My four-year-old daughter Mari cried for pretty much all of yesterday. She also cried for the whole day the day before that… and the day before that. She has good reason to be emotional. Since we’ve started school, she’s short on sleep as a result of our earlier waking hour, and she’s having a tough time transitioning from staying home with me all day to going to pre-kindergarten for half the day.
For a four-year-old, this level of devastation is completely reasonable. The grownup equivalent of Mari’s present circumstance would be if you plunked a typically-functioning modern western adult into an isolated jungle tribe and mouthed good luck, asshole! while giving him a sarcastic thumbs up from your helicopter as it rises towards the sky.
It’s a lot for a little kid to take in.
On an intellectual level, I understand Mari’s reasons for her precarious emotional constitution. But possessing this knowledge does not automatically turn me into a Zen Earth Mother. When Mari told me last night the food I’d prepared for dinner (nothing out of the ordinary) was “weird” and began to howl inconsolably, I kinda just didn’t know what the hell to do. Other things that made Mari inconsolable over the previous three days: Her shorts “felt funny,” Lucas touched her shoulder, and I “yelled” at her (asked her to move her cup away from the edge of the table).
And at bedtime last night, the grand climax: she decided that we are a co-sleeping family. The only time we’ve ever co-slept is immediately following birth, when staying in a hotel and when sleeping in a tent. My husband punches me in the face enough in his sleep; I don’t need my kids attacking me too.
I had been patient and sympathetic with Mari for three days. Even for 90% of yesterday, I continued to maintain a fragile state of quasi-tranquility. I hugged, I soothed, I explained, I distracted, I sang, I snuggled. I did all of that motherly crap you’re supposed to do. I took deep, cleansing breaths and tried to pass my fucking peace onto her through my goddamn heartbeat.
But last night, at the end of a too-long day of being The Best Mother in the Universe… I checked the fuck out. My four-year-old child was screaming in my face that she would never sleep in her room EVER AGAIN. I tried calm and assertive: “It’s bedtime now.” I tried more empathy: “I understand. It’s been a rough few days. I’ll rub your back for a while.” I even tried: “Don’t you talk to me that way, young lady.” But finally: “I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!! I’M LOSING MY FREAKING MIND!!!! I’M DONE! I’M SO DONE! I’M OUT OF HERE!”
My husband stayed with Mari while she screamed, and I went outside and walked circles around the driveway. I had to get where I couldn’t hear her crying anymore. I’d arrived to the point where I was either going to scream so loudly that I would emotionally scar my kids forever, or I was going to pick up a piece of furniture and hurl it across the room. So I checked out.
There was a brief moment where picking up Mari’s nightstand and throwing it at her dresser seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I imagined the shrill sound the mirror would make as it exploded and hurled shards all over the room. I pictured myself screaming in Mari’s face. My innocent little four-year-old, going through a tough transition, and me, a grown-ass woman who done lost her damn mind, screaming in her perfect, stunned face. Not only had I ceased to pity her, but I had ceased to feel guilty for not pitying her. The only thing stopping me from acting out the calamity in my head was that I knew I shouldn’t.
For those who say, “It’s fine, your husband was there, she was supervised,” I gotta tell you: I was leaving that house whether he was there or not. And, assuming one doesn’t have blowtorches and freshly-sharpened sickles lying around the house, I would venture to say this is an okay thing for any parent at their wit’s end to do. Maybe, if my husband hadn’t been there, I would have simply locked my bathroom door and taken a shower. Maybe I would have stood on the back porch and guzzled an entire glass (bottle?) of wine.
I’m not telling this story because I need to moan about how sad it is that I lost it with my kid. We all do that. I’m telling this story because my first instinct was to feel like I’d done something terrible by walking out on my kid. But I’m tired of playing this ridiculous guilt game. I think—no, I know—I did the right thing by walking out on Mari, and I’m giving every other mother out there permission to do the same. If it’s between throwing a piece of furniture and leaving your kid alone for a few minutes? Sometimes you have to walk away, and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it.
These are the down-and-dirty trenches of parenting. Sometimes you have no other choice but to check the fuck out.
This post originally appeared on BLUNTmoms.com.
