Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Bad Mommy Shame Spiral

I'm feeling bad right now. I lost it last week and yelled at my kids. Not just a little bit, either. Like full out, Disney-villian style yelling. I holler to make myself heard over all the noise in my house, but I don't scream like that very often. So right now I'm at the tail-end of what I call The Bad Mommy Shame Spiral.

Perhaps you're thinking: "What the hell are you talking about?" Basically what happens is the kids do something crazy; I react by being more crazy and screaming my head off; then they freak out because I freaked out, and we all end up crying. Then I spend a week beating myself up because I'm the worst parent ever. 

Here's how it often breaks down - at least at my house:
  • Everything is quiet. Never a good sign. 
  • Kid(s) do something naughty or potentially dangerous.
  • Ask them nicely to please stop.
  • Toggle between the last two bullets until you feel like ice picking your own brain.
  • "You're going to break the chair/hurt your sister. Please make a different choice." Times 100.
  • They do it again.
  • Use Mean Mommy voice to tell them to CUT IT OUT. 
  • Kid(s) then look sad/surprised and ask(s) why you're yelling. Tilt your head like a dog because "Whaaaa??? I have asked you nicely several times to stop but you only seem to hear me when I yell."
  • Now kid(s) tilt(s) head because whaaaa??
  • "JUST DON'T DO IT AGAIN" and leave the room. 
  • Hear suspicious noise. Return to room in time to see kid(s) doing the exact thing that you just told him/her/them not to do.
  • Try not to freak out. Say slowly and quietly: "What. Are. You. Doing?"
  • Kid(s) exhales loudly and rolls eyes. Shrugs. 
  • Make angry face. Point finger. JUST STOP. Leave the room.
  • When just enough time passes that your blood pressure returns to the safe/normal range, you hear the sound of something breaking/someone wail-crying.
  • Walk into the room. It's a full-on OSM (Oh Shit Moment). Stuff is broken, someone's sobbing, crap is everywhere. 
  • There is silence for a long pause when the children realize they're busted. Then the room erupts in cacophonous chaos, with everyone yelling at once. 
  • It's a bad sign when your throat is actually burning from how hard you just screamed.
  • "Why aren't you guys going upstairs? Oh... Don't cry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I yelled like that." 
  • Hugging. Explaining. Cleaning up. Then they go to their rooms like angelic, yet sullen moppets.
  • Everything is quiet. Never a good sign.
  • The shame descends. 
  • I will not do it again. I will never scream at them like that again.
  • Tears start. What's wrong with me?
  • Phone a friend. It's OK. We all do it. They'll be fine. You're a good mom.
  • Breathe in. Is it OK? It doesn't feel OK. It feels horrible.
  • Spend the next couple of days pretending to be sweet and calm and good, while my stomach churns from the shame of knowing how horrible (and horribly loud) I really am.
  • Kids are really well-behaved, probably because I'm an evil tyrant and they're scared of me. I feel a little like the warden in Cool Hand Luke, but with a guilty conscience and clearly no failure to communicate.
  • Smallest child walks over to me, steps up on chair (as if she wants to give me a smooch), then punches me in the boob and laughs. So maybe they're not that scared of me.
  • Big kids kiss me before they get on the bus, even though their friends can see. I try to act cool about it, but get all choked up as the bus pulls away.
  • Exhale. Is it OK? I think it's OK. Thank God. 
  • Everything is quiet. Never a good sign.
And with that, the Shame Spiral resets itself. The thing is, I hate the spiral, and I really just want it to go away. So I'll try to explain why it should.  I'll do this in part to convince you and in part to convince myself. Because I still feel really bad, and it's more normal for me to beat myself up than to deal with things like an adult.

There are two reasons why we as parents should totally reject the Shame Spiral. First, shame is apparently really bad for you. It's like smoking or eating Taco Bell every day, except the damage is to your soul or self-esteem or whatever. Shame is the thing that whispers all the mean thoughts to your inner monologue. As you know, my inner monologue is already an a-hole and it doesn't need shame to feed it new material.  

