My five-year-old daughter cried for 90 straight minutes the other day because I cut her pancake in half. Yes, you read that correctly. She spent an entire hour and a half in total meltdown mode. Over a pancake. I’ve read a lot of parenting books, and I’ve done a ton of work on myself when it comes to managing my stress effectively and preparing for those crucial parenting moments; and all of it helped me get through maybe the first 30 minutes of crying. For that first half hour, I pulled out all the stops. I validated her feelings, remained calm, gave her comfort, and tried to explain that her half-pancake was still delicious and made especially for her. But absolutely nothing helped console her. After the first hour passed, I started planning my escape from motherhood.
I should mention that my 5-year-old’s meltdown happened while my 1-year-old daughter was climbing all over the furniture, almost killing herself every time I turned around. So, of course, I wanted to give up altogether. What’s a parent to do in that kind of situation? If you came to me for advice on that, I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing. Nothing short of vodka and a tranquilizer (for me, not the kids) would have helped me handle that situation with ease. After 90 minutes started moving toward two hours, I somehow managed to get my oldest daughter dressed for school while she continued wailing. Then, finally, I folded! I bribed her with the iPad in a desperate attempt to stop the crying. Not my best parenting moment, but she broke me. Plus, I had to get her to school so that I could get some work done. At that point, I would have given her my 401k to get the crying to stop.
We’ve all had moments, mornings, entire afternoons, and entire days of dealing with our kids’ irrational emotional breakdowns. Maybe there’s a reason for it, or maybe the reason seems absolutely ridiculous. But for them it’s a big deal. When my daughter broke down about her pancake, I tried hard not to invalidate her experience. But I also didn’t want to end up in a psychiatric unit over prolonged exposure to her hysterical crying (I now know that’s a real thing). If I’m being honest, I’m really not sure what happened that morning. All I know is that I was defeated. Hours later, I still heard her cries echoing in my mind. My goal is always to have my kids learn how to better manage their emotions without needing something like an iPad to soothe them. But if anything can bring out my impatience and immaturity, it’s my daughters. And sometimes, when I reach my personal threshold, I’m likely to give in to whatever will get the chaos to stop.
Once you think you have it all figured out, you cut a pancake in half, and the world falls apart. Kids are unpredictable and highly irrational. I’m not sure what it is about my oldest daughter that has her react well to some situations and like a disaster in others. All I know is that I can try, with every ounce of me, to manage myself in those situations and remain calm and collected. I can look for solutions rather than threats. I can find a resolution instead of avoiding the situation. Sometimes I’m totally confident about how to handle a tough situation; other times, I wave my white flag and hand my daughter a device. The pancake morning was a total defeat. Later, when she was a bit more rational, I talked with her about what happened and tried to figure out what else was going on with her that day. But first, I sipped my latte and tried to forget the screams.
If you didn’t know already, it’s a lot of work having kids. I know I sound like Captain Obvious over here, but I think it’s worth saying and repeating: It’s a lot of work having kids. I’m so consumed by my mom life that I’ve totally forgotten what it’s like to be a person without kids. Even when I’m not with my kids, I never forget, not even for a moment, that I’m a mother.
Sometimes, on those really tough days (you know the ones), I wonder what the hell I was thinking. I want to give up! I wonder if things will ever slow down again. When I got married and decided to reproduce, I was so blind to what it really meant to be a parent. I didn’t fully realize that I wasn’t just bringing a new life into the world, I was completely changing my own life and personal identity. I don’t know if I ever had a chance to say goodbye to my pre-baby life. To the life of lounging after work, going out whenever I wanted, spending money on myself, and stuffing my face without gaining a pound. But if I get too consumed with what I’ve lost, I might easily forget everything I’ve gained. Having kids is a lot of work—so much, in fact, that I often wonder how other people do it. Some days are harder than others—so hard, in fact, that I forget to be grateful for the healthy, energetic kids I have. I forget how wonderful their laughs are, how miraculous their snuggles are, how precious it is that they always want to be with me, their number 1. I get lost in the early morning wake-up calls, tantrums, unpredictable behavior, messy house, and lectures about why it’s important to brush your teeth. I get pulled into the drama of being a parent. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s okay to want to give up sometimes.
Parenting is tough work. So, especially on meltdown days, I cut myself some slack. I realize that I’m not always going to get it right. I’m not always going to have the perfect response. And neither will you. So, I hope you’ll cut yourself some slack, too. You’re doing your best. And if you don’t get it right this time, don’t give up. Your kids will give you plenty of opportunities to try again.
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