Time Out

We’ve had a week of big emotions. A lot of anger and tantrums from the pint-sized population.

And I’m trying out something new.

Every time one of the kids freaks out, I’m calm. I offer words and solutions. That’s old hat. But when one or both refuses to listen to gentle reminders that “we don’t hit mommy,” or “use your words, please, so I know what you want,” I lock myself in the bathroom.

It’s not an ideal technique, I’ll grant you. I’m sure it’s not a Dr.-Sears-endorsed way of coping. But I’ve totally regressed in this week of absolute chaos. And I have such a raging temper that, if I stay and try to reason with the inherently unreasonable, I eventually lose it.

I’ve always liked locking doors. As a kid, we had one room that locked: the bathroom. My brother and I would fight, and when it got nasty I’d run straight for the bathroom. Lock. Space, relief, and relative safety.

Even in corporate life, when my stress levels rose, I’d head for the bathroom. Big mirrors, granite counters, brass rails, and locking doors all spell deep breaths and rapid recovery. Personal space brought to you courtesy of American shyness about excretion.

So I’m trying the retreat-to-the-loo technique here. To keep the peace. To show the boys that I will not tolerate being abused. To offer a game changer and a reset button. To cue a new round of, “it sounds as though you’re angry. Would you like a cuddle?”

Yesterday Butter and I came home for lunch. He said he didn’t want to eat. I told him okay, but that I wanted leftover stirfry. So I scooped and reheated. And he screamed and raged and tried to knock the bowl out of my hand. I explained it was just for Mommy. He freaked. I offered some, in case he though I was keeping it from him. He took a swing at me. I offered him his own bowl; I offered yogurt; I offered to go outside with him; I offered to let him choose.

He screamed and hit me.

So I said, “I can’t stay here if you hit.” And I walked downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. Childish and ridiculous. But I got to shovel a few bites my broccoli into my empty body all by myself. Without being hit. An unusually productive meal, actually.

When I came out one minute later, I offered to cuddle him. He took me up on it. Calm, cuddly, and full belly?

Bathroom for the win.

Peanut came home from school later the same day in a foul, foul mood. As the minutes clicked away, he yelled at me, he called me names, he pushed me. I explained each time that I absolutely would not stand for that behavior and that feeling grouchy is fine but spewing anger on other people is not. I offered him some options, including the game of taking his own grouchy face off, crumpling it up, and putting it in his pocket so the sweet Peanut inside could cuddle and read books. He screamed at me. So I went downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom.

You may remember that, when the now 6-year-old Peanut was small, I made the mistake of staying in the room as tempers escalated. My belief that I couldn’t leave him when he was troubled, no matter how violent he got, was not good for my blood pressure. Or emotional well being. Or our relationship.

So this week I leave. I explain briefly that I will not stay for screaming and hitting, and I go. They hate it. They cry and beg me to come out. And that goes against every bit of my “follow your instincts and do what is kind” parenting.

But I totally love the door between us. Admitting my relief at abandoning my tantruming children might get my attachment parenting card taken away, but I don’t care anymore. Locking myself in the bathroom means my temper stays in check and I can reset my energy back to where it needs to be when dealing with insane raging lunatics.

Hiding behind a locked door means not teaching them that people will stay when they’re being terrible. I have always wanted them to believe that I’m a safe person with whom to lose it, but, increasingly, I reject that idea. You may *start* to lose it with me until you lose it *at* me. You may rage and writhe. But you may not hit me. I can help you find words and solutions. I can let you know you’re loved while and when you’re done being angry.

But I will not stand still and be an inflatable Bozo for your punching needs.

So excuse me. I have to go stash some magazines in the bathroom. I think I’m going to be in there a lot.

42 thoughts on “Time Out

  1. Good for you. And exactly what we have been doing in our house. I refuse to be abused by my children. The hitting, pinching and kicking is unacceptable so we walk away and tell them to come talk when they are ready to be civil. Including the 21 month old…who absolutely gets it. If I don’t value and respect myself enough to not allow abusive behavior, what am I teaching them? Brava. Put some gin and tonic in that bathroom while your at it. I hear you can get it at your local Trader Joes.

    • You’re a freaking genius. I’m going to put peanut butter cups, wine, and magazines in there.

      But what if I never come out?

        • Their abuse of me, I mean. Hiding in the bathroom for a minute is not abusing them. It’s a coward move, but it’s not abuse.

        • I disagree. Not cowardly. Shows strength. It’s hard as hell to walk away from our babies instead of intervene and see there assholeishness through to the other side. I am a Dr. Sears girl myself. His ideas are brilliant, but not for all and not all of them work. In our house we use a mish mosh of expert parenting styles. And as you know, my children are perfect so our special cocktail is working magically. Enjoy your cocktail.

        • I don’t mean walking away and taking a timeout is cowardly. The locking myself in the bathroom bit is.

          But as a splash of hot sauce in our stew of approaches and techniques goes, I’m giving it a try.

  2. Naptime writing for the win! This is so good. I love how you talk about the shit that goes down that is so awful and lonely. I am not gonna be coherent here but I like how you tell the truth. I can’t count the number of times I went to the bathroom to cry or pump or rage or vomit during work. And being a moms work so see you in the bathroom.

    • There should be a twitter hashtag so we can vent while locked in the bathroom avoiding the banshees outside.

