My wife and I have an ongoing disagreement. (Well, we have several, one of which is about whether Moulin Rouge is a good movie (it is not), but this one is about parenting.)
She thinks I yell too much. And I know I said this was a disagreement, but I don’t deny that she’s right. I do yell too much, especially lately.
Instead of losing my temper, I need to actually lose my temper.
Detective Munch is nearing his seventh birthday and he’s a handful (as opposed to how delightful and well-behaved he was for the previous six years). Now, he would still be a handful even if he didn’t have a baby brother who has been teething, experiencing sleep regression, and doing his darndest to bump his head on every piece of furniture, eat every errant Lego piece, and get his fingers caught in every door. Children are a handful, duh.
But dealing with both of them at the same time is often more than I can handle. As such, I am regularly stressed, my nerves are on edge, and my patience is shot. So I lose my temper. Too often and too easily.
Instead of being the calm and collected dad I dream of being, I yell — quickly, often, and sometimes with little provocation. Lately, I find myself constantly operating at something of a simmer. And it’s hell on the domestic atmosphere. Every time my son talks back, throws a fit, refuses to eat, refuses to listen, refuses to go to bed, refuses to sit still, refuses to do anything I ask him to do, I go from zero to 60. (Well, more like from 30 to 60, ya know, because of the simmer.)
I willingly acknowledge that my reliance on the yell is a bad thing. I need to do better. I need to remember that my 6-year-old is a 6-year-old and can’t always control himself. I need to remember that I am the adult in this relationship and it’s my responsibility to model the behavior I want from my kids because I know my kids are always watching, even when I am not aware of it, and they are going to emulate what they see. In fact, I can already see my temperament and the way I react to things reflected back in my 6-year-old’s own behavior.
So my responsibilities are two-fold: I need to curb my own negative tendencies and prevent them from blossoming in him. Parenting is fun!
When Mom and Buried gets fed up with the kids, she reacts differently, but I’m not sure she has solved the temper problem either. (Has any parent?) No, she may not be idling with her foot on the gas, ready to peel out and tear into our kids when they hit a nerve, but her methods aren’t exactly perfect.
If I go from 30 to 60 when I lose my temper, she goes from zero to 100, because while she stays calm longer, and yells far less often, she has many of the same frustrations that I do. She just holds them in until she can’t any longer, and then when she snaps, it’s like Old Faithful.
I’m aware that it’s not good for my stress level or my relationship with my kids to always be one nudge away from losing my temper and blowing my top. (I recently posted to Facebook about my efforts to get better.) My wife is probably a little less concerned about her occasional explosions, being that she keeps her cool 90% of the time. When she snaps, it’s shocking, which probably makes it more effective at keeping the kids in line than my constant barking.
That doesn’t mean it’s great for her, though. Just because her stress doesn’t manifest in the same way as mine doesn’t mean it’s not there. I lose my temper, she loses her temper, everybody loses their temper! And in theory, because I let my stress out more frequently, it should be less taxing on my mental health than her build-up-and-then-blow style. Right?
Unfortunately, that only seems to be true in theory, as my stress level is largely constant whereas she usually seems totally fine… until she’s not.
I spend most of my time walking around, ready to pounce, making my kids fear me, while Mom and Buried is generally calm and patient and only goes off when something really warrants it. In fact, it’s not always apparent how worked up she is until she suddenly lets out a sonic boom that both frightens the kids and terrifies her husband. But afterward? She’s all good.
I’m starting to think I might have to give this “hold it in until I burst” strategy a shot. Maybe if the rubber band doesn’t work.
A slightly-modified version of this post originally ran on Scary Mommy.