Frustration is a dangerous thing. We feel thwarted. We feel unresolved. We feel inept. I imagine frustration is an emotion meant for us to launch more deeply into a place of power-- it's an emotion of predation. I imagine a frustrated predator will run down its prey with greater ferocity and intensity. (Gotta eat.) Except when you're a parent-- frustration can make us prey on our children. And if we're out of touch with our judgement, our children become our victims.
My brother screamed at his daughter this past new year's for no good reason. For that moment, he thought he had a reason, but when you look at it, it wasn't a reason that had anything to do with parenting his daughter. He'd been on the edge all weekend. And yet, for that moment, his authority and control were the only things important to him. Even above his compassion and wisdom. And yet, I don't know a parent who has not felt so out of control they took their frustration out on their children.
• I had a habit of falling and scaring my knees as a child. I was told by my mother not to play until my knee healed. But as my friends played dodge ball, their invitation to me was so intoxicating, I played, fell and reopened my wound. My mother screamed at me and slapped me, causing me to pee in my pants. She regretted it intensely and nothing like it ever happened again.
• I lost my temper at my daughter many, many years ago after she crossed a street without assistance. She was 5 years old. Her mean tempered teacher kept her after school knowing that she would miss her day care escort because she wanted to "teach her a lesson." My daughter became afraid I would not find her and ran to catch up with day care escort crossing the street against the light alone. I did not hear the whole story until after I screamed at my child so severely I made her cry, forced her to endure at least an hour of fear at the loss of my love. People tell me that it was because I was afraid for my daughter. But at the time, what I remember most was feeling embarassed and out of control. Feeling helpless and hating it. I was immediatly regretful and when I got over my shame, I hugged my daughter a long, long time hoping I could erase her pain with the heat of my heart. I believe even now, her image of horror is my angry face screaming at her, and her feeling nothing but helplessness and that special anxiety that befalls us when we have no choice but to endure being victimized. (Needless to say, I filed a complaint on the teacher, who clearly had frustration issues of her own.)
My brother put my niece through just that horror. When my family attempted to interfere, he uttered the chant of all parents who feel that abuse to be an entitlement "These are my children, and I won't be told how to deal with them." And there are parents who genuinely feel this way, not just in the heat of a moment of a loss of judgement or control. That's why we have Departments of Children and Families. It is our obligation to step in when an angry parent (or teacher or guardian) is NOT parenting, but are instead spilling their frustration onto the most helpless members of our community. My mother's calm and wisdom eventually prevailed and my brother talked things through with his daughter, but I can see by the hurt in my niece's eyes, that he wounded her deeply. Such wounds, if left untended, can fester and infect the soul. Maybe next time, we can talk about healing.