Like most mums (I am presuming), I suffer with a horrible affliction referred to as “mummy guilt”. When it comes, it settles like a heavy weight on my chest, causing my heart to ache. It makes me sit for hours contemplating where I could have done things differently; bludgeoning myself with my faults. If only I’d been a little less shouty, a little more reasonable. If only I could be a better mum.
Today, I reacted in a way that caused my nine-year-old to be terrified of me. And yes, I mean terrified. My two boys are going through a phase where they are constantly fighting, often physical. They would argue black was white until the cows came home if we let them. The eldest tries to get the better of his six-year-old brother (which older sibling doesn’t?), and this morning, during an argument, he’d gone to get a knife and brandished it. Now, let me please stop and say that he doesn’t have any behavioural issues, is a relatively normal boy, but he is highly sensitive and sometimes finds it difficult to express irritation or anger appropriately. I know hand on heart that he would never use it, would never hurt his brother (or anyone else)and have a feeling that it involves one-up-man-ship more than anything.
So, the day progresses with very little let-up in the bickering, and while upstairs, I hear them starting to fight physically. My youngest runs up screaming, saying his brother has a knife, that’s scared. I kind of lost it. I flew down the stairs and got hold of him so he couldn’t run away, took a knife from the shelf, and told him (okay….shouted) in no uncertain terms that YOU…DO…NOT….MESS….WITH….KNIVES…EVER! He started to cry, and I have never seen him look so scared. And it’s the look in his eyes that, nearly ten hours later, I can’t shake from my mind.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I did not brandish the knife. I did not stick it near his face, and neither did I make any hint that I would use it on him (of course I didn’t). I just held it, and him (so he couldn’t escape). I am not justifying my actions, just explaining. I wanted him to know how scary it is when someone pulls a knife. I wanted him to know how much he was frightening his brother. And it worked.
During the first five minutes after, I felt almost victorious; thoughts of “he won’t do that again in a hurry” reverberated around my head. Then the pain that is mummy guilt kicked in. I think my problem is that I believe as parents, we should do everything in our power to protect our children. I feel very little guilt when they are punished fairly for any inappropriate actions. But when it goes as far as to literally terrify them, what then? Where do we draw the line at teaching our children a lesson? Is it okay to scare the life out of them so that they won’t repeat it? Or, as parents, should we behave like adults and calmly explain why it is not okay to get a knife? Well, a bit of both, I guess. And I suppose we can’t also discount the fact that I was trying to protect one of my children.
As I write this, I contemplate whether it will ever get a public viewing. This is really close to home for me, and very private. Telling the world of my failings (especially as a sensitive person), is hard. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want people to think I am a horrible mum. Because, I tell you, you couldn’t say any worse than what I am already feeling. I am sorry for getting cross (because had I stayed calm; I would have been able to deal with it more effectively, and consequently, wouldn’t feel like this), and I am sorry that I frightened my little boy. And although I don’t know you, I worry that you will think badly of me. But I find writing a release, and if one person can read this and identify, then hopefully, they won’t feel so alone (because that’s just how I am feeling right now).
In more lucid moments, I am able to acknowledge that I am a good mum; although, only in my own brain. Never out loud, or in public. Ever. I comfort my kids when they are sad or hurt; I stand up for them, and fight their corner; I don’t smack them or use any physical punishment; I try to guide them through life’s difficulties; and I would fall under a bus for them. I love them more than life itself. They ARE my life. But sometimes; I wonder if that is enough.
Since it happened, I have sat with him and talked it through calmly, explaining why I reacted the way I did. He gets it. I think. I told him that I was so sorry for scaring him, but that I was frightened he was going to do something silly; that I wanted him to realise how dangerous it was to hold a knife. I get how hypocritical my actions might seem, that I did the wrong thing, for the right reasons. He told me that he thought I was going to kill him. I can’t tell you how that makes me feel. I am not sure if he really did think that, but whatever, the pain is indescribable, and it torments me. I abhor violence. I try to teach my kids that it is not acceptable to hurt anyone else; yet he thought I was going to hurt him. Oh, man.
As mums, are we supposed to feel this bad? I am pretty sure my mum never felt any guilt. Or maybe she did, but just hid it well. It seems a fairly new phenomenon. Is it because we are more aware of how we can influence our children with our own behaviour? I don’t know. Are we supposed to second guess every decision or action we make? Are we supposed to become suffocated by the weight of guilt, crushed by insecurity over our actions? Sometimes I can’t breathe with the heaviness of all this. I worry about how my kids will turn out: will they be angry and bitter, or will they be happy and content? And more selfishly: will they still love me as much as they do now? I am so, so aware of the power we have over our children. How we can mould and manipulate them without even realising; how our actions can have deep-reaching, devastating consequences for them. Motherhood is a very hard burden to bear at times.
When I’ve got my rational head on, I am able to see that all of this is part and parcel of being a parent. It comes with the territory, and is to be expected. I once read an article that said that parents who second-guess themselves were usually doing much better than those that were blasé, or confident in their abilities. Who knows? I do know that even women who have raised great kids had doubts when their children were small. My partner’s mum told me once that she never knew if she was doing the right thing, she just tried to do the best she could. She did very well with her two. Another mum once told me that she used to cry most nights when her kids had gone to bed, feeling guilty and wondering if she had been too harsh. Her adult son tells a completely different version of his childhood: he says he always felt loved and protected. He shares a deep, powerful love for his mum, and this is obvious to anyone who knows them. This is what gives me a glimmer of hope. This is what gives me inspiration when I am feeling demoralised and useless. You can feel like you are messing it up, but in reality, you are actually doing a fairly reasonable job.
I just wish I could take that moment back; the moment that has replayed in my mind over, and over, and over again today. That moment when I utterly terrified my own child. If only I could do that.
But, I can’t. So, I need to do the next-best thing, and drag myself out of this guilt stupor; moving forward in the best way I can. Tomorrow is another day…..