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That Time I Almost Hit My Daughter

Yesterday was the closest I've ever come to hitting one of my kids.

It was 6 p.m. We were leaving my son's Tae Kwon Do class to head home for dinner. I was tired after 12 hours of parenting, and I was hungry.

My 6-year-old son had already buckled himself into his booster seat when I reached for the straps of my 3.5-year-old's seat. Instead of allowing me to secure her, she stared into my eyes and raised her arms above her head.

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"It's time to go home and see Daddy," I said, smiling.

Her arms stayed raised.

"Do you want your crackers? I'll give them to you as soon as we get you buckled in," I promised, as food bribes are generally highly effective with her.

My daughter has been easygoing since birth. But since turning 3.5, nothing is predictable anymore. She's suffering from sudden outbursts of insanity that I'm sure are developmentally appropriate, but are outrageously annoying and inopportune.

I waved the cup of crackers in front of her, attempting to make them look alluring. She continued her staredown, her arms still folded above her head.

"Please, Sweetie. We need to go home. Your brother's already buckled in. It's time."

"Yeah, come on. I want to go home," my son piped in.

"Let me help you," I said, attempting to maneuver her arms into the straps of her carseat.

"NOOOOOO!" she shrieked.

"What do you need? Can you please use your words to tell me?" My voice crept louder.

She said nothing, but her jaw was set stubbornly.

"Come on! It's time to go!" I stared around the parking lot, wondering if anyone else was witness to my rising voice and temper. I reached for one of her arms.

"Rahhhh!" she screamed like a wounded dinosaur.

"This doesn't need to be so hard! Come on!"

She smirked.

What would happen if I reminded myself to let go and float instead of enter a battle of will with my kids?

I again tried to force her arms into the shoulder straps, and she shrieked louder. I raised my voice and pressed my face close to hers, taking in the sheer will that glowed in her eyes. My son, hungry and tired after a busy day, began to cry in the backseat.

"I feel like we're never going to get home!" he wept.

"I promise you we'll get home," I said, taming my voice into a soothing tone.

"Put your arms in NOW. Your brother is sad!" I said, returning to my daughter.

"NOOOOOO!!!" she replied. Sparks of anger exploded through my body, and my son continued to cry from frustration. I looked around as if someone could help me. Coming up short, I again attempted to wrestle her arms in. She dino-roared again, her elbows bent stiffly overhead. There's something about a child refusing to get in a carseat that pushes all my buttons—perhaps because it leaves me feeling so helpless and un-adult.

For a moment, I was overcome with the urge to slap her.

Parenting is the hardest, most complex job I've ever had. Sometimes it sucks me dry and other times it fills me with a thick stream of velvety love. But I can count on one hand the number of times I've seriously wanted to hurt one of my kids.

I stared into my daughter's eyes again, my face clenched with anger and disappointment. Again, I saw the willfulness in her eyes, but also something else beneath it: a tiny pool of fear.

Against every urge in my body, I picked my daughter up from her car seat and squeezed her to my chest. Her little body collapsed against my shoulders, her arms wound around my neck. I'd be lying if I said the anger was immediately sopped up by my love for her.

Instead, I felt both love and frustration simultaneously.

"I'm sorry that we're having such a hard time," I said to her in voice as tender as I could muster. "I'm going to put you back in your seat now, and we're going to buckle you in and head home." She didn't reply, and I realized I was completely winging it, and we could be bracing for a rematch.

But the moment I set her back into her seat, her body relaxed, as if some reset button deep inside her had been pressed. I buckled her in and we drove home.

Sometimes, parenting is like a Chinese finger trap. The more I struggled against my daughter, the more she struggled back, leaving us taut and trapped. But when I did the most counterintuitive thing I could think of—when I picked her up and offered her love when I was fuming—she softened and released.

We both did.

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I don't know how often this accidental technique will work for me, but it made me think. What would happen if I reminded myself to let go and float instead of enter a battle of will with my kids? Or with my husband? What if I started questioning my emotional reactivity and tried something totally different?

How often might love and softness win?

I'll let you know how it goes.

Photo via Twenty20/Ivan Law

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