I have a confession to make. I told my teenage daughter to “shut the fuck up.” I think I’ve said it to her twice, actually, under similar circumstances. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m going to be honest and come clean – right here, right now.
I never intended to say it. I don’t like swearing in general, and definitely not in front of, or at my kids. But I’ve done it, even though it’s not really my style.
Why? Because there have been times where my daughter, Megan, who’s my third child, now 18, has pushed enough of my buttons, and things have gotten heated, and I’ve been unable to walk away or otherwise disengage from her.
Both times were at night. The last one, when she was 15, was at 10 o’clock at night to be exact. My husband was out of town and it was a Friday. I’m usually wiped out on Fridays – all day long. But even though I needed sleep and should’ve been in bed at this time, I was enjoying a few stolen moments of having full possession of the TV remote. I was staying up late to watch a movie. Admittedly, not the best self-care.
This is when my daughter came bounding down the basement stairs. Having found me, she asked – although I experienced it as more of a demand – that I allow her to go to her friend’s house to sleep over. That night.
She had everything arranged. The friend’s parent – whom I had never met – could be at our house in 15 minutes to pick her up. She was packed and ready to go. All she needed was my okay.
Which I didn’t give to her. Rather, to her intense surprise, I said, “No.” To her going over to someone’s house at 10:00 at night. To not wanting to get to know the parents at 10:00 at night. To her very forceful way of trying to get her way: by raising her voice, arguing with and trying to bully me.
Which is how it all felt to me in that moment. Which is why I said, “No.”
This is quite possibly the one little word Megan most detests in life. “No” deprives her, and she hates to be deprived. And I get it. Which is usually why I say something along the lines of, “I hear you want to get together with Jenna for a sleepover. That’s fine, but it doesn’t work for tonight. So let’s set something up for tomorrow or another night.”
I’ve learned to say “yes, later” when I also say “no, not right now.”
But Megan wouldn’t let it drop. She turned into a ravenous dog going after a piece of meat. She was ready to fight me. So she blasted me with everything she had.
She wouldn’t accept my firm and repeated “no’s.” She demanded explanations and answers and didn’t I know how unreasonable I was being? She had set EVERYTHING up and – why wouldn’t I just let her GO?!
Finally, I just couldn’t take it. I felt like I couldn’t get away from her or make her stop. I felt bombarded by a lot of strong energy from her, heading my way.
It took me back to moments in my youth, dealing with my mother – another person in my life with this same sort of “approach.” My mother can also be loud and demanding and rude and insistent on getting her own way, and she doesn’t hesitate to steamroll another if necessary (although she’s mellowed as she’s gotten older).
Being tired in this situation with Meg was probably the key reason I dropped the f-bomb. If I’d exercised better self-care, and was not so tired, perhaps I would’ve handled it better or at least differently. But the situation was as it was, and as a friend pointed out – an attempt at self-defense. I wanted to get away from her, to stop the bombardment, to get her to leave me alone and to, well, shut the fuck up.
In the morning, after I cooled down and reflected on this latest dramatic occurrence in our relationship, I apologized sincerely to her for using that kind of language. I told her I didn’t mean to lose my temper, and that I could’ve responded in a better way.
Then I shared with her what was going on for me when we were interacting. I told her that it didn’t help either of us for her to approach me this way. I asked her to please try to find another way – one that doesn’t remind me so much of my mother.
Luckily, she heard me. She didn’t realize how I experience her when she raises her voice and comes at me in her (sometimes) forceful way. So something good came out of it.
I listened, too, and I affirmed that I understand she needs to be with her friends, and how important that is to her. Megan knows I love her, and gets that I slipped and “got mean” (her words).
I think she also understood that we both have to work with ourselves and on our relationship to make it better. I told her that my part is to notice when I’m about at the end of my rope, and to recognize that I need to disengage – rather than lose my temper – in any future situations like this one.
Hopefully she’s forgiven me by now, three years later, and I’ve finally forgiven myself.
Because even “good enough” mothers sometimes do slip and tell their kids to “shut the fuck up.”