I’ve long been collecting stories (and contributing some of my own) of parenting meltdowns here so no-one feels they’re alone with what has to be one of the scariest aspects of being a parent.
This article is one of the best descriptions of that emotional terrain that I’ve read. It’s from Drew Magary at Deadspin with “Never Give Your Child a Cold Shower: Advice From the Worst Dad on Earth”:
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU ARE NOT RESPECTFUL! YOU WILL STAY HERE ALL NIGHT OR I SWEAR TO GOD YOU’LL BE SORRY.”
I wanted her to be frightened. I wanted her to cower before The Voice. I thought about my father yelling at me when I was a kid and, oh, how I hated it. One time, I tore down a shower curtain and he yelled so loud at me that I thought my hair was gonna fall out. It scared me to death. I would have done anything as a child to not get yelled at. Even now, though I’m much older and love my father dearly, I dread it when he raises his voice. It causes me to snap right back to adolescence. I looked at my daughter and expected her to crumble, just like I did. I expected her, at long last, to give me some goddamn RESPECT. That’s what all parents desperately want, and that’s what drives them batshit crazy when they don’t get it. Surely The Voice would get me the respect I craved.
And she kept on laughing. I couldn’t see her anymore. I couldn’t see the beautiful, intelligent, funny little girl that I knew she was. All I could see was this horrible animal. And all I could think was, This is the moment. This is the moment when my relationship with my child turns permanently toxic. I had always believed that you could raise your child in any number of ways and, so long as you loved them unconditionally, you could always remain on relatively good terms. Children are born good, that’s what I believed. They’re born good and if you love them enough, they stay that way. You hope that love is all that is required to keep your son out of jail and your daughter out of the pornography industry. But now the girl was laughing like a demon and I was terrified that things would get no better than this, that this was where the permanent rift between us would begin, the five previous years of love and—let’s face it—hard work that went into raising her rendered pointless. The idea that I could love her and do my best and still get it all terribly wrong was unbearable. I was scared that the fighting would never end, that she would never calm down and just be, that this would be the entirety of our relationship from now on.
And I was pissed. So fucking pissed. I tried my best to lower my voice.
“Please,” I told her, “I’m very close to hurting you right now. Please don’t make me hurt you. Why don’t we, I dunno, talk about dinner? What would you like for dinner?”
The Voice returned. “GOD DAMMIT, NOT CANDY!” I smacked the floor hard enough to break my hand. Still no fear in her eyes.
“Fine,” I said. “You want me to spank you? Here we go.”
I jerked her up and sat down on one of the little kiddie chairs in her bedroom. I laid her across my lap as she alternated between laughing and shrieking. This was my first time performing an attempted spanking. I looked at her backside and tried to figure out a course of action. Do you pull the pants down? You don’t pull the pants down, right? That would just be weird. How hard are you supposed to spank? Is it supposed to really hurt? It’s gotta hurt, right? If it doesn’t hurt, then they don’t get the message. I gave a gentle test blow and nothing happened. Then I spanked a little bit harder and she kept on laughing.
I felt like a fucking idiot. I don’t even know how spanking became the go-to method of corporal punishment. It’s bizarre. All I could think about while spanking her was that it wasn’t working, and that the only thing spanking does is set your child up for a life of sexual deviancy. The creepiness of the whole enterprise is right there, out in the open. I took my daughter off my lap and tried to play nice.
My favourite parenting meltdown confession, ever, is Anne Lamott’s in the Mothers Who Think anthology/Salon, with “Mother Anger: Theory and Practice”:
At the same time, if you need to yell, children are going to give you something to yell about. There’s no reasoning with them. If you get into a disagreement with a regular person, you slog through it; listen to the other person’s position, needs, problems; and somehow you arrive at something that is maybe not perfect, but you don’t actually feel like smacking them. But because we are so tired sometimes, when a disagreement starts with our child, we can only flail miserably through time and space and the holes in between; and then we blow our top. Say, for instance, that your child is 4 and going through the stage when he will only wear the T-shirt with the tiger on it. With a colleague who was hoping you’d come through with the professional equivalent of washing their tiger T-shirt every night, you might
be able to explain to them that you were up until dawn on deadline, or you’ve got a fever, and so did not get to the laundry. And the colleague might cut
you some slack and try to understand that you simply hadn’t had time to wash the tiger shirt, and besides, they’ve worn it now four days in a row. But your child is apt to — well, let’s say, apt to not.
They can be like rats. I mean this in the nicest possible way. But they may still be drooling, covered with effluvia, trying to wrestle underpants on over their heads because they think they’re shirts, but in the miniature war room of their heads, they still know where your nuclear button is. They may ignore you, or seem troubled by hearing loss, or erupt in fury at you or weep, but in any case, they’re so unreasonable and capable of such meanness that you’re stunned and grief-stricken about how much harder it is than you could have imagined. All you’re aware of is the big windy gap between you, your lack of anything left to give, any solution whatsoever.