Today was one of those days where I cried more than my 3.5 year old.
Do you ever have one of those days? No? You’re not missing out on anything, I promise.
I used to have them, more often than not, in much of the 4th trimester. You know the drill – sleepless nights, piles of laundry and dishes, feeling anything but human, rising anxiety over every little breath or bump.
Then things got smoother. I became a more confident parent. I knew my baby better than I knew myself (which, to be honest, isn’t really something to strive for). The miniature human who depended on me for for all the things was starting to communicate, to find joy in things, to grow right before my eyes.
The 18 months – 30 months range was my favorite. Walking turned to running. Words turned to sentences. Favorites emerged. Personality started to shine. M became my best adventuring buddy and it was because of our adventures we found our people. I met my crew of mamas while literally walking down our street, going to music class, showing up at Saturday story times at our local bookshop.
And so when today my 3.5 year old yelled at me, in the middle of sobs, that they wanted to be alone – while following me into the room I was walking into to get away and give them their requested space, because 3.5 year olds make total sense – I texted my mama friend that’s basically Janet Lansbury, but in Nashville, and my friend!
Her perspective, unmarred by the outburst of Big Feelings from the toddler, and a few encouraging words were all I needed to pick up and move on. The day didn’t get any easier between M and I but I had enough confidence in my ability to parent just enough to get through to bedtime.
I say just enough because I definitely don’t parent at my best when I’m in the middle of a high emotion situation, or in the moments immediately after. I’ve learned this about myself in the last year, as 2.5 grew into 3.5 and with it boundary testing, a bullish “I do it” attitude and a “my way or the highway” approach to what feels like nearly everything.
I was diagnosed with depression several years before becoming pregnant. Because of this I prepared myself as much as possible for how pregnancy and postpartum could affect my mental health by reading books and filling my social media feeds with parenting, postpartum and maternal health accounts. I made it through the 4th trimester ok but soon after that my anxiety (which I’d experienced prior to pregnancy but had never named) ramped up and made parenting even more challenging. I now manage my anxiety with meds, my psychiatrist and my therapist but I still have my triggers.
M isn’t always driven by strong emotions that erupt into outbursts, but when they are it usually pushes me into fight or flight mode. I will do what I can to try and bring the degree of feelings down a few notches immediately – even if it means I’m fruitlessly trying to reason with a screaming 3.5 year old – so that I can have the space and calm to process my own feelings.
My friend was able to recognize that M was probably seeking connection in the midst of those emotions – following me while also telling me to go away – and this absolutely made sense to me as I looked back on what happened. Often times, after M has processed and calmed down after an emotional outburst, they’ll seek hugs, saying “hugs help me calm down”.
Through my conversation with my friend I was also able to add some tools to my parenting tool box for the next time this happens – and hey, we’re only at 3.5 so I’m pretty certain there will be plenty of opportunities to practice. One thing I’m going to try and focus on is clearly communicating my own emotional boundaries. After acknowledging M and their needs in the first phase of the outburst I can let them know that I’m having some big feelings and need some space to calm down, too – that I’ll be just around the corner or in the next room and that I will check on them in X minutes.
Do you have your go-to parenting confidante that you reach out to when you need some reassurance – or need to be completely vulnerable and say “I feel like I’m fucking it ALL up today”? I hope so. I don’t know how I could keep going through the ups and downs of parenting, where every new phase brings joys and triumphs just as much as it brings new challenges and lows, without my people. If you’re willing to open up, share in the comments what your latest parenting challenge has been. I’d love to encourage one another because we could all definitely use a cheering squad in our corner these days.