Parenting a two year old is hard.
Parenting a sick, fussy, temperamental two year old is much harder.
Today has been hellish. Actually, no – this morning was pretty good – we all stayed snuggled in bed together until 10:00, then we got up, ate pancakes, and lounged in the living room until Joshua started getting sleepy (around 2:00). That was when things very quickly went from good, to bad, to worse. I’ll spare the gory details but suffice to say it took just over two and a half hours to get him settled, with both Shaun and I trying everything we knew to very little avail. Even then he only slept for around a fitful 40 minutes – not nearly enough time to recharge for a toddler who has had over a week of massively broken sleep every night.
So when he woke up he was still just as fussy as when he went to sleep. Shaun and I felt as though we were constantly walking on eggshells – any little thing would set him off and he would have the worlds biggest meltdown over seemingly nothing. I felt for him. I really did. But I’ll be honest and say that it was really starting to upset me. I was sick of feeling like a prisoner in my own home, sick of trying to anticipate and head off the next tantrum, sick of cabin fever and sick of my little guy not being his usual, happy self.
I hadn’t really cooked any proper meals for a few days – we’d lived on takeaways and the generosity of family over the Christmas period, so although I felt pretty low, I wanted to make something. Joshua said he wanted to eat and both Hubby and myself were more than ready for a bit of respite from the days events – even if it was just for a few minutes around the dinner table.
We set the table, I plated up the food, we sat down at the table, and Joshua cried. And cried. And screamed. And threw things. We had four time outs before he would calm down enough to eat something, and then after a few bites he threw his cup across the table and his plate onto the floor. We then tried to give him his medicine (he hadn’t had any of his antibiotics for his ear infection since this morning), which in hindsight probably wasn’t a great idea considering he hates the stuff and won’t take it when he’s cool, calm and collected, never mind whilst doing his best impression of a wailing banshee…
It probably goes without saying that this did not end well. He fussed, flailed and pursed his lips. We managed to finally get a little in, he spat it out. I tried putting it in juice, he spat it out then wouldn’t touch any more. I even tried doing the ol’ “Mary Poppins” bit and put it on a spoonful of sugar. Seriously. That didn’t work either. He thrashed, cried, he hit, and went completely crazy. I’d never seen him so angry and upset.
It ended with Shaun and I both trying to restrain him whilst half shouting at him and half at one another, and I felt myself getting more and more angry and upset as the seconds ticked by. Definitely not my proudest parenting moment. I had to take a step back. I took a couple of deep breaths and felt myself shaking and knew I could burst into tears any second… Then Shaun suggested I went to take a bath and just leave him to calm things down and clear up the mess. I gratefully accepted and disappeared off to the bathroom.
I turned the water on, emptied around half a bottle of Radox into the tub and lit a couple of candles. After all was set, I lowered myself into the water and just lay there with my eyes closed for a couple of minutes, breathing deeply and feeling the tension slowly melt away.
When my mind had cleared a little, I started to try and process my thoughts. Why was I feeling so upset? We’ve dealt with toddler tantrums before – no biggie. They always pass. Sure, we’re all on edge after very little sleep over the past week, but I’m sure that’s not it either. So what if Joshua wouldn’t take his medicine? I’d tried it – it really wasn’t very nice. I wouldn’t take it either if I didn’t understand that it was going make me better. And so what if he wouldn’t eat much? He’d eat when he got hungry. He’d been having bits and pieces, and his liquids had generally been fine. He wasn’t going to let himself starve or dehydrate. I knew this. So that wasn’t the problem.
