I’m no saint. I yell at my kids sometimes. I wish I didn’t, but sometimes the insane demands of three young girls – a feisty five-year-old and two tantrumy two-year-olds – are all too much.
When the girls were young, it was even harder
I’ve made some serious efforts to reduce my yelling. I’ve read a ton of parenting articles and books to learn alternative disciplinary techniques. I meditate and run regularly to help me stay zen. I try very hard to become a better and calmer parent every single day. But I still lose my cool and shout sometimes.
One day when my eldest was three and my twins were one, I took them to my local park for a play. I hadn’t gotten more than a couple of hours of unbroken sleep since the twins were born and my brain was in a constant fog. Some days, I worried that it wasn’t safe for me to drive due to my level of exhaustion.
This was one of those days, so I decided that pushing the girls to the park in the double pram was the best idea. My big girl, Arabella, has always been very spirited and she was on fire that day. She kept defying me over the smallest things. I tried to stay calm, but I could feel my patience wearing thinner by the minute.
When she picked up a piece of rubbish that I’d repeatedly asked her not to touch and immediately started complaining about the sticky mess all over her hands, I finally cracked. “We are going home!” I bellowed. “You keep defying me and I won’t have it! This is not on! Your behaviour is unacceptable!”
My voice echoed across the park and I realised I should calm down. I took some deep breaths and packed the twins into the pram. Arabella walked sheepishly beside me as I silently fumed.
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That’s when I saw them
I looked up to see three police officers walking across the empty car park. Still stuck in my anger bubble, I kept walking because I never for one second imagined that they were coming to speak to me.
“Excuse me,” growled one of the two female officers while the male officer stood further back. “Yes?” I answered in surprise.
“We heard you yelling at your child and it was very loud,” the officer I quickly dubbed Bad Cop said aggressively. “Can you please explain what happened.”
“Uhhhh …” I was in such a state of shock at this woman’s hostile approach that I couldn’t even formulate a coherent sentence. She glanced at the twins who were sitting quietly in their pram, and then at Arabella who was staring off into space in a state of ignorant bliss.
“I, um, my daughter has been very defiant this morning and I’ve been so tired that I lost my cool. You know when they just push your buttons?” Bad Cop eyed me suspiciously and repeated, “Push your BUTTONS?” in a disgusted tone. She was making me feel like a criminal and I could feel my face turning red.
Bad Cop proceeded to pull a notebook and pen out of her jacket pocket. She asked me for my full name, address, phone number, and the names and ages of my children. I’m not usually one to panic, but I suddenly felt like I was going to hyperventilate and I could barely answer her questions.
I kept putting my hands on my head and saying, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this, I love my children, please …” The worst possible scenarios were going through my head. She was going to report me and I would lose my kids …
After I’d answered all her questions, I mustered the courage to ask her, “Do you have children?” She said no. That’s when I saw the other female officer take a step towards me. She said, “I’m a mum and I know it can be hard sometimes. We see how freaked out you are. Don’t panic – just try to keep it down next time, OK?”
As they walked off, I burst into tears and started shaking from head to toe. I could hardly believe what had just happened.
It took me months to recover
I immediately called my husband and he was furious. “They should have approached you and asked if you were OK first,” he fumed. “They should have offered you help instead of treating you like a criminal.” He immediately called the police station and asked to talk to Bad Cop. He didn’t manage to speak to her because she’d just gone on leave for two weeks, but he left a report of our version of the incident.
Despite the support of my husband and a few close friends I dared to share the story with, I was traumatised. I felt like the worst mum in the world. “What kind of mother gets stopped by the cops?” I berated myself daily.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been treated unfairly. I’ve never smacked my children because I don’t believe in it, but it isn’t illegal to do so in Queensland. Yet I’d been stopped for yelling. Not abusive shouting – just yelling.
It took me months to stop feeling those soul-destroying waves of guilt wash over me whenever I recalled the incident. I didn’t go back to that park for six months.
Now that almost two years have passed, I’m able to laugh it off. I heard that the police had been cracking down on family violence in our area at the time, so maybe I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the very least, I know now that I’m not a horrible mother. I love my kids with all my heart and I’m just doing my best every day.