When you’re a kid, you just don’t understand.
You’re just doing your thing, trying something new, exploring something new, eyes on the prize, when all of a sudden Daddy appears out of nowhere, grabs you, and starts yelling in your face.
You’re scared. But what your puny, inexperienced brain doesn’t realize is, that despite all appearances, Daddy is even more scared than you.
The next step in that process is usually tears. And then a hug. And then some major guilt on Daddy’s end, and then, as soon as bedtime comes, copious amounts of booze. Because the guilt doesn’t go away, and you know it will happen again. Because kids are stupid.
As anyone who’s ever been on a sports team or in the military or on a reality show can attest, in order to get through to stupid people, you’re often forced to yell. And I don’t care how gifted your toddler is, he’s still a stupid idiot.
That idiocy cuts both ways, because while it’s his ignorance and stupidity and lack of experience and just blatant unawareness of his own fragility that requires his parents to yell at him when he’s endangering himself, it’s also that same ignorance and lack of experience that leaves him bewildered and dumbfounded and confused and scared when he gets yelled at. Because he understands neither what caused the yelling, nor how the yelling could possibly mean anything but anger.
The thing they never tell you before you have kids is that on top of teaching them the basics like walking and talking and eating and shitting and reading, you also have to teach them about emotions. Because half the time they experience them, they’re experiencing them for the first time, and it FREAKS THEM OUT. It’s like suddenly being able to read minds and not being able to filter anyone out, so it becomes overwhelming and you lash out in a tantrum or else curl into a ball. Emotions are tricky, and it takes a while (i.e. the entirety of human existence) to understand their nuances.
When you’re a kid, being scared is just being scared. It involves whimpering and crying and involuntary bowel movements. And being angry is being angry. It involves screaming and crying and stomping and flailing. To kids, most of the time anger and fear are totally different things, and never the twain shall meet. So when a parent gets mad, they see no nuance to that anger. Kids don’t consider the dozens of different reasons a parent might get angry, and they can’t fathom that that anger could be concealing something else, something that’s not anger at all.
When you’re a parent, and you see your kid doing something stupid, or putting himself in harm’s way, often as a direct result of kid-based ignorance and stupidity, you get scared. And maybe even panic a little. And then you yell. And you put some force into it, because you need your little dumbass to react so they’ll stop doing whatever they’re doing, even if just for a second. And there’s nothing they react to more than your anger. The anger is just a mechanism, a front, to hide your fear; you’re basically faking it. But they don’t know that, so it works. And then once you’ve prevented anything from happening, that fear that was cloaked in anger turns to guilt.
And then you drink.
After a heart attack like that, and the knowledge that I just went berserk on my kid, even if it was for his own good, I need a come-down as much as my kid does. I’ll sometimes feel sad for days afterwards. I call it PTPD – Post-Traumatic Parenting Syndrome. My toddler probably calls it something like Holy Shit That Was Terrifying Keep Daddy Away from Me. And that’s the biggest downside. When your anger leads to their fear.
You’re protective instinct kicks in, you maybe overreact a bit, and suddenly your kid is not simply scared, he’s scared of you. And good luck trying to explain the intricacies of the human heart to a sobbing, emotional wreck of a two-year-old who, despite not understanding why his Daddy just roared like a dinosaur, still just wants a hug from the psycho who just went off on him.
The good news is, so long as the scary yelling doesn’t become your default mode (and that takes practice), the hug is usually the best remedy. For your kid and you, too. Well, that and the booze.