We all think we've got sweet kids, right?
Okay, so maybe if you don't actually think your kid is super sweet, maybe you just know they've got a kind heart underneath all that sass/grumpiness/eye rolling.
Trust me, I know. I've got sweet kids. I've got sweet, beautiful kids who care about baby animals and other people's feelings and… you know what?
None of that seems to matter when one of them accidentally headbutts you in the face.
Maybe you're having a beautiful moment, reading together on the couch. Maybe you've hit the snooze an extra time just to snag another five minutes of snuggles. Maybe your kid has just composed and sung a song entitled "Mom Is the Most Awesome."
It just doesn't matter.
It's not their fault, of course. They were in an uncomfortable position and needed to move a little bit, or they read something funny and threw their head back in laughter. Bottom line: it was an accident.
The problem is that, when you go from a state of sentimental relaxation to a sudden state of blinding pain, mild nausea, and a ringing in your ears, it's hard to remember what "accident" even means.
So, what do you do? Me? I yelp in pain. I say, "Dude! That really HURT!"
And as the small, quivering face turns to you, those eyes glassy with shock from hearing what sounds like a dying pterodactyl shrieking behind them, it begins.
The Mom Guilt.
For me, it comes in stages. The stages are inevitable, and they are ruthless.
STAGE 1: INWARD HORROR
Your baby. The one who's been by your side for the past few years of your life, showing you love and devotion and making you heartfelt pictures of scribbles in various colors. You have just yelled "DUDE" at him as though he were a rude surfer guy from an early 90s beach movie. What is wrong with you? Why are you such a monster?
STAGE 2: RIGHTEOUS SELF-REASSURANCE
Do you know how hard a skull is? Do you know how not-hard a nose is? When a skull slams a nose the skull wins. Every time. So, are you a superhero whose special power is responding to unexpected, dramatic physical pain with a calm, reassuring mantra? No. You are a human with nerve cells, and that hurt. You yelped, you yelled, it wasn't pretty, and no, you're not a monster. You just need to make some…
STAGE 3: APOLOGIES
"Hey, buddy. Yikes, man. That really hurt. I'm sorry I yelled like that, but, whoah, that really, really hurt. I'll try really hard not to yell if that happens again, and I know it was an accident, but can you maybe try to be a little more aware of what’s around you?"
(No, he's a little kid, he probably has no idea what that means. But it still makes you feel like you're using this as a "teaching moment.")
"Sure, mommy. I'm sorry!" (Cue the bright-eyed, hopeful face of a kid who headbutted his mom's face and isn't in trouble.)
STAGE 4: GUILT-RIDDEN CONTEMPLATION...FOR THE NEXT WEEK AND A HALF
No, you're not a monster. (Okay yeah, so maybe you're kind of a monster.)
Oh, stop it. You're doing the best you can! (The best you can when you're a total monster.)
Why can't you find more constructive ways to react to pain? (Wait, what? What does that even mean?)
Next time, try counting to ten! (How can I do that when I've temporarily had the ability to count knocked out of my brain?)
REPEAT OVER AND OVER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
The older the kids get, the headbutting chances might (hopefully) decrease, but the opportunities to lose your cool and raise your voice definitely won't. As much as I'd like to end this post by saying I've figured out the secret to staying calm no matter the odds… that's just not true.
I don't think I ever will. I mean, I'll work on it, but I'm not expecting perfection.
I think the key, though, is Stage 2. I'm going to do my best to keep apologizing, and keep showing my kids that everyone makes mistakes, and that you've got to atone for those mistakes, even if your only option is a simple, honest apology.
(The pterodactyl scream, though? I'm going to have to figure out how to make that stop.)