What My Kids Will Learn When My Illness Makes Me Lose My Temper
I slammed the microwave door shut and headed for my room with my breakfast. I had the baby, but I left three nervous looking children behind me. I was so mad, but more than that I was heartbroken. “They are just children, Jessica. They are just being kids,” I scolded myself. I had yelled at them.
I felt like each of them had been pushing my buttons since my eyes had opened that morning. Really, though, they weren’t being too different than usual. Maybe a little extra crabbiness from the late night (and too much sugar) we had entertaining dinner guests the night before, but they were just doing the usual sibling bickering that happens in a family of four children under 8 years old. It wasn’t them; it was me. The minute I woke up, I knew it would be a rough day.
For a few weeks now, I’ve been having more pain than usual. Maybe it’s a Hashimoto’s flare or blood flow issues because of my POTS. Maybe it’s the fibromyalgia. It’s definitely my subluxations in my neck, ribs, and collar bone. We had stayed up too late. The baby is sick and woke up more times than usual. I’m tired (in that I-have-chronic-illness-fatigue way); I’m hurting; and I’m home alone with four kids every day. Sometimes it feels like I’m finished before I even start the day. Dealing with chronic pain and fatigue take up so much bandwidth- physically and emotionally.
Kids need a lot of grace. They are precious, maddening works in progress. They need acceptance, love, and reassurance from me even if I feel like they have just hurt, offended or irritated me. Some days it feels impossible. All I want is to have someone come take care of me, but instead I’m in charge of taking care of them. And I desperately long to do a great job! I love my children passionately. They are incredible, unique, beautiful people, and I feel privileged to have the essential role in their lives that I hold. But, there they were, sitting quietly in the living room, while I sat angrily, sadly in my room after yelling at them.
My 8-year-old son came in and delivered a sippy cup of water to the baby. After leaving he returned again with one of my giant, signature Ball jars filled to the brim with water. These were his offerings of love and apology. He knows I need to drink a ton of water as treatment for my POTS. He was obviously looking for ways to help and to show me that they do care about someone other than themselves, especially me, their mommy. My heart softened towards them all, and I realized that it wasn’t their behavior that had put me over the edge; it was my illness. I am not responsible for being sick, and they definitely aren’t either. I called them all into my room and apologized for throwing a fit. I explained how just like they get overwhelmed and behave badly, sometimes Mommy does, too. We exchanged hugs and assurances of love.
I still felt exhausted, overwhelmed, and afraid of the rest of the day. I worried about what damage I would do over time to my sweet (though sometimes naughty!) children by having such a short fuse on my sick days. But, this very important thought came to me: I can teach them how to make things right. I cannot keep things from going wrong, but I can give them tools for how to manage when they do. I can teach them to ask for help and how to apologize. What wonderful tools for a loving life! I immediately emailed my closest friends to pray for us and encourage me. Then I tried to change my expectations for the day. This couldn’t be a day of healthy mom style parenting. I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. I probably would not rally, but I could love my kids. I could find ways to play with them and refill their “love tanks,” as we say around here. And, I sure as heck could apologize as many times as I needed to.
My oldest son came to me and said, “I’m sorry we stressed you out.” I pulled him down to sit next to me and said, “Baby, you never have to apologize for that. My stress is not your responsibility. You can and should apologize for groaning about doing your handwriting practice. You should apologize for yelling at your sister. Those things are your responsibility. We are each responsible for our own behavior and reactions. I threw that fit because I lost control. I am stressed out because it’s a hard day, and I don’t feel well. Sure, I felt like your behavior made it harder, but my fit was my responsibility.”
Oh, how I hope he and all my children can learn that vital lesson! It’s so important, and if I hadn’t had a moment of weakness, it might not have come up. My illness keeps me honest in front of my children. There is no perfection, but my greatest hope is that there will be lots of love, grace and forgiveness.