I scared my child….and I feel terrible about it

There are many milestones parents watch for in their children’s lives as they grow. Since Calvin has been born we have watched him hit many with much enthusiasm. From the first few months of smiling (for real not just because he was pooping), to laughing, to rolling over to more recently as I watch him feed himself with a spoon, say new words, and communicate. He recently started calling me “Mommy” and my husband “Daddy” as opposed to “mama” and “dada”. It melts my heart every time he says “Mommy.” Last night he was home and when he saw my pull in the drive way he ran to the door yelling “Mommy, Mommy!” He showered me with hugs and headbutts (which is what he thinks kisses are from being constantly kissed on the forehead) and made all the stress of having just driven home in a snow storm disappear. 

Each milestone he hits is incredibly exciting to see and my husband and I are proud of him and try to praise and encourage him in his development. 

Last night he reached a milestone. At least I think it is a milestone. It seemed like one to me, I just don’t know what it’s called. Unlike the other milestones he has reached though this one broke my heart and simultaneously made me realize I need to keep in check how I act around my son.

It started with bath time after dinner. I don’t give him a bath every night but it had been a couple of days and we had a particularly messy dinner which resulted in mashed avocado and refried beans in his hair. Like many parents of young kids, we have a plastic, flexible jug for rinsing the soap out of his hair.

Calvin has been obsessed with this jug for sometime now. He likes when I fill it and pour water out so he can put his hands water as it pours. He likes to put smaller toys in it and then reach in and pull them out. Showing them to me with the enthusiasm of a children’s party magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat. 

Last night he finally mastered the skill for which the jug is designed though. He held it by the handle, submerged it under the water, lifted it out and proceeded to pour the water out. 

His face lit up with pride as he performed this simple act over and over again. I cheered him on, “That’s right! Good job! Look how big you are!” 

Until he lifted it up and held it out of the tub and proceeded to pour the water all over me and the floor. I am couldn’t believe it and I yelled, “Calvin! NO! What are you doing?”

Calvin froze.

He dropped the jug in the bath.

Seated on his bottom in the tub, he backed away from me and started to cry. 

My son, for the first time, was upset because I was upset. He seemed terrified of me. He didn’t want to let me pick him up. 

Watching my son react to my anger that way broke my heart. I had absolutely over-reacted to the situation. I was tired after a long day, I am up early every day to commute to work and usually bath time is a very pleasant and enjoyable time to unwind for Calvin and I but today I just lost it over some spilled water. 

I went towards him and he fought me, but I gathered up my wet toddler in my arms and hugged and kissed him. I apologized and told him I loved him. I told him I was wrong. He was good boy and I over-reacted. 

He still screamed.  

I wrapped him up in a dry towel and took him to his room. I cuddled him and got him in pajamas and even though it was well passed his bed time I made the decision to take him downstairs to play with his toys and read stories. I had to make it right. I couldn’t have my son’s last memories of me that night be that of fear and sadness. We played for 20 minutes and he calmed down. Soon he was cuddling up with me again. 

My mom tells me that one of the biggest pieces of advice she can give new parents is to respect your children. Just because they are little doesn’t mean you can belittle them. They are still human beings. She believes that often parents talk to their children rudely and condescendingly. She sees in public adults berate their children incredibly rudely and then turn on the charm talking to an absolute stranger. She says “if you wouldn’t speak to an adult that way, why would you speak to your child?” I told my mom that I agreed with her and said that I could see that was how she lived when I look back on how she raised me. It is how I want to be with my son. 

I want my son to be comfortable with me. I want him to know that I respect him and I don’t want him to feel like his father and I don’t respect him. I don’t want him to only listen to us out of fear. Respect is a two way street. We will show our son respect in the hopes that he emulates that respect in his own life with us. 

So last night when I had frightened my son with my reaction I realized I was not respecting him. But I also realized that this was the first time my son had reacted emotionally to my feelings, in this case my anger.

He was upset that he had upset me. 

I don’t know what that milestone is called. Perhaps it is a type of empathy? An awareness of another person’s feeling? All I know, is that my son was frightened of me last night and that was not okay. I messed up and I can’t excuse it. The only thing I can do is learn from this and remember the face of my crying, wet toddler trying to get away from an angry Mommy the next time I think I might lose my temper.

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