Once, when Dee was about two and a half, I lost it all over her. It escalated to the point where I was screaming at her so loud that Gee could hear me from outside. I forget what it was about – I’m pretty sure it started as a silly argument over what I wanted her to wear or something – but whatever it was, it certainly didn’t merit my total loss of control, and my bullying and berating an innocent little person who, no matter how mature she was for her age, was still only a toddler.
Once my senses had returned and the enormous guilt had properly set in, I remember consoling myself by thinking that I would probably get away with it. That as long as I never let loose such an emotional and manipulative outburst again, my poor baby would probably not be scarred by my one huge indiscretion. In fact, I told myself, she probably wouldn’t even remember it.
Of course there have been more shameful incidents since that summer’s night, 4 1/2 years ago. At what age, I wonder, does our free pass expire? When I lost my mind tonight, my pendulum swinging between hopelessness and rage and back again to despair, how much damage was I imparting on my daughters? If I were to stop it (just stop it!) tonight, and live the rest of my days as a Good Mother, could I undo the harm that has been done?
Has harm been done? I think so. Dee, especially, is as sensitive as I ever was, and I am sure she will grow up with either memories or knowledge of a mother who sometimes couldn’t cope. I wish that the other memories, the other reality of me as a caring, intelligent, involved and loving mother would tip the scales in my favour, but based on my own experience as the daughter of an occasionally overwhelmed woman, I can’t believe in that.
There was quite a discussion over at Her Bad Mother the other day about spanking, whether it causes irreparable harm, or actually leads to better, more successful adults. I commented that I don’t spank. I don’t think it does any good, and I don’t see how it is ever right to hit a child. But I cannot believe that spanking, in and of itself, can cause more emotional injury than some of the non-physical ways we deal with our children. I won’t say discipline, because what I did tonight, and what I did all those summers ago, was not discipline. It was taking out my frustrations on someone who should be able to expect more from me.