Is berating your child in a public place, where strangers can see and judge you, any better or worse than berating them in the privacy of your own home?
This is a question I am asking myself this morning.
On more than one occasion, including this morning, I have seen a very angry and nasty looking father yelling at his young daughter on their way into my son’s school. The tirade seems to continue all the way from their car to the door of the school. This morning the father was scowling at her, shouting, “That’s really how you want to start the day, like THAT? Really?!” His child, who looks to be about five or six, was just standing there with a blank look, as though she is so used to it.
I paused and looked at the scene. I almost said something.
But something about this guy told me that any intervention from a stranger would only make things worse for his child (“How dare you make me look bad in front of that lady?”), and might result in me getting punched.
The scene gave me a sick and sullen feeling in my gut. Who does that guy think he is, I wondered, to be such an ass to his child, right out there on the street where everyone can see it?
Driving away, I wondered about what that little girl could have possibly done to offend him so deeply on so many occasions. Then, I realized I have had similar conversations in a similar tone of voice with my own son Jack, but have done so in the privacy of our own home.
Although Jack is more mature and manageable by the day, we had some really rough patches in the past 18 months since Emily was born. He is a strong-willed and explosive child. We had to learn to really keep our fucking cool around this kid no matter what he does. For us, losing self-control in any way (i.e., raising our voices) only fuels his fire. It took us the better part of five years to learn this fact and put it into practice. There are still times when either my husband or myself lose our shit. Although it does not happen often, it pains me to admit to yelling and threatening to take away Christmas.
There is nothing like parenthood to rob a person of their pride.
I’ve been known to say things to Jack like, Wow. You really let me down.
Ummm, he’s only five. How can a kid that small impair my world that profoundly?
Well, he can’t unless I let him. I am learning this and being more mindful of it every day. Watching Angry Dad march down the sidewalk with his deflated daughter, I wondered if he and I are really all that different?
I initially thought that I was better than him since I at least filter my tirades to when I don’t have an audience.
But wait! I DO have an audience.
Jack and Emily are my most important audience of all!
It might not matter what a stranger sees me do or say because I might not impact their life. But my children learn from me! My children need to know how to interact in the world with respect, dignity, and love. It is so important that I model this for them, not only in our home, but in the world also. My interactions with them, and the interactions that they watch me have with humanity, will influence how they behave. Having an audience with my children is more important to me than having an audience with the Dalai Lama!
There is a certain degree of comfort and safety in the home. We can let it all hang out and know that our family is not going to leave us because there is love and committment. But maybe this safety shouldn’t be taken for granted quite so much.
I will reiterate that with my family there are way more good times than bad. I would not label myself an “angry mom,” but I have my moments. I want to have less of those moments.
It is a subject on which I plan to meditate and be more mindful.
I guess I have Angry Dad to thank for this new awareness and mission. Namaste, dude.