You know the saying ‘this too shall pass’? I’ve come to realise why it’s used so often in parenting circles.
It’s because EVERYTHING is a phase. There’s the colic phase, the putting everything in the mouth phase, the ripping books phase, the teething phase. Nothing really lasts forever. And most of the time, this is a source of comfort for parents of young children.
Between the eight month and 18-month mark, we went through a ‘golden phase’ with our daughter. At eight months, one of her naps increased in length and I found I had more time to myself. Her colicky screams had officially ended three months prior, and were replaced with coos, gurgles, and giggles.
We were totally in sync as a family and we were all just so content because we had a routine and felt we had finally found our groove. Of course I have since learned that when I feel like I ‘finally’ have my shit together, something will always happen to ensure I realise that is most definitely not the case.
And so when my daughter hit 18 months, our lovely golden phase came to an end. With the power of hindsight I can now see multiple factors were at play:
1. The PND I thought I had successfully overcome came back.
2. Our gorgeous toddler began the ‘it’s mine’ and not sharing stage – helllloooo, awkward social outings.
3. She started climbing out of her cot, so we had to transition her to a toddler bed.
4. Potty training. 'Nuf said.
5. She dropped her day nap.
The net result of the above changes is that every day with my now-2.5-year-old is an exercise in trying to keep my head above water. There is no groove.
The other morning, I was particularly exhausted as my daughter had made her way into our bed overnight and hadn’t slept soundly. She kept us awake as she tossed and turned and scratched us with her toenails. Charming. I was edgy from the moment I woke.
After breakfast, she demanded we go outside. It was wet and raining and I reallllyyy didn’t want to. She screamed and screamed until I said yes.
“You have to put on a jacket and shoes, though!” I said. I retrieved her shoes and jacket and made my way over to her. She screeched and ran away. “You can’t go out unless you put your jacket and shoes on,” I warned as I stepped towards her again. She screeched and ran away.
I then told her we wouldn’t go out at all and she burst into tears. I tried explaining that all she had to do was put on her shoes and jacket and we would go outside, but… toddler.
After approximately half an hour of this, we finally managed to get outside fully clothed and on the swing. I looked down at my watch. It was 10 am. I was already exhausted and it would be HOURS until hubby was home to help. As I pushed her on the swing, and she screeched ‘bigger one, bigger one!’ I felt tears well up in my eyes. All of a sudden I was crying and mumbling things like, 'I’m so tired', 'It’s cold', 'I have so much to do', I don’t even want to be outside!' over and over again.
Listen: This Glorious Mess discuss: Why are parents so stressed out? (post continues after audio...)
I was done. Cooked. I had nothing left to give. I contemplated calling my husband and asking him to come home early so I could spend the rest of the day eating chocolate and moping around the house in my PJs. But all my PJs were in the wash.
So I did the one thing that, as mothers, we’re told not to do: I let my emotions escalate. I lost control and had a good ol’ fashioned ugly cry in front of my toddler.
At some point, I looked down at my daughter just in time to see her look sadly away from me – and all of a sudden I felt guilty. I started to berate myself for not holding it together. I questioned whether I was ever meant to be a mother. I compared myself to the Mothers of Instagram and told myself I wasn’t good enough. I wondered whether I should just go back to work full time and let my daughter go to daycare full time…
The way I see it, a big part of my job as a mother is to teach my daughter, not just the alphabet and numbers but how to communicate and regulate her emotions. So when I cry in front of my daughter, what am I teaching her?
Well, for starters, I like to think I’m showing her I’m human. That I’m allowed to be upset sometimes. That even mothers have bad days. That mums are not always smiling and happy and glowing and soft and warm. That sometimes they’re angry, and disappointed and anxious and insecure. That some mums question their life choices alllll the time.
Mums are not robots programmed to be happy 24/7. Just like anyone else in this world, mums are going to have their ups and downs. I have my ups and downs, I’m not always happy. That’s what I showed her. I showed her I’m real. When I cry in front of my daughter, I’m teaching her it’s completely normal to cry – even if you’re a mum.
I truly hope one day, when she is older, and is going through a rough time – whether it be at work, as a mum, or whatever really – that she too can openly express her emotions. That she doesn’t worry about what society is telling her to be and that she just is who she is.
I hope that in the future, when she encounters a tough break she can give me, her mother, a call at any time of the day or night to just sob down the phone until she’s hoarse and drained, but calm and ready to start again. I want her to know anger and sadness are not ‘bad’ emotions – that she is allowed to feel them. That it’s impossible to be happy and high on life 24/7. I want her to know that, no matter her age, she can ugly cry in front of me any time.
Eventually, both my daughter and I were calm and quiet. I kept pushing her in a steady rhythm – catching her at the top and then releasing her from high up – her favourite. She had been studying her reflection in the back sliding door, when she suddenly turned to me and smiled. I took in the creases in the corner of her eyes. Her pearly little white teeth, the cheeky curve of her lips, and her dimples, and I smiled back. Then, all of a sudden she screamed,
I sighed, then retrieved her Smart Trike from the shed, put my terrible little two-year-old safely inside, and pushed her around the block. When we got home, I checked the clock. It was 10:23 am.
Have you ever 'lost it' in front of your child? How did you respond?
Marina is a freelance writer living in Melbourne. You can connect with her and read more of her work on her website, Slay At Home Mum.