Even though my oldest is nearly four, I almost always still take our double stroller on outings because I need to have a restraint system on hand to manage both kids. He's getting too big but I'm using this strategy as long as possible so he doesn't get hit by a car or trip some poor elderly person on a walk. It was on one such outing with my husband and both kids that I threatened my child for the first time.
We had eaten dinner in the little downtown area of our new town and were all walking back to our car. Both kids were melting down and we were trying to wrap things up as quickly as possible. My husband took the baby over to the street side carseat and I started the process of getting our oldest into his seat on the sidewalk side. I went to lift him out of the stroller (its a rear-facing seat so this really is necessary) and as I picked him up I noticed that a) he was unusually heavy, and b) the entire stroller was lifting off the ground.
"LET GO OF THE STROLLER IMMEDIATELY!" I yelled.
"AHHHWAAAAMAAMAMAMAMAHAHAHWAHHHHH" he whine/screamed as he used his legs and arms to hang onto the stroller frame like a baby monkey clutching its mother for dear life.
"If you don't let me put you in your carseat daddy is going to come over here and do it and you won't like that very much!" I said in my best sinister evil mommy voice.
He immediately stops screaming.
Being the united front that we are, my husband chimed in from over the car roof: "Yes you don't want me to come over there and put you in your seat!"
Compliant and silent now, I lift my son into his seat and start buckling him in. I should have sensed danger, but I was tired.
"WHY will I be sorry if daddy puts me in my seat? Is daddy going to hurt me?" he asked calmly.
"Well, daddy wouldn't be as gentle as mommy. So you wouldn't like it as much." I explained.
"So, daddy would be so rough with me that it would hurt me? Is daddy going to punch me?"
"NO. Daddy isn't going to punch you."
HERE WE GO
"Then why did you say that? DAADDDDYYY! Are we going to have a punch fight? Mommy said you are going to hurt me." (Let me just clarify that my son was not in any way intimidated he just wanted to know if he needed to be prepared to physically fight his father.)
My husband and I lock eyes over the car and give each other a mutual look of exasperation and defeat.
This exchange continued all the way home. No matter what explanation we gave our son he understood the underlying physical threat of "you won't like it very much." And I couldn't really explain it away to his satisfaction because really, that IS what I meant. It's like in that moment my lizard brain took over and I invoked the scary daddy archetype that is outdated and in our case, not true.
If we spanked or in any way physically punished our children this might make a little more sense. But the threat, without any context for a three-year-old, made absolutely no sense and he called us on it. He wasn't scared or upset, just genuinely confused and also possibly excited about the potential chance to show off his punching skills.
Much of my mom guilt is defined by these on-the-fly parenting moments that upon further reflection aren't aligned with my child-rearing strategy (read: try not to fuck up the kids TOO much). Unfortunately, a lot of the parenting decisions we all make come on the heels of a shitty night's sleep, or a particularly scream-filled breakfast, or following an epic argument with a loved one. Even on the best days, we've all been doing this parenting thing nonstop, with no real break, day and night for YEARS. We don't get to always be our best self for our kids. We are dealing in seconds, not minutes or hours that allow for analysis and self-reflection (ahead of time, there will be plenty of that later).
We might not be making the same mistakes our own parents made, but we sure as hell are making some new ones that won't become clear until its too late. And that's okay. Seriously. Trust me, I have a BLOG! I'm basically an expert! Did you yell at your kid this morning for trying to put their penis in an electrical socket? They are fine. They probably already forgot about it. You should too.