Do you know how your kids are always so much better behaved for other people – teachers, babysitters, your friends – than they are for you? And when you tell people stories about how bad they can be at home, you can tell they don’t really believe you? I used to think it was unfair. Why do my husband and I always have to suffer the meltdowns, the drama, the fighting?
Of course, if I had to choose, I would prefer them to be well-behaved at school and naughty at home instead of the other way around. But still, do they have to be so bad for us sometimes? Do they have to take everything out on their parents and siblings and say such hurtful things at home?
But then again, I do the same thing.
I can safely say that I have never screamed at another person in the last 20 years. Except for my kids, that is. I may be rude to a telemarketer once in a while, but to the world outside my family I am polite, even-keeled, and non-confrontational. I don’t threaten or bribe other adults, and I don’t lie to them about going to a fake hotel in my basement when I need sleep.
But at home, when nobody else is around, there are times when I can make unnecessarily bitchy comments to my husband, or start screaming at my children in full-on adult-tantrum mode. I’m not exaggerating. I remember one night when I shut my eyes, clenched my fists, stomped my feet and screamed, “NOBODY’S LISTENING TO ME!!! WHY DOESN’T ANYBODY LISTEN TO ME AROUND HERE?!” Kids often model their parents’ behavior, but sometimes it’s the other way around.
I’m not like that most of the time, but I have snapped and absolutely lost my Skittles more times than I care to remember. Just like my kids, I get cranky when I’m tired. And raising three young children who don’t always sleep through the night is a tiring task, so I’m tired a lot. Which means I’m cranky a lot. Which means I yell too much.
I’m working on it, and it has gotten better. Even so, my husband and my children - as my parents and brothers did before them - witness the worst sides of me that nobody else sees.
Why do I take out all my negative energy on the people I love the most? If I love them, shouldn’t I want to be the nicest to them, instead of saving all my patience and politeness for total strangers?
I know I’m not alone. Why are we nastiest to those we love most? Is it because we feel safe, knowing that they are the only people who will love us forever, unconditionally? Or is it because nobody can annoy or frustrate us more than members of our own families can? It’s probably a combination of both.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. You see, we also give our families our best sides that nobody else sees. Just as I don’t scream at other people, I don’t cuddle with even my closest friends, and I don’t go around telling people unprompted that I love them (well, unless maybe I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine, but that doesn’t count). I don’t kiss other people’s boo-boos, wipe their poopy bottoms, read them books, or stay up all night nursing them when they are sick.
I give my everything to my family. Yes, that includes some bad, but it’s also a lot of good. All the million little things I do for my family everyday are my greatest acts of love.
And my family gives me their best selves too. My kids don’t share their scary nightmares, or tell when their feelings are hurt, or say, “I love you” to their teachers. Other people don’t see how heart-achingly sweet my girls can be to each other when they’re playing a game of school together or when they are worried about one another for various reasons. My kids don’t cuddle on the couch with anyone else and they save their biggest, tightest, most suffocatingly squeezy hugs for their Mommy and Daddy.
And if you could witness my husband telling his girls one of his animated, outlandish bedtime stories, you would fall in love with him too.
So instead of lamenting about how bad we can be to each other at times, I will try to focus on how wonderful we can be to each other. I will remember how lucky I am that I get to see all of my childrens’ sides: their good, their bad, and their out-of-control, sibling-fighting, back-talking, tantrum-throwing, property-destroying, raging ugly. And because I get to see all that, I get to truly love them completely. I love their whole selves, whole-heartedly. And that is a beautiful thing.
When things get tough, I will remind myself that if it were always sunny, we would never have rainbows.
So, to my kids: keep giving me your worst; I will keep loving you and seeing the best in you, no matter what. Thank you for bringing out the best in me; you also bring out the worst in me at times, but I will keep trying to give you my best everyday. Forgive me when I fail, just like I will always forgive you, and we will get through this messy, beautiful life together.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!