She looked at me with betrayal in her eyes – something she’d never shown me. Her bottom lip began to quiver.
I had just yelled at my daughter for the very first time. She was sixteen months old.
It was dinner time, and she was in her high chair. I was scrambling to get her fed and get myself ready to leave the house for an evening work function. My husband wasn’t home yet; I was running out of time and feeling the weight of trying to get everything done. Lucille generally eats everything I set in front of her, but not today. This evening was the one that she chose to be defiant, silly, and, frankly, a typical toddler. She systematically picked up every piece of her grilled cheese sandwich and dropped it over the side of her tray.
I lost it. I yelled.
My mother parented with fear. She controlled my younger brother and me through plenty of yelling, a healthy dose of guilt, and frequent implementation of corporal punishment. Long before I ever became pregnant with Lucille, I vowed I would not discipline my own children in the same manner. I would be progressive; I would talk to them so they could understand what they had done and why it was important to be respectful. And here I was, sixteen months into this parenting gig, doing the thing I’d silently promised to myself years ago that I’d never do.
Lucille’s quivering bottom lip gave way to big fat tears. In a fraction of a moment, I was awash with regret. I picked up my daughter and held her, and she cried into my shoulder. I cried with her, told her that mama was so sorry. I’m not even certain she understood what I was saying, but I hoped she could feel the penitence in my touch.
The women in my circle, the other mothers – my tribe, as I often refer to them – quickly assured me that I had not ruined my relationship with my daughter, and that she still loved me. They reminded me that my daughter would likely never remember this one isolated incident, and that it would serve as a teachable parenting moment, something I would remember the next time I was faced with a stressful situation. Children learn by repetition, and if I made it my mission to change the cycle of parenting from which I came, then it would be up to me to make a conscious effort not to yell, if that was, in fact, my goal.
As I drove away, late for my work function, I looked at the house and there she was, right in front of the big picture window. My daughter was smiling and waving at me. As if my heart could not bear anymore guilt, it nearly fell under the weight of my daughter’s clemency. Because I did not see her again until I picked her up from daycare the following day, it was not until that next afternoon that I sat her on my lap and explained my transgression. She looked at me, smiling, her blue-green eyes wide. I explained to Lucille that my emotions were too big in that moment and what I did was not right, I was sorry it made her sad, and that I loved her more than anything. She patted my shoulders with her cherubic hands and said, “mama,” over and over.
I know that in the grand schematic of parenthood, this won’t be the last time I make a decision that I regret. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but at the very least, I am aware – keenly aware – and reaffirmed of my goals as a parent. My daughter’s forgiveness healed me. It has allowed me to move forward, forgive myself, and even forgive my own mother. I understand now that she did the best that she could, just as I now walk in those shoes and put my best foot forward.
Guest post written by Ilene Marshall. Ilene spends her days attempting to open windows of wisdom as a high school English teacher, and her nights writing when she can, and photographing the smiles of others. She's married to a man she met on a blind date 15 years ago, and humbled daily, by her 19 month old, a little firecracker of a gal with kaleidoscope eyes. She blogs at These Marmalade Skies.
Photo by Morningstar Family Photography.