It all started with a pair of grey pants.
My wife is a teacher, so getting our twin toddlers fed, dressed and out the door to preschool generally falls on me. This particular morning, the fellas were in rare form. The waffles that I had made for breakfast had been deemed unacceptable, and they weren’t particularly thrilled about the toast that I was trying to sell them on. In the end, we settled on yogurt pouches and a banana. With the help of Daniel Tiger, I had managed to get one of them dressed. The other one, however, had very little interest in wearing anything. He was especially adamant that he would not be wearing the pants that I had picked out.
My initial response was that of any modern parent. I got down on my son’s level. I asked him why he didn’t want to wear the pants that I had picked out. His response was less of an explanation and more of a continued affirmation that he would not be wearing those pants. I then rationally explained to him that preschool was the sort of establishment where pants are not only encouraged, but required. I pointed out that not getting dressed would mean that he wouldn’t get to play with his friends at school. Yet, his sartorial protest continued.
As time ticked off the clock, I changed tactics. I began to threaten the standard threats that reside in the parenting toolbox. I threatened to turn off Daniel Tiger, his favorite show. I threatened him with time outs. I threatened to take away his favorite toys. None of it seemed to budge this stubborn little mini me as he stood defiant and barelegged in his diaper.
We hit the two minute warning. I went for broke and attempted to force the pants onto the wiggling, screaming toddler. In a move of surprising dexterity, he wiggled away, and off the pants came. That is where I lost it.
I yelled, not something that I do often, and as my toddler cried and screamed, I walked out of the room to the front door. I exasperatingly leaned my head on the door out of sight of my children. I hit the door three times. While I didn’t damage the door or my hand, the ache in my knuckles would stick with me the rest of the day.
Slightly ashamed, I took a deep exhale, and carried my crying son upstairs with his twin brother trailing behind us. We were going to be late for school, so I was getting desperate. Maybe it was just my choice of pants that had caused his defiance. I opened his drawer and gave him free reign to choose his own pants. Alas, his stance was against the very foundation of pants. I Facetimed for backup, but even the almighty Grandma could not quell his stubbornness.
Once again, I tried to force the trousers onto my son, and once again, he tore them off and threw them back at me. He was in tears again, screaming his protests directly into my face. My anger raged within me. I cursed, continued to yell at my crying son and threw the pants in a fury as I walked out of the room, slamming the door behind me so hard that the childproof lock exploded in my hand. I slid to the floor with my back up against the wall, now to the sounds of not one, but two, screaming toddlers. I held my head in my hands and wept in frustration.
We missed preschool, but I got the pants on him eventually. The third time forcing them seemed to be the charm, and I quickly carried him down and strapped him into the car seat as he continued to scream.
I have spent that day and many days since regretting my actions. I don’t regret yelling at my son. I personally believe that there are times that particular volume and tone of voice are necessary to convey the importance of your message. I don’t regret threatening him with time outs or loss of toys.
What I do regret and where I failed both of my children that day was when I lost my temper. I set a terrible example for both my sons. I stepped out of the room twice when my anger became too great, but what if my son had seen me hitting the door? What if he thought that I might hit him in my anger? I slammed the door on my screaming children and left them alone and afraid because I couldn’t control my anger. How can I expect them to react appropriately and proportionately when they’re frustrated with a particular situation if I can’t?
Let’s face it, at the end of the day, they’re just pants.
Parenting toddlers can drive you insane. You will never experience greater frustration in your life than teaching tiny versions of yourself how to human, but there is never an excuse to lose control. Our children require us to be the best versions of ourselves. We may never be able to control the situations that our children put us in, but we can control how we react to them.
That night, after our bedtime routine, I held my son close and we talked about why I yelled. We talked about the importance of listening when Mommy and Daddy ask them to do something. Most importantly, I told my son that I was sorry that I had lost my temper, and I promised him that tomorrow I would do better.