Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Safety Trumps Trust ... For Now

Today, I made several big mistakes as a parent. This isn’t highly unusual for me, except that all the mistakes revolved around one particular incident. First, I spanked my kids. Not only did I spank them, but I spanked them in public while I was furious. I expect to see the mall video on the six o’clock news this evening. Second, I screamed at my kids. Nothing unusual there. But, I screamed at them with such fury that it made me cry after I did it. Third, I trusted my kids to follow one of my most important rules.

My first-born came in the form of twins, and since their birth, managing them in a public place gave me a lot of anxiety. From the time they took their first steps, I was extremely strict when it came to our safety rules. I was not shy about being firm with them in public. I wanted them to learn the rules, and know that they applied everywhere—no matter what. I used to pride myself on the fact that we would be in line somewhere when they were as young as 18-months-old, and I could ask them to sit down and not move, and they wouldn’t. If we were walking in a parking lot or across a street, they each held a hand—no questions asked. I was playing zone defense with two children who already had a quick pace, but spoke fewer than 20 words of the English language. The key was consistency and never giving in—no matter the tantrum that may result, no matter the public reprimanding, NO EXCEPTIONS.

We talk a lot about safety when we are driving. This
is one of many safety signs we drive by daily. Just
realized someone made it a man. Hahahaha!
As they got older, and we added one more to the family, I have given them more leeway, though still demanding they follow very strict guidelines. Their efforts have been flawless … until today.

We were at the mall, heading back to the car after our day was done. I’m pushing the stroller down a long corridor, with the 4-year-olds in front of me. Soon, their pace started to pick up. Since they are in constant competition, it turned into a full on sprint. About 30 yards ahead was a corner, where we would turn right and go another 20 yards ending at the parking lot. Our rule is they can run ahead, but they have to ALWAYS be able to see me. If they come to a corner, they must wait until I catch up. Today, they turned the corner. I kind of start to jog, thinking they are going to peek around the corner to find me. They didn’t. I start running, seeing people come around that corner looking in the direction of the kids and most certainly wondering to whom they belong and if they might have to step in.

In those 10 seconds, I’m running through every scenario, like them running into the parking lot and get hit by a car. Or, they wait on the sidewalk, but someone pulls up to them in their window-less white van and scoops them up. Or, there’s a police officer holding the two of them, ready to take them away from me for child endangerment.

I come around the corner to see them waiting by the curb. A man was by the building smoking a cigarette and looking at them with a slight bit of concern. I run to them yelling about the colossal-sized punishment they are about to receive. I put the brakes on the stroller. They knew then that I meant business. I grab their arms, one at a time, and spank their bottoms, furiously yelling at them all the while. My mind is in a complete tunnel. I have no idea who saw this, nor did I care. I demanded they hold each side of the stroller as we made our way through the parking lot to the van. I think at that point, they thought the punishment was over. It was FAR from over.

It took several minutes to strap the baby in, unload the stroller of the 17 items that had been shoved in or spilled from the diaper bag, gave the wave to the person anxiously awaiting my parking spot, and pack up the stroller. I got in my seat, turned, and in a much quieter, but seriously scary voice, I told them how furious I was with them. I told them I’ve never been this angry with them before … EVER. I painted a very clear and detailed picture of what it would be like for them had a stranger pulled them in their vehicle from the curb. It included, but was not limited to, no food, abuse, and sleeping in a dungeon.

By this time, the person waiting for my spot gave up. I backed out, and drove home with a deafening silence the whole way. Upon arrival, I instructed them to go to their rooms for the rest of the afternoon and think about what it would be like if a stranger took them. I also told them to think of a way for them to earn my trust again, because I feel like I can’t trust them anymore and I am going to have to treat them the same as I treat their 15-month-old brother.

So, that’s where I am now. Trying to lower my blood pressure. Trying to forgive myself for reacting the way I did. Trying to clear my head. Trying to decide how to handle this moving forward.

While I feel like I made some mistakes in how I reacted immediately to the situation, I also followed one of the parenting rules I made for myself several years ago. I determined I would not spank my kids unless it was a safety-related issue. I figured if there was a time for them to remember a punishment, it would be in regards to their safety. So, while I don’t feel great about doing it, I do think it impacted them more so than anything else I could have done.

The screaming could have impacted them a little, though it’s more likely that what I said left the scar. I might have been able to use the same words in a calmer voice. Either way, I’m sure I would have cried after. I was coming down from a traumatic high—both physically and mentally. That was just a release.

As for trusting my kids too much, well, I don’t know how to respond to that one just yet. I think as kids get older, parents have to start trusting them. It’s part of teaching them independence. It’s also one of the hardest things we will do as parents, I believe. In this age of information, we are all too aware of the possible consequences of just one tiny mistake. We know if one of our children’s mistakes leads to one of these consequences, we would never forgive ourselves. It’s a frighteningly big load to bear. I suspect I will be a helicopter mom for a little while now. I want to again feel like I know my kids and their limits. Eventually, I will ease up again and let them spread their wings … but, just a little.

For daily doses of Crap, like me on Facebook


  1. Suzi, about the only times I've gone totally ape shit on my kids is when their safety was in question. Once Bradyn ran out into the street and I ran after him, yanked him back, and then spanked him in front of our neighbors. Another time I'd watched Lainey go into the house, then I got into my car, was about to back up, then noticed Lainey coming around from the back of the car up to my door. I envisioned backing over her and what could have happened and went totally nuts. The look on my face probably scared her to death; I was yelling and crying at the same time. Then she was crying. Then we were hugging and crying together (or as she calls it "water coming out of my eyes"). I think our reactions to these situations are totally normal. I don't think we're crazy for our reactions. Our children are our heart and soul -- when they might be in jeopardy we respond in a significant, but appropriate, way. I know Lainey still remembers the instance that I referred to and I am confident that she will not repeat that mistake again. The look on my face probably haunts her a bit... and I am okay with that. :)

    1. Thanks, Marsha! I was pretty sure I wasn't the only person who has reacted this way, but it sure is good to hear it from someone else.

  2. Don't be hard on yourself Suzi. You will find that even after you have warned your kids thousands of times, you will still need to keep reminding them and often. Even when you describe things to kids that young, the concept doesn't fully sink in. As parents every nightmare scenario constantly plays in our minds. Even with full and total trust of your children, the fear and worry will always be there. After I calm down in those situations, I always make sure my kid understands that my severe reaction comes from the deepest love possible. Hang in there!!

    1. Thanks, Meredith. You are right. We did talk about it calmly tonight and I do believe it sunk in and that they realized I was so angry because I was scared. It was probably good it happened the way it did. Harmless in the end, but a good reminder.

  3. For some reason Mothers can foresee crazy shit happening to our kids. Our minds work overtime. I freaking hate that!!But, bad things do happen! I would have probably done the same exact thing. And, yelled at the smoking guy..
    "What the hell are you looking at!"