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I get it. I do. My kids are older now but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be jerks from time to time. The nice thing about that is I can get in my car and leave. I have to sometimes. I felt guilty the first couple of times I did it and just drove around the block but now….see ya when I see ya. It gives us all a little time to regroup.So, no reason at all to feel guilty, no matter what anyone says.
I remember something like this happening when Haydan was about 11 months old (still in a crib). I felt like my chest was caving in and I couldn’t breathe. i tried EVERYTHING. I scooped her up, walked upstairs and delicately placed her screaming little self in her crib, walked away and went and sat on the garage floor for 10 minutes. The cold garage floor felt so good and brought me back a bit. I returned up to her room to pick her up and there she was, sound asleep. ha.
My daughter was 1 and decided to have a screaming fit at 2 am on my husband’s night to get up with her (we were both active duty military at the time, so we shared night duty.) He “didn’t hear her” (WHAAAT?!? Impossible!) so I got up to tend to her. The screaming continued after all attempts at consoling, so out of sheer frustration I sat her down on the floor, sat down in front of her, looked right in her eyes, and began just screaming at the top of my lungs like a crazy woman. Loud, mad, insanity screams. Husband comes barreling into the room wild eyed and my head turned, Linda Blair Exorcist style and said “Get. Out!” Look back towards the baby and she is silently looking at me like “what the heck is wrong with you lady?” Placed her back in her crib with a firm “Goodnight,” and walked out. Then the phone rang…next door neighbor (town home) heard my screams and wanted to make sure we were all ok. Not my proudest Mommy Moment, but one I never, ever had to repeat. Both baby AND husband both understood what was supposed to happen at night from then on!
That is perhaps the greatest thing I’ve read all year. I think you should be proud of that moment! You got the job done, didn’t you? lol #awesome
I’m laughing hysterically!!! So unlike the Author who “Checked the F out” you “Freaked the F out!!”
Hahaha This is so me. I LOVE it! Thanks for sharing!
I think it’s a great coping mechanism when we think we’re going to blow. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve walked out many times so that I could get a grip. The only way I can help my kids deal with their emotions is if I’m dealing with mine and sometimes that means walking away for a bit. My 6 year old son does it now too. When he’s having a tantrum he’ll say, “I need to go to my room for awhile.” He might spend 10 or 15 minutes in his room and then come out with a smile as if nothing happened.
I REALLY needed this today! Thank you for posting
I can remember telling my four year old son I needed a time out. I left the house and walked around our then huge yard. He watched me from the sliding glass window. When I went back inside he was very quiet and went to bed without a peep. I never had to do that again. All I would say is “Mom’s going for a time out” and things would calm down. Children and husbands learn very quickly when given direct input. And that was 26 years ago. You cannot be Super Mommy and be calm all the time. You are just as human as your child.
I understand this tremendously…….when my son was 2 1/2 ( he’s 6 1/2 now) he was diagnosed with Leukemia. It changed our lives especially the fact that he had to be on chemo pills every day plus steroids for 5 days once a month. It was awful when he was on those steroids, we use to call it his “roidrages”. For 3 1/2 years we dealt with it for those five days once a month. We wanted to walk out on him because it was terrible, we didnt know what to do….felt awful for him and poor thing had no idea what the hell was going on with himself. Anyways to this day I don’t know how my husband and I got through it, but we did. My son has been off of chemo for 1 year and 2 months and is in remission and doing great…..he doesn’t remember most of the stuff he went through (which is great for him)……but we will always have the memories of that dark time we went through……
That sounds awful! I’m so glad he is doing better now. Hugs to you.
Hey, you’re human, and sometimes we, as parents need to take time out of our own. I’ve done it too. And it’s healthy to take a breather, because otherwise we’d go medieval on their adorable little butts.
Okay Kristen– for fucking real– you make me less afraid to have kids some day. Because I need to know that not everyone is just floating along perfectly happy and/or constantly mired in mommy guilt and competition. I find your honesty refreshing.
Wow – what a huge compliment – even more so that it came from you! Love your writing so much, and I think, should you decide to make that leap, that you’d be a KICK ASS mom. =)
This post is awesome. That is all.
Hi Kristen. Your article was great. You are a great mom. There’s something I just wanted to mention… The child you discussed shows a lot of signs that line up with Aspergers (Autism). I’ve been there. What you described is exactly what I experienced with 2 of my children. My thoughts and prayers are with you.