Ok buddy, I’m gonna pick you up now. It’s ok, mama is here, you just need to calm down and breathe." He’s wiggling, fighting you, but you finally get your arms around him and lift.
He just punched you. In the face.
And then it’s just instinct. Lizard brain takes over. Spanking happens. Tears are shed. Hearts are broken. Apologies are made. Hugs are given. Silent promises to never, ever, ever do that again are made.
We do the best we can, mamas.
And we hope for the best. Sometimes we screw up. We don’t always do it right. But we love them so much, so big, so intensely, that we pray it makes up for the times we screw up.
And that’s really all we can do. Our best. And keep our fingers crossed.