I grew up in a physically abusive home. Fueled by alcohol, my father's outbursts could be triggered by a bad day at work, my not picking up my things, my not picking them up properly, or, as was usually the case, absolutely nothing at all. I'm not sure when the abuse started but my earliest memories include living in fear of him and needing to tip toe around the house when my father was home. As a child I assumed my mother was oblivious to his actions yet feared telling her what was going on. It was only as I got older that I understood that she was aware and lived with the same abuse, fear and dread that I had. In fact, our entire household, from my grandmother (my father's mother) down to my younger brother, with the exception of my infant sister, lived with a black cloud of doom hanging over our heads. The cloud never lifted until my father's untimely death- ironically unrelated to alcohol- when I was eleven. It was only after this event that I felt as though I truly started living. However, try as I might to block them out, those early memories stay me to this day and in many respects have shaped the person I am today.
As I got older I vacillated between not wanting children because I feared the type of parent I would be and wanting them so I could raise my children in a happy home. While I knew I would never raise a hand in anger at my child, I wondered what type of parent I would actually be given the environment in which I had spent my early years. Although my fears subsided when I married Glenn, deep down I always worried about this. Today, with an active three year old who seems to make a hobby out of trying my patience I still worry at times but I am reassured by the fact that Glenn and I essentially feel the same way in terms of raising our son which does include the need for punishment on ocassion. And in reality, while Sidney may be all mischievous boy, but he is truly a good, caring kid.
On a recent long and rainy weekend with Glenn away and Sidney and I house bound, things were not going well in the house. As three year olds are apt to be, Sidney was being particularly defiant and I had spent the better part of the morning chasing him around and cleaning up his messes only to have him undertake new, even messier endeavors as the afternoon wore on. He just would not nap and both of us were growing increasing agitated; Sidney in the hyper, over tired way and me in an exhausted at wit's end way. As I was cleaning up (yet another) mess of water, red orange juice, and crushed cheerios from the living room carpet and he was refusing to stand in a time out in the corner (our current method of punishment), I snapped. I raised my voice in anger and yelled at the poor boy telling him that he was driving me crazy and needed to stop right now. Instead of his usual sly grin, he looked at me with his big blue eyes wide open and started crying. I have never raised my voice at him in such a manner and it scared him. And it scared me. It scared me to my very core. My anger quickly turned to fear as I curled myself in a fetal position on the cheerio encrusted carpet and sobbed. I didn't even come close to hitting Sidney but in that moment I felt nauseous and horrified that perhaps I am more like my father than I ever wanted to admit. My fear turned to guilt as my sensitive little boy wrapped his arms around me and said, "I'm sorry Mamma. I love you." He then proceeded to get down on his hands and knees and resume the cleaning task I had been doing.
This is perhaps the hardest post I've ever written. Even days later I find myself crying as I type this. I am horrified by my actions that day but I am even more scared about what could have happened if I didn't harbor such a deep seeded fear of becoming my father. Try as we might there is a fine line that we walk as parents. Most people who know me think I am tough and no nonsense and won't put up with any misbehavior. I know the truth; my fear of being a bad, too tough parent probably drives me in the opposite direction. I struggle on how to punish Sidney in constructive ways. As I mentioned earlier, time outs are the current means of punishment in our house but unfortunately they just don't work when I try to implement them. One word from Glenn, or even the nanny, and Sidney is in the corner. He may not be happy about it but he is there. With me it is a totally different story; he whines, refuses, and flat out defies me order. More often than not it becomes a battle of the wills that I just can't win and one that I am tired of fighting.
So where do I go from here? The one thing I know for sure is that I will never lay a hand on my child. I will also never allow anyone else to do it either. In my experience corporal punishment doesn't do any good and only creates lasting scars. My goal is to raise a caring, respectful and well behaved son. We are well on our way with achieving the caring part. For all of his rough and tough little boyness, he is truly a caring and sensitive child. I also think we have been making good progress on being respectful. Unprompted, Sidney regularly says "please", "thank you", and "excuse me" in English, Albanian, and ASL. A lot of work still needs to be doing on being well behaved. I'm sure this will be a struggle for many years to come; after all Sidney is a mischievous combination of both of his parents. I know that through hard work and patience we will prevail. It won't be easy, but we will prevail. Because we must.