  3. I’m with my husband at a medical conference in Vegas right now and we have a bathroom with a HEATED TOILET SEAT. I am never leaving this bathroom, ever. You need to get one. It will make your bathroom sojourns that much more comfortable. xoxo

    • I left Boston because I couldn’t take another cold toilet seat.

      I don’t know if I can stand Vegas, but if I can stay in the bathroom the whole time, maybe….

        • Seriously, what is up with Bostonians complaining all (long) winter but then saying “I could never leave” when you propose they *do* something about it?

  4. Walking away from my children when they are “fit-ting” has been amazing. And my kids are 10, 8 and 7. They don’t hit me; but they yell and scream and you know what? It’s not in my job description to take it. And I don’t believe letting them work it out through anger at me is going to help them any later in life. It’ll just teach them to rail against their partners to fix their emotional needs.

    • Jay, I agree. Yelling that they’re mad and need help is fine and people who love them less than I do will honor it. Yelling at people and calling them names because they’re mad is not okay. So knock it off, children.

    • I used to walk away to take a breath. But they’d follow me.

      Upped the blood pressure.

      Don’t know that I stand behind the technique enough to feel good that you’re going to try it, but I like the sound of you with a lower stress level.

      Good luck!

    • So glad. Never occurred to me that we have the…well, *right*…to walk away.

      Teaches them to get space, to breathe.

      Gives them the power to walk away.

      All sounds good to me.

      (Sorry about the broken door. Makes showers nicer, I recently found out.)

  5. Removing yourself from the situation so that you can calm yourself down is completely reasonable. And, you’re only taking a minute. When my oldest went through a terrible tantrum throwing stage, he would lay outside my bedroom door and kick it while I was trying to get enough deep breaths to calm myself down. I needed more than a minute to get myself together for some of those. I think you are modeling wonderful strategies for how to deal with their anger and frustration more appropriately AND showing them that it is okay to walk away when someone is violating their personal space and physically hurting them. Stashing treats in the bathroom is genius, by the way.

    • Thanks, Rita.

      The more I’m hearing from people what this teaches—if you’re being assaulted, get some space and take some time to breathe—the better I’m feeling about it.

      I implore you to stash treats and reading material in there. Or “Mommy Mantras” one of my favorite quick respite reads. Chocolate and words, Rita. Chocolate and words.

  6. Wow, does that scene with your youngest sound familiar. Nothing amps up my own rage more than the,”Don’t WANT Mommy to eat!” screams from my oldest when he refuses to eat himself. Of course, hunger doesn’t help my patience levels to begin with.

    I did one time lock him out of the kitchen where my husband and I were trying to eat dinner and he was staging an epic screaming fit. He broke down sobbing outside the door. It was so piteous I haven’t done it since, but it did stop the fit.

    • That’s what kills me about leaving the room…makes them both feeling abandoned and helpless. So sad to come out ten seconds into the process with one just sobbing and asking for a hug. Makes me know why this technique is never going to work for me.

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  8. Love this–I have totally eaten lunch in a safe place–in my case at my desk in my room with the door closed while the psychos tantrumed in their own rooms. Time outs and restored blood sugar for all! Or at least for me!

  9. I should’ve tried this when my boys were teenagers. Except we have an old house where the locks don’t seem to work. And I would’ve needed to lock myself and the car keys in the bathroom.

    Then again, I could’ve taken the car keys (and the car) and driven somewhere else. Just not Boston. Maybe Vegas???

    • Ugh with the having to take things with you. If I stay in there more than a minute or two I have to bring in the sharp objects, because little guy sees my absence as a rule holiday. “Mom’s gone! Where are the knives?”

      The very thought of teenagers makes me curl into a ball and whimper. I have to start feeding them all manner of hormone disruptors now so they never hit that age. “Come here, guys. Drink from this BPA-lined can…”

  10. maybe you can put them in their room so you can roam about the house. why should you have to be the lockee? i do understand, though, the comfort of having a lock.

    why, why do children hit their parents? i do not recall ever having done that to my parents. i have recently chased a daughter into her room from her hitting me, trying to appear big and loud and scary.

    what the hell?

    • I get the little guy doing it. He doesn’t have words and is trying things out. The big guy has no good excuse. The day he lot it, yelled, then hit me after I said “No,” it turns out he’d had a really tough day at school.

      No excuse.

      But then, I have no excuse for sometimes yelling at them to get them to stop bashing each other, so…

    • The big one has always followed me, keening, when upset. When I say I need a timeout, he wants to drape himself on me and plead his case between sobs. Makes me want to harm him. So I need the lock.

  11. It sounds like you ARE “a safe person with whom to lose it”, because you know when YOU’RE about to lose it, which would not be safe. Locking yourself in the bathroom is a lot better than hitting back. Or locking them in the bathroom. Good for you. :-)

  12. Oh, how I remember going out to the van and locking myself in. They’d pound and I’d close my eyes. They’d eventually stop, but how I remember the 20 mins until they did feeling like a jackhammer’s worth of an hour.

    Writing is our therapy, isn’t it?

    It is for me.


    The virtual styrofoam coffee cup meeting on folding metal chairs in a church basement.

    • I think our virtual meeting needs espresso. And Boston cream pie. Folding chairs and church basement is fine. Because it’s just all of us and we all talk and eat without caring much about sitting logistics.

      Car hiding spot is genius. Already have snacks and reading material in there…

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  15. I think that if this keeps you calm, why not? Kids need to know that mom will always be there, but also what is a loving way to treat each other. I hope you have a good stack of magazines I. There!

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