Everyone gets into a bad mood every once in a while. We snap, we yell, we slam doors, or we retreat deep into our caves. And just like our own personal tastes and styles of acting out, the causes range—from not having our morning coffee to needling inconveniences to lack of sleep to just ’cause. Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there and for better or worse, we’ll be there again.
Unfortunately for our loved ones, they are the first in the line of fire, as are we for them. As I was with my child the day after she came home from a sleepover and all she wanted to do was sleep the day away but couldn’t because we had relatives her age visiting from out of town. This one was a two-pronged teaching opportunity for me: on one side was the lesson of family trumping all else. I’m Italian, so of course that was what was driven into me from a young age (and it stuck, and for which I’m grateful). If there was a family event, my friends waited. If my cousins were over, I stayed home. It was unarguable, a nonissue, and something (perhaps one of the only things) I perpetuated with my own parenting.
On the other side of this was defining the value of expression—knowing how and what to say—especially when at the peak of feeling cranky. I remember my teen years well, a time when I had the luxury of tuning out everyone in the household, turning up the music in my room, and shutting my door because I wanted to express nothing to no one. I just vanted to be alone! And I usually was able to be. Except when we had visiting relatives who were my age. Just the thought of yelling downstairs to my mother and actually saying out loud that the sound of her voice was grating on my nerves and the sight of her face made me want to strike out brought about intense feelings of guilt, not to mention fear of what my father might do to me if he got wind of it. (Disclaimer: The worst inflicted on me by him was that my hair was pulled.) Instead, I’d remain quiet and silently stew. The kids of today—MY kid—not so much.
Granted, my husband and I have always been strong advocates of giving both of our teens the freedom of sharing their thoughts and feelings, good or bad, with only one caveat: that they do so respectfully and kindly. For the most part, they certainly do (and more often than not). But like most of us, we sometimes fall off the wagon and spit out the first venomous thing that comes to mind without fully thinking about the person on the receiving end—only to regret it later. This usually happens when we’re in a bad mood. It happens, and we as adults know how (hopefully) to make it right later. A younger, less-mature mind does not. So, the lesson: If something is said, and it’s nasty, and it’s hurtful, and you know the second it leaves your lips that you probably shouldn’t have said what you said, you’re gonna be grounded. Probably for a real long time.
When things become so escalated and to a point where no matter what I say won’t be heard in any way, shape, or form, I just grit my teeth and walk away. Later, when the situation is revisited, or, best-case scenario, after it sinks in that an apology is warranted (big time) and I’m approached first, a conversation can then be had and certain bullet points can be reiterated. They are:
- Sometimes you just have to do things you really don’t want to do.
- Sometimes you should bite your tongue. And, most important…
- Sometimes you should just listen to your parents (the first time they tell you the way it’s got to be).
"I'm really sorry I said what I said," is what I'll hear after being summoned into the other room once we've both reclaimed our calmer selves. "Obviously, I don't want to kill you.”
I'll look at my child curled on the couch in her sweats, and of course I know I won't have to lock my bedroom door at night out of fear of being stabbed while I sleep. But I’ll still have to bring the point home: “Then, obviously you need to think about what just happened, probably for the next two weeks while you’re not out with your friends, until you realize that practicing a little self-control can go a long way.”
Sometimes these things take a bunch of retakes. But, I’m in it for the long haul, and I can wait.