Toxic Environment Triggers Meltdown


Last night culminated in a moment that I am less than proud to have made the family experience. Personal anger and frustration reached and exceeded my capacity to deal with resulting in me snapping and triggering a meltdown with all three of my children.

First, before going into this more I feel that I need to give a bit of background. I was assigned to an already existing learning team when I came back on campus for my Business Law class as I was temporarily assigned to this cohort before transitioning from the Hillsboro campus to the Tigard campus. Not an unexpected thing, and something that I have dealt with easily in the past. However, this learning team is extremely different from any other that I have ever had to deal with in my three years at University of Phoenix.

Right from the very beginning I was made to feel like an outsider. Following is a list of problem points for me that have led to high levels of frustration.

  • Team Charter: When I asked about a Team Charter, which is standard for learning teams, I was told not to worry about it as they would enter my information for me. At no point was I ever given the opportunity to provide my information, even when I directly asked to do so.
  • Team Meetings: In the past all of my teams have felt little to no need to meet in person, typically only doing so if there was a presentation, and that was simply prior to class to work out the bugs. Everything else we did by phone, email or the message board provided by the school. This team is dramatically different, and was less than flexible, requiring mandatory team meetings every week, and when it came to accommodating my needs as a stay-at-home father with three small children I was advised that since I could not meet with them in person they would call me so that I could participate. Never mind that their chosen time for meeting was right when I need to make dinner for the family, and no, they were not willing to change the time.
  • Team Papers: I expected this point to be easier to deal with. After all, everyone takes a part, writes it, and somebody does the final edit and compile. Simple, right? Not so with this team. Yes, there was a person who did the final compilation, but nobody seemed to feel it was necessary to write intro or conclusion paragraphs, nor do any editing to pull the different contributions together into one document. In the past I have always fulfilled this role, and have done my fair share of editing to bring team contributions up to par, but when I offered to do so for this team I was told that my contributions were not necessary, and was basically told to bugger off.
  • Team Communication: The school encourages the use of the Learning Team Forums (i.e. class message boards) for all students, and most make use of them to varying degrees. This team apparently felt that it was only a place where others could steal ideas from them and abhorred the use of the boards. Everything that they did was via email or face-to-face communication. I was even told that I was not allowed to post anything about team assignments to the boards. When I asked for a copy of the Team Charter it was posted to the forum, but under a subject line that bore no relation to the request. It was if they were deliberately trying to hide even this most basic document.
  • Team Leadership: This point proved to be the one that really got under my skin. The person who was leading the team was extremely abrasive, or at least that is how she came across to me. Her attitude toward me was basically her way or nothing else. On more than one occasion when I voiced a request to change things I was advised by her that if this was not working for me then perhaps I should switch to the online class format as this clearly wasn’t for me. When I showed some of the email exchanges where this came up to my Academic Advisor he was astonished at her temerity.

So, last week I was unable to make the team meeting, and I sent an email to the team to apologize for not being available. The response I received was brusque and I was once more advised that this was mandatory, and that I had better be available for the next meeting. There was a lot of implied threat in the message, and I was once more advised by the leader that I should consider changing program types since I obviously couldn’t meet the requirements of being on-campus.

Rather than forcing a confrontation over all of this I simply bit my tongue and elected to go into turtle mode and try to hunker down and get through the next few weeks. I got my paper portion turned in, fully edited, and with gleaming marks from the automated edit review tool provided by the school long before seeing anything from anyone else on the team. The response was a laundry list of changes that the leader felt were necessary. I didn’t argue, and made the requested changes, still staying in turtle mode. Then came the time for the team meeting. As we have limited connectivity in our home I made sure that I was in an area where I would have a reliable signal, and made myself available ten minutes prior to the start time for the meeting (5:30 pm). By the time the clock reached 6:00 pm I still hadn’t heard anything so I sent out an email to the team asking if the team was actually meeting. Time continued to march past, and at 6:30 I sent out an email advising that I was stepping away from my computer and my phone, and that I would not be available until after the kids went to bed. Only then did I receive an email from the team leader advising that they didn’t anticipate a need to call me as my portion of the team paper was satisfactory. So, basically, only after I wasted 70 minutes of my time did I get any feedback from my team to tell me that they didn’t feel a need to call me, and this after being told in no uncertain terms that I was required to be available for this meeting.

Needless to say, the low level frustration that I had been feeling throughout the day, that had been steadily climbing the more I thought about the team and the more I interacted with the leader via email really spiked upon receiving that email. So, at this point I was right there at the breaking point with my anger and frustration. Any little thing would set me off, and recognizing this I was working hard to try to calm myself and get rid of that frustration. Then we sat down to dinner, and the kids were just being kids and made a mess while eating. I blew right past that breaking point without even stopping to look at it as I went past when this happened and I started yelling at the kids. Nothing out of the ordinary from them, and something that I really had anticipated, but my temper shook off the leash and I started to come unglued on them.

Roll the clock forward a few hours and we are doing our normal bedtime routine, sitting on the couch watching a show before bedtime. Most times the kids will fall asleep during this phase and we just shift them to bed. Rowan was asleep, and the twins were extremely close to that point themselves when the show finished and the credits started to roll. At that point Tiernan decided that he needed to dance to the music and got loud in the process. That pulled Caulla out of her daze and she started dancing with him, and that got them both wound up. End result was Tiernan getting super bouncy and his energy woke up Rowan. The temper that I thought I had under control erupted again, and rather than yelling at the children I simply snatched Tiernan up and headed to their room, determined that I was going to lay with him and force him to stop and go to sleep. Irrational and with no real chance of success, but I was on a mission and reason was not going to stop me. This act, and Tiernan’s screaming from it triggered a meltdown in the other two, and left me lying on his bed by myself wondering what had happened to me.

Sarah identified that this team was generating toxic results in me after the first time I encountered them, and as a result I have tried really hard to not let the emotions that I feel about all of this to influence my interactions with the family. Obviously I have been less than successful about it. Fortunately this was the last team assignment for this class, and while I still have two classroom sessions there is really no reason for me to interact with them further. Hopefully this will make the next two weeks easier for me, but somehow I have my doubts about this assumption.

So, last night presented a sterling example of an epic fail on my part as a father. I tried to keep myself under control, but I seemed to have no control at all. Today…I am going to treat myself to a long walk with my pipe when I go out to pick up my prescription from the store. I need some time away from everyone to try to find my focus again, and to try to get to a point where I am not right at the snapping point with the children.

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2 Comments

Filed under Children, Fatherhood, School

2 responses to “Toxic Environment Triggers Meltdown

  1. Sarah

    Let’s also not forget the other stresses going on right now:

    1) You are starting a new job on Monday.

    2) You are being responsible for everything in the house since I have hurt myself yet again. I wasn’t even a month of being re-cooperated from my back that I am now down and out again.

    3) You are not getting much sleep since you aren’t coming to bed till 2 or 3 and getting up at the butt crack of dawn with the kids.

    4) You have not taken any real personal time for you.

  2. Lynn

    That is definitely more than any one person should have to deal with. That really sucks. I hope things get better soon, with new job and all. And that Sarah recovers quickly.

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