Parenting makes you feel a lot of things: happiness, frustration, surprise, boredom, anger, joy, exhaustion. (Is exhaustion an emotion?)
But no one really talks about how sad it can make you.
Last fall, Mom and Buried and I took our first child-less vacation since before our seven-year-old was born. We had a blast, even while we were missing our little guys, and after seven nights away – and an entire final day spent on airplanes and in airports, we couldn’t have been more excited to get home that Saturday night.
It was 9pm, so The Hammer was in bed, but Detective Munch was still up to greet us at the door with hugs and kisses. It was a joyful reunion for all! For about an hour. Then things went south, fast.
I’m not going to throw my son under the bus. Yes, when he opened the door he cried out “Mommy!” and barely acknowledged me, but I’m used to being #2 but he’d had a long week of fun with his aunt and uncle and their kids, he was up late, hyper and excited to see us, and he’s only a little kid. Their moods are fluid.
So it wasn’t a huge surprise that it didn’t take him long to go from “I missed you!” to “I hate you!”, which he yelled at me when I told him it was time for bed.
The “I hate you!” didn’t make me sad – every decent parent learns to wear discipline-based resentment as a badge of honor. It was the entire ordeal: the long, frustrating attempts to get him to cooperate, the long, frustrating attempts to get him to say good night to his aunt and uncle and thank them for everything they did for and with him all week before they left in the morning, the long, frustrating attempts to get him to get into his PJs and go to bed.
By the end – despite not having seen him for a week, despite (presumably) having a bounty of goodwill stored up, despite understanding the mitigating circumstances that had his little 7-year-old brain overheating, and despite doing my best not to lose my temper – I was spent. I was frustrated and overwhelmed and disappointed – in him, and in myself. But most of all, I was just sad.
I don’t want to be the parent that blows up at his kids, especially when I haven’t seen them for a week. But despite my efforts to hold my frustration at bay, I ultimately couldn’t help myself. I’d had a very long day, and kids are maddening and overwhelming and exhausting and confounding, and it’s okay to lose it sometimes. It’s pretty much impossible not to.
Eventually I *had* lost my temper and yelled at him and taken away his iPad privileges and threatened to take away even more. It’s not that he didn’t deserve discipline in that instance – he definitely did – it’s just that it didn’t need to get that far. Not ever, but especially not on that night.
A situation that should have been nothing but happiness and affection instead brought out the worst in the two of us, not for the first time and not for the last.
That’s what makes me sad. He’s only seven and it’s bound to get even more challenging as he gets older; our communication (or lack thereof) is only going to get worse the more he realizes his dad has no idea what he’s doing! And I really don’t. I’ve always been honest about how hard this gig is, but just because I acknowledge that doesn’t mean I have any clue how to do it, or how to fix things after I’ve done it wrong.
I just know that I have to try.
Because I don’t like being sad. And I definitely don’t like being the reason my children are sad.