This fall my husband and I were invited to dinner at our best friends’ home in celebration of one of the Jewish high holidays. A central theme of the night was self-reflection, in the spirit of letting go and moving toward a prosperous new year. A kind of ‘out with the old, in with new’ kind of thing. While we munched on bread and honey, our host instructed us to review our past year and choose one behavior we’d most like to change. One failing, misdeed, or gnawing regret.
Only one? My mind was awash in self-recrimination. But a clear winner topped my list.
A pencil and pad made its way around the table. One by one we scribbled our confessions. Then we crumpled the papers, tossed them in a fire pit, and watched them burn in a satisfyingly smoky haze of communal self-hatred.
This was intended to be a private reflection, but we decided to share our burnt-up regrets. I was gobsmacked to learn each of us fretted about the same misdeed:
Yelling at our kids.
This may not sound earth shattering. Many parents say they yell too much. Even the most patient among us has uttered a stop that! or a don’t! or even a if you do that again, so help me god! But that’s not what we were talking about.
We were talking about f-bombs and threats and I hate you, toos!
As terrible as this sounds, their admissions gave me so much comfort! These kind, compassionate, much-more-patient-than-me people all admitted to yelling at their kids.
Wow. This was awesome!
Now, it may sound as if I’m exploiting the sins of others to defend my own atrocious behavior. I’m not. Yelling is, in fact, horrible and almost never helpful (unless your kids won’t do what you want). But the knowledge that others lose their patience and let fly a curse word or two makes me feel much less alone.
I suffer on a daily basis with my failure to model effective anger management for my kids. In fact, I really kind of suck at it.
Impatience runs in my family. My mom is especially impatient, but she’s pretty awesome in most other ways. She’s loving, supportive, adventurous, and she always answers the phone when I call and need to talk. Plus, each year at Christmas, she takes the kids for a few days so my husband and I can enjoy a weekend in peace. For that alone I’ll give her a break on the impatience thing.
My take home message from the celebration: Maybe I should give myself a break, too. As long as I earnestly work on this yelling thing, and continue to be awesome in other ways, I can forgive myself. Or at least stop wallowing in shame. Besides, if I trip up and lose my patience, I’ll take comfort in knowing my friends down the street may be shouting something awful at their kids, too.
It seems wrong for me to hope that, doesn’t it? Hmm…Let’s get out the bread and honey and start again.