I don’t ever want to be a chronic case, but every now and then, the ‘Facebook Cry for Help’ really gets you what you need.
This morning was another immensely challenging start to the day with Noah. I had let him play with my phone in bed, but then asked for it back to send an important text. He went postal and started with the punching and screaming. My initial approach was calm, explaining that hitting hurts, and if he kept hitting, he wouldn’t get the phone back. This didn’t work. I tried sympathizing with him, while still being firm. This didn’t work. Finally, I told him that if he kept hitting and kicking me, he would have to leave my room. I’m not proud of this, but when it continued and even ramped up to pinching (and trust me, the little monkey is quite strong) I plucked him from the bed, set him outside my room, and locked the door. Bad parenting, 100 percent.
Now, with the whole house awoken by the sounds of toddler screams, I didn’t need to send any texts. I got some helping hands from the other parents, and my bewildered tween gave me that look she gives when I’m feeling overwhelmed. A look of trepidation and uncertainty. I project onto this look, “She thinks I’m a terrible parent.” because I think I’m a terrible parent in this moment. Then my partner returns with my son, and she tells me he’s too young to have separation be a consequence for bad behavior. She’s right, of course, she usually is, but I’m falling so fast into the spiral I can’t hear her. Instead I break down, citing exhaustion (partially true) and ineptitude (what I believe is mostly true) as my reasons for making a mistake.
I made a mistake. I make lots of them. These mistakes are often around issues of parenting. Now that my animal brain is mostly switched off again, I’ll hazard that most parents do this. Here, the mistake is less of an issue than what happens inside my head when I make it.
Noah felt like the only thing I was really good at. I figured it was because I got to start from scratch with him. And maybe because of our biological tie. I told myself that I would always be great at Noah, and I could always hold on to that. Well guess what? Noah is approaching three, and I’m more and more feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m also thinking I put a crap load of unrealistic pressure on myself to be perfect.
The challenge isn’t parenting resources. There’s an abundance of those. The real thing that I need is to be able to love myself through my mistakes, and not fall into the well where I feel so terrible that I believe with great clarity (in those moments) that everyone is better off without me. How can anyone learn or grow from such a place? How do I stay away from there?
I posted a cry for help. I got lots of loving advice. These words of encouragement worked. I saw my pain reflected in others’ who have had similar experiences with failure feelings. I was gifted with this wonderful video created and produced by a Facebook friend, Tamara Levitt. If you are struggling with feelings of failure, you must invest ten minutes to watch this, it was beautiful.
My narrative started to shift. Maybe just admitting I was sucking at parenting made me a better parent because it opened doors to improvement? Maybe these profound feelings of shame are a clue that I need to access more self-love and compassion when I am feeling challenged? Maybe I should shelve my work responsibilities and spend the morning watching parenting videos? There were suddenly possibilities beyond “I should leave because I’m ruining everyone’s life.”
Progress is realizing how much faster that turn around has happened. A matter of hours today instead of days. It would have taken me days to feel worthwhile again, not long ago.
This morning after the other parents brought Noah downstairs to play, I had a good bawl. Then I splashed water on my face, got dressed, and went downstairs to try a restart. I got hugs from everyone, including the still wary Hannah. I played with Noah who was right as rain. I fed him, we snuggled, and then I took him to school where he got extra hugs and kisses from me when I dropped him off.
Next I’m going to set up a Skype session with my therapist so I can talk about self-love strategies. Avoiding the pit of despair will bolster me with the confidence I need to get through this challenging toddler time.
I’m not sure what else I can to do be better at this, but this is a start. And another lesson learned; keep breathing, ask for help, apologize, forgive and the shift from desperation and pain to possibility and hope is inevitable.