On Losing My Cool

On Losing My Cool

Or: Frying an egg on my forehead
by Lynn Siprelle

I am the mother of two girls, a seven-year-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old. I don't spank. I remind myself I don't spank at least a dozen times a day. Sometimes the reminder doesn't take and I yell, or worse, smack one on the butt. I lose my cool.

Cool is an elusive quality for a mom some days, at least for this one. My cool starts to slip on the days when I can't even answer email for two minutes without the small one hanging upside down from my shoulders, sharp little elbows digging into my sides. The days when the oldest decides making layer cake from an entire loaf of (expensive, health food store) bread and chocolate syrup is a great idea. The days when the two of them are at each other tooth and nail for hours, over everything from who gets to sit closest to the heat vent to who gets which of two identical dolls. Or when they both think that Mama is actually talking to herself when she tells them not to do things like lick electrical outlets.

On these days, my cool can dive deep into hiding. I have no idea where it is and if I can get it back before I smack these two kids senseless. I haven't smacked them senseless yet, so apparently I've been successful. How do I do it? Good question!

Now that I think about it, getting back my cool is just part of the way I've decided to parent, which is as gently as possible. (Note the "as possible." Find me a mom who says she is 100% gentle, 100% of the time, and you've found me Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.) When I was a kid, I knew my parents loved me, and I loved them, but I was also scared to death of them. I'm betting that's true of a lot of you.

My kids aren't afraid of me, which in some ways works against me; I can't rely on that murderous glare or certain tone of voice. But it also means that my kids find me approachable. It means I don't have pretend I'm perfect and always know the right thing to do; I can make a mistake, back up, apologize and try to set things right. It means my kids can (and do) call me on stuff when I'm clearly in the wrong (and vice versa). It means we can work out ways together to get out of our current difficulties. And it means my kids get an honest model of how human relationships are and can be, that people get mad at each other and can forgive and move on, often a dozen times a day. This is what living with other people is about.

I'm not saying it always works, or that I always do this exactly the right way. I'm saying it makes it easier to coax my cool out of its hidey hole. In the end, what I rely on the most is the old advice that longtime married couples have given newlyweds since time out of mind: Don't go to bed mad. We family bed at our house, at least for going to sleep (and sometimes waking up). It's literally impossible for me to go to sleep mad at my kids when they're curled up on either side of me. How can I stay mad at Louisa when she yawns "Night, Mama, I yuv you," even if she's taken scissors to the clothespin bag, dumped out all the Lite Brite pieces and refused to pick them up, and insisted on hanging onto my leg most of the day? How can I stay mad at Josie when she's just sung ME a lullabye, even if she's dumped all the clean laundry out of the basket so she can use it for a ship--over and over and over again?

On the really bad days, when it seems I've yelled myself hoarse and I just haven't been able to remember that I'm the grownup, at the end of the day I rely on that bed. We go to bed early (because usually on those trying days one or more of us is tired and cranky). We read a little story, turn out the light, and snuggle up under our thick down comforter. The last thing we say to each other every night is always, "Good night, sleep tight, I love you." And I've got so much cool I feel that I just might have enough left over for the next day.


Shaun's picture

It's fortuitous that this popped up today. I absolutely lost it in the worst way today -- no hitting, but shouting so horridly that I think it could fairly be called verbal abuse. I had to call my husband to come relieve me for a while, because the aftershock of shame was overwhelming.

I firmly believe that if there is a real devil, one of its name is Shame, so I am really grateful to be able to look back at this thread, take a deep breath (or 50), and move forward. When we have a place to be honest with each other, Shame can't corner us into isolation.

So thanks again.


Becky's picture

How did that bread-and-chocolate-syrup layer cake turn out? Was it good?

Lynn's picture

...or at least a good chunk of it. She agreed that maybe that wasn't such a great recipe after all...

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Segwyne's picture

I am a mom of 5, ages 5 months to 10.5 years. A couple of months ago, I had lost my cool so badly when the children carried water into the TV room to pour into their wooden boat (which is a shape sorter, so has lots of holes), it was the last straw. I screamed so badly I made myself hoarse, and then curled up on the floor and just sobbed. I have had a hard time finding real mothers online (no one on any of my email lists ever talks about having less-than-perfect families) and I always wondered what I was doing wrong. Why was I such a failure at parenting? Thank you for showing me that I'm not the only one with kids like that. Or shall I say, the only one who cares about their kids because there are lots of parents here in my neighborhood who have rotten brats but they don't seem to care.


Becky's picture

When I was five, I saw an Italian classmate with a Nutella sandwich at lunchtime and tried to make a chocolate syrup sandwich at home. It didn't work out too well, but I still like Nutella sandwiches.

Jilsyt's picture

Actually, lately, I've been REALLY wanting a third child. DS will be 4, DD will be 2 in a month or two. This means that if we try, by the time another gets here, DS will be 5, and DD 3. Anyhow, I had a day where all I could do was yell. I sat there crying, thinking, why do I want a third if I can mess up this badly with 2? Luckily, my husband is amazing, and pointed out that it is ONE day, compared to the many days where I am successful at talking to them and playing with them, etc. Then, this article made me realize I'm not the only mom who loses my cool. Although I don't excuse myself, and I continue to try to be better, I think I could handle raising three.

Tuesday, I'm sitting a 5 month old for four hours while her Daddy presents at a local statistical conference which my husband is also attending. I'm calling it my trial run!

CB Potts's picture

I don't think anybody keeps their cool all the time: the one thing SAHMs have working against us is the sheer number of uninterrupted hours we have with the kids. There's no other job in the world that requires you to be "ON" as long and as often as parenting.

What works for me: I say "Kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten teacher" over and over, and I pretend I'm that kindergarten teacher, full of cheer and happiness and secret knowledge of the craft cupboard. The kids tend to do a 180 when ever I go into kindergarten teacher mode, and before too long pretending to be cheerful turns into really being cheerful.

(Either that, or they're petrified that it's a three faces of eve deal and they want to keep me in this face before Sybil the destroyer emerges...either way, I'm cool with it)

Susannah's picture

I'll have to try that! :)

Lynn, reading your article was like...well, like being here right now. Ha ha! 4yo hanging off shoulders and all. I am in full agreement with the apologize and forgive model.

Now, if I could just slow the rate of destruction within these walls...and *upon* them! J.D. has created a veritable art gallery in my foyer. The most recent casualty was my dictionary, which he took an orange marker to. Also, my flylady timer. It still works, it just doesn't stand up straight anymore. :) I never knew how much I would sacrifice in personal property when I had children. 'Course, that's stuff, and they are priceless.

Becky's picture

Put butcher paper on the walls. That's what my camp counselors used to do to prevent destruction of the walls themselves with crayons.

Lynn's picture

It's nice to see that people still find this piece useful three years after I wrote it.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Lynn's picture

I try to keep it very real here, and I think so do the rest of us. NO ONE has a perfect family, no one parents perfectly, and if they try to make you think they do they're not being honest with you or themselves.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Add new comment