Epic Motherhood Fail

Saturday was supposed to be an amazing day. A Spanish singer was giving a concert at the Children’s Museum where we are members. We bough tickets earlier in the week and I was counting down the days; this man’s CDs were on repeat for pretty much my entire maternity leave and many of our days together since then.

Saturday morning Isa was in a great mood. She was excited to go to the Discovery Museum and I couldn’t wait for her to see who would be singing; she knows most of the his songs by heart. We got there early and almost no one was around. We hit up the tot room with Isa and for about fifteen minutes it was great. Then, without warning, she decided she wanted to be naked. The meltdown that ensued ended up lasting the better part of a half an hour. It paused a few times and gave me hope that we could still make the concert but eventually it was clear that we had to leave.

During this 30 minute meltdown Isa hit me more times than I could ever guess. At one point I was sitting on a bench while she writhed on the floor and she kept yelling at me to sit on the floor, so she could kick me as hard as she could. She scratched my face, tore at my clothes and pulled my hair. She abused me in ways I’ve never been physically abused.

Walking her out to the car–as she writhed and screamed on my husband’s shoulder–I felt more broken than I have in a long, long time. My fabulous Saturday had been utterly ruined. We spent $30 in gas, bridge tolls and tickets for ten minutes of happiness and thirty minutes of personal abuse and public embarrassment. I was so ashamed as we passed at the people hurrying to make the beginning of the concert; kids asked their parents what was wrong with my daughter as they hushed them past hastily. The entire thirty minute drive home I didn’t utter a word. I just let the tears fall silently.

I thought a lot of things Saturday afternoon. I wondered what the point was if the few scarse days I looked forward to could be ruined by the one person I was supposed to be enjoying them with. I pondered the probability of my daughter suffering from actual emotional issues that cause her to react that way without (from my opinion) any significant provocation. I questioned my own culpability, both in my reaction to my daughter’s tantrum and as the woman who contributed half of her DNA to my poor, unwitting child (I am always terrified that I will have passed on my depression/anxiety/ADD/Bi Polar issues onto my daughter). I doubted I could keep this up; the hitting and kicking and deliberate hurting me is starting to make my soul whither. I don’t have much more left.

Yesterday I did something else too–I bought Raising Your Spirited Child for Kindle and immediately started reading it. I have considered buying it many times but I was never sure it was the book for me; I’m still not sure my daughter is what the author considers “spirited.” But with the hitting becoming as frequent and forceful as it is, I need to do something. My catch phrase, “I will not let you hit me,” is obviously not working, I need some other strategies to deal with my daughter’s anger and her propensity for expressing it aggressively.

Reading the book has been a positive experience, mostly because it gives me perspective. While I haven’t determined if my child is spirited, I am sure she is not as spirited as the children discussed in the book. Honestly, reading about what these parents face, I am so thankful that I’m not dealing with what so many of the parents in the book are dealing with (and I’m terrified that if I am blessed with another child, he or she will face those challenges and I will be unable to cope).

I hope the book gives me some good strategies for dealing with my daughter’s anger, her pickiness (she’s basically stopped eating since she was sick) and her struggles with transitions. If I can’t find the answers in this book, I’m not sure where I will.

I was thinking of the timing of writing and publishing my list and this little incident. Is it a coincidence that right