Second, the spiral isn't actually helping anything. According to the internets: "In mathematics, a spiral is a curve which emanates from a central point, getting progressively farther away as it revolves around the point." The central point is those precious little monkeys.  I want to curve in close to them for as long as I can (or as long as they'll let me). Feeling horrible about myself doesn't make me a better parent, in fact it does the opposite.

From the very awesome Don't Be A Dick Day website.
In life and in parenting, I aspire to live up to Wheaton's Law ("Don't be a dick.") I don't want to be a dick, or do dickish things like scream at my kids, or even worse - raise little people who grow into big people who think dickish behavior is normal. Yes, I had a bad moment. But I apologized, and I'm going to learn from my mistakes and try to do better next time (no, I mean it this time!). And more importantly, I'm going to show my kids that's how we handle the moments when we slip up. 

The people who make mistakes and don't feel bad, or apologize, or try to make it better?  They're the ones who should hop on the spiral and curve progressively farther away, perhaps from us all. 

And with that, I feel a lot better.  I think I'll be just fine.  But why did they all of a sudden get so quiet . . . ?

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013


  1. We all do it. I think a well placed mommy tantrum can do wonders for everyone.
    Do you hit them? Call them horrible names (little sh*t doesn't count)
    Are you cruel or random with punishment? I didn't think so. You are an AWESOME mom.

  2. You're amazing. Not only do you face down the spiral, but you post about it so that you help us all feel better. It's exactly the moment when I realise my throat hurts because I've been a bit screamy that the wall of shame hits...it's awful and then followed by lots of cuddles and apologies. It must confuse the heck out of them, but it's just. so. human. You're a great mother. They're lucky.

  3. sigh... yeah. I've been there---more than once. I vividly remember the ONLY time I've ever spanked...as it was over the most ridiculous thing. Dental Floss. Yup. I lost my schmidt and spanked my precious little monkeychild because of dental floss. Luckily, owning it helps--being able to look at that little face and say, wow, mommy clearly needs to reel it in!

  4. You know how I knew my Mom was on the spiral? Her lips would disappear. Then I knew I was in for it. Did it stop me from doing stupid kid stuff? Nope. Did I grow up to be broken because my Mom lost her schmidt? Nope, I'm fine (and I love her to death). You're fine. Your kids will be fine also. I promise. :)

    1. ^ this one? ahh, the relief. you're so right.

    2. "Her lips would disappear." LOL, I know that one. Too funny.

  5. Ugh, not much feels worse than that moment. Although, yelling at your husband in front of your children is a close second.

  6. I once screamed so loud I broke a blood vessel in my eye, then physically carried my daughter (who was really too big to be carried) up the stairs and put her in her room. And she wouldn't stay there so I sat on her to keep her there for her whole time out. Years later I overheard her say to a friend "One time I was being horrible and got sent to my room, and I said You can't make me and my mom got REALLY mad. And yeah. She MADE me alright!". Now we both laugh hysterically about it, and she is not traumatized. Much. Nothing a little therapy won't fix ;).

  7. Not sure if you are familiar with this website, but I sent it to my husband...who is a first-time SAHD with a 4-month old. http://theorangerhino.com/

  8. I actually find that it helps to start punishing after the second or third time I have to repeat myself... not to sound like one of those "bring back flogging in the public schools" nutjobs, but a good long time out after the second offense helps me collect myself as well as remind the kiddo that i mean business. (Of course I only have one which I realize makes it exponentially easier.)

  9. oh honey its okay we ALL do it willing to admit it or not but we all do it hell i do it my ten year old doesnt listen unless im yelling and screaming so every kid is different my three year old is doing that also okay i heard you back to what i was doing before you told me not to do that certain thing we have learned to redirect and walk away you need time out and mommy or daddy needs a time and then everything is back to normal its okay we all through it my kids all of my kids and i only have three we do a "quite time" no you dont have to sleep but you need to be quite and no movements and 9/10 they fall asleep hang in there

  10. this is so awesome. you have such an amazing way of taking what every parent feels and putting it so poignantly and yet so hilariously. I love it. oh, and BTW, this is exactly how I felt when my four year old threw her laptop out the window. ;o)

