Every day I wake up, look in the mirror, and tell myself to enjoy today, that this time won’t last forever. One day, these days will be a dim memory, and I will wish I could go back in time to get one more day with my toddler. Or.Not. <Insert mama guilt here>
Everyone else seems to tell me that one day I’ll look back on these days and miss them. I have a really hard time believing that. It’s really hard to enjoy the day when you have little to no enjoyable interactions with your child. And, yes, for those of you wondering, I do have days like this… many of them. I have days that sometimes extend into weeks where the positive interaction between us is so small that I can’t even remember it. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Eric has admitted to me that there is not a single activity that he finds more enjoyable, fun, or special because Maddy is a part of it. Like me, every activity is more stressful, tiring, and just plain hard.
It’s gut wrenching to admit that. Eric and I don’t even often talk about it together, because it hurts. But, it’s the truth. It’s our reality. Honestly, the thought of having another child makes me feel sick to my stomach. Not because I don’t love Madeleine with all of my being, but because I hate facing the day knowing what it’s going to look like. I hate the way I feel at the end of the day. I hate the un-motherly thoughts that sometimes crawl into my head space.
Even with all of the incredible progress we have seen over the past months, our days are long, and hard. They start after a bad night. Every night is a bad night. A good night means Maddy only woke us up screaming 2 or 3 times. Since she was born, she has only twice in her entire life slept without waking between the hours of 10pm and 5am. I am sleep deprived. Always. I don’t even remember what it feels like to not be sleep deprived anymore (except, I do know that I feel crappy every.single.day.). There are
nights many nights that I am so tired that I physically can’t drag myself out of bed, even though I can hear her screaming. <Insert amazing husband here>
The days can be filled with Maddy hitting, pinching, hair pulling, and throwing full sippy cups at my face, non-stop. Most of the time the only way I can escape this behaviour is by putting her down and walking around the house while she follows me screaming and grabbing at my legs. But, the second I pick her up, it’s back to all of the hitting, pinching, hair pulling, using-her-bink-link-as-a-crafty-weapon behaviour. This behaviour is not exclusively reserved for mama, but it happens to me ten times more than it happens to Eric. We have no idea why. Our therapists have no idea why. We’ve been trying to figure out the function of this behaviour for weeks, and we’ve still got nothing. This is one of the most hurtful experiences I’ve had as a mama. It sucks to feel rejected by your own child, over, and over, and over again.
Our day can also filled with meltdowns that last over an hour each, sometimes resulting in Maddy throwing up all over herself. Meltdowns had improved a bit awhile back, but they’re back in full force. Maddy’s emotional regulation is
weak very weak. Having parented her for 18 months now, I still have no idea how to deal with these. Do I pick her up? Do I leave her be? Nothing works. When I pick her up she writhes, hits, screams, and pulls my hands away so I’m not touching her. When I don’t pick her up, she grabs at my leg screaming. Deep down I know that the only way out of these once they start is to let Maddy scream-it-out. But, screaming-it-out sucks.
My day is also spent either guessing what Maddy might eat (and consequently wasting more food than I’d like), or giving her a “cracker” (which is anything white and crunchy) every five minutes all day long. If I give her the wrong cracker, it can lead to a 1.5 hour meltdown. Many days she asks for a “waffle” (which really means maple syrup) every half hour or so. Saying no to that also can lead to an 1.5 hour meltdown. Gotta say, I hate the damn crackers and waffles.
If I’m spending my day with Maddy in public, I know before we head out that I will be barraged by dirty looks and sometimes negative comments from strangers. Although I’m the “horrible mother,” I know that Maddy will one day know that it is not her place to judge, but rather support others. It is exhausting to have to constantly remind yourself to ignore strangers in public. It is exhausting feeling the eyes of others burn into you with judgement. The older Maddy gets, the worse this gets. I hate being alone in public with her. We go out in public just the two of us only if I have no other choice. I have been known to skip lunch because we need groceries and I can’t bring myself to go to the grocery store without Eric.
The general public doesn’t understand emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is not bad behaviour, it is not bad parenting. It is real, and you can “look normal” and still have poor emotional regulation. Unfortunately, the people who do have compassion and do understand are the least likely to say anything. For some reason, only those who have something negative to say feel the need to spew their words at us. Negative words are always directed at me, always – Eric is the first to admit this. Eric always gets to play the hero role for taking Maddy out, no matter how she behaves. I, on the other hand, am always playing the terrible mother role when I take her out.
Sometimes well-meaning people do offer words that they think might be compassionate. Telling me that “all kids do that,” “it could be a lot worse,” and “she seems age appropriate/advanced to me” do not count as compassionate. They count as well-meaning. They don’t make me angry, but they certainly don’t make me feel good either.
My days can also often filled with visits with friends and family where Maddy behaves in a way that makes it seem like she’s sailing through life with little difficulty. This is not how Maddy behaves at home with us. She is using everything she’s got to keep it together in front of you. She’s not in an environment where she feels safe to let it all hang out. When you have a bad day at work you don’t tell your boss or co-worker exactly what’s running through your head – you come home and take it out on those who are closest to you – those whom you feel the safest with. Children are the same way.
It is frustrating for me to see others bring out this unique side of Maddy. It makes me feel so sad. I hate that everyone else gets this happy, playful child, and I get aggression, meltdowns, and anger. I desperately want some time with the Maddy that you get to enjoy. I want positive bonding time with Maddy.
I’m having a tough week. A week of non-stop meltdowns. A week of little rest. A week of anxiety in anticipation of the upcoming holidays. For the first time in my life, I am so not looking forward to the holidays, the family gatherings. I am truly lucky to have family that I really love spending time with (both mine and Eric’s sides), but I know all too well how gatherings with family and friends go down. There are two options:
- Maddy is wonderful. I feel sad and frustrated that I never get this Maddy to myself. I feel sensitive about what others might be interpreting from seeing Maddy doing so well. We go home and Maddy falls apart.
- Maddy has a challenging day. The day is stressful for both myself and Eric. We are not able to enjoy the time with our friends and family to the best of our ability. I am sensitive about what others might be interpreting from seeing Maddy in some of her tough moments. We go home and Maddy falls apart.
Maddy is a bright, funny, curious little girl. She’s amazing, and beautiful, and perfect. She’s easy to love, but she’s difficult to parent. For those of you who are in the trenches with us, a book that our therapists recently recommended to us is called ‘The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children’ by Ross Greene.