I realised, as I lay there, that I wasn’t upset with Joshua, either. He’s two, for goodness sake! He’s not well, and is just trying to deal with it in the best way he knows how. He still can’t communicate with us all that well (let alone when he’s upset), so he’s bound to be frustrated. He probably doesn’t understand what’s going on, he just knows that he doesn’t feel well and that he’s not sleeping nearly as well as he should be and he just isn’t himself. I think I’d be feeling the same if I were in his shoes. Thinking about it, he’s been a veritable angel compared to how he could have been acting. He’s held it together pretty well… The poor kid was probably due a full scale meltdown three or four days before it came. So no, I wasn’t angry with my son. I wasn’t even upset with the situation – these things happen, you just have to deal with them and soldier on.
I realised that I was upset with myself. I was angry at the way I’d handled the situation. I’d let these negative feelings slowly build up over the course of the afternoon without dealing with them until something had ignited a spark and they’d spilled over in a very nasty, very unhealthy way. I could come up with a whole boat load of excuses – I was tired, full of pregnancy aches and pains, probably a little stressed out from Christmas, upset that my son wasn’t very well and wasn’t getting better as quickly as I’d like, upset that I couldn’t communicate with him effectively, upset that I couldn’t make it all go away for him, and fed up of feeling like a failure for not being able to do more, plus I was getting sick from whatever Joshua had passed on to me. And well, maybe some or all of those did contribute in one way or another. But when it comes down to it, I simply shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. There shouldn’t be any situation that warrants my getting in my two year olds face and trying to force him into submission. There shouldn’t be any time that it is alright for my husband and I to shout at one another in front of our son. It makes me sick just how far I was from grace and love and patience and every other good virtue I try to show whilst parenting my boy.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m no monster. I don’t fly off the handle at every little thing, and it is the first and only time anything like this has happened. But the underlying temper issue is still there – I seethe. I sulk. I get unintentionally and disproportionately angry about things that really shouldn’t be an issue at all.
So I was upset. I hate that these difficult moments tend to bring out the worst in me rather than allowing me to shine. I hate that instead of having patience, I tend to automatically get impatient and frustrated and then see red when I should be keeping my mind clear to think of another possible resolution to a difficult situation. I hate that probably around 95% of the time I’m happy with my progress as a mother – I’m growing, I’m learning, I’m doing my best and learning from mistakes. But then something like this happens and I feel as though it strips every good thing I’ve managed to do, because my behaviour is so far from okay. I hate feeling like a failure. I hate not being able to take a step back before things reach boiling point. I hate this Jeckyll and Hyde part to my personality – that a switch will flip somewhere in my brain and all of a sudden I’m zero to crazy in 0.24 seconds. I hate that things like this force me to look at my ugly imperfections and failings and really study them out to see where I can improve, and then I hate that things never seem to change because I can’t seem to teach myself to behave differently. To not get angry. To not get upset. Or to at least stay calm and collected on the outside even if my head is completely messed up on the inside.
In any other situation, this is a breeze for me. I can process. I can deliberate. I can think things through and write pro/con lists and somewhat detach myself and think objectively… But with parenting, this process is the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do. I’m guessing because it will always be so emotionally charged, and so important, and so subjective, and often we need split-second decisions instead of days of contemplating the best outcome , and because there are so many things hanging on how I present myself as a mother. Because these feelings aren’t coming as a result of negative emotions, but fierce, overwhelming, all-encompassing love and concern for my baby boy. Because I want the best for him so very badly.
When I came downstairs after spending an hour in the bath, my little guy flashed me the biggest smile, ran over to me and gave me a hug. He looked at me again, smiled, and then went off to play with his toy cars. The temporary moment of madness completely forgotten. All he knew is that I am his Mummy, and he loves me, and he’s happy to see me.
And I realised that I can do this. I will do this. I will be the mother that he deserves and the mother that I want to be. I’ll have good days and bad, and just because I slip up doesn’t discredit all the good I know I do for him. I’ll work hard, and keep striving, and I’ll get there. Aside from fervent prayers and a constant, heavy leaning on my Saviour, right now I have no idea how I will get there – but I will. Because I have to. Because he’s worth it.
Because he’s worth everything. And because he is everything to me.