  11. Every parent does that - Two weeks ago I looked at both of them and told them I was going to buy cages because if they were going to act like animals - I was going to treat them like animals! (And I MEANT IT!) I've since changed my tactic - I get quieter...I've stopped yelling completely - I think my kids hoped I'd eventually lose my voice (They are 2 and 5) so now when I whisper "if you don't stop..." I don't even finish the sentence, my 5 year old has learned to sit immediately (I think she thinks I might actually get them cages... my two year old does whatever she does for the time being) I'm sure this won't work forever, but I'm happy I haven't lost my voice OR bought two cages .... You aren't alone - we all freak out - and we all feel bad about the terrible thoughts that pass through our brain and feel even worse about the ones that accidentally pass over our lips...but our Mom's did it too - and we don't well I hope most of us don't remember when she turned into the Hulk, although I'm sure she did too ;)

  12. What I hate is when I loose it my eldest looks up at me and her lip trembles and her eyes fill with tears. That is the worst moment! Then my youngest will say something or do something that leads me to believe that she still didn't hear a word I said - even now!

  13. I was feeling all relate-y and teary-eyed until I read "punched in the boob" and then I for real laughed. The internet doesn't make me for real laugh very often. Nice job, Mama. Hit right at home.

  14. A relative once told me I shouldn't yell at my children, because it scares them. This relative has no children and thinks she Knows Everything About Children because she was a swim instructor when she was a teenager (25 years ago). Anyway, THAT got me into the Spiral for days. Then I realised that yelling at my children does not scare them. Oh No, It Does Not. If it scared them it would actually work or have some sort of impression or alter their activities for even One Second. My children are completely immune to it. They only pause long enough for the ringing in their ears to subside and carry on dismembering each other. However, it is giving them an idea of REAL emotion. This strange idea that it is okay and normal to have negative emotions, just get over it and move on. I hope it keeps them off drugs later on. Your kids know that you are not perfect, and that sometimes people get angry. This is Good. They also know that when you get angry, you deal with it right away, apologise etc. This is Very Good. They also know that they will be disciplined EVEN when you make a mistake, be human and lose it and apologise. This is Very Very Good. Just make sure they are not learning to manipulate the situation, and are not learning to use your outburst to blackmail you with later. That could get expensive. They Are Smarter Than We Know.

  15. Yep, been there, done that, made Joan Crawford look like a saint.

  16. oh thank you so much for writing this. I did this today and was feeling crappy about it.
    Deep down I guess I know it's normal but my husband doesn't get it and so the shame is even worse....good thing he missed today's outburst! :)
    Thx again - you guys always give me a good laugh and make me feel less alone in this joyous adventure of parenting.

  17. Glad to see I'm not the only one that throws mommy tantrums.

  18. I was told once that feeling terrible/shameful of/worried about my parenting choices- or actions, in and of itself, proved that i was in fact a good parent. A bad parent just doesn't give a ish.

    Although i also subscribe to the belief that there is no such thing as a good or bad mother. There are no rules. No guidlines. Just those who do their best, and those who dont.

    You hunni, are obviously one who attempts to do her best. Thats all any child could ever ask for :)

  19. Um, that doesn't sound like Bad Mommy. That sounds like Naughty Children Who Should Have Known Better + 100% Human Mommy. I'm amazed you lasted as long as you did without yelling. This is going to sound bad, and I don't mean it to, but sometimes kids are just stubborn brats and they push too far. Hopefully they'll remember this next time.

  20. I completely agree with your bullet points and have seen that scene play out my fair share of times. I think it's important to note also that shame is not inherently a problem. If shame only leads to you beating yourself up forever and never changing or moving on then yes, it is toxic. However, your shame shows you where you have room to grow and how you want to change to be an even more awesome mom than you already are! Rather than running from the shame you are looking at it as an opportunity. All emotions are there to give us information, so when you feel shame you can ask yourself what information is it giving you and what will you do with this information. Sometimes that also helps to quiet the toxic shame that tells you you're a bad mom. And if not, tell your inner critic to shut the hell up because you're doing your best! Rock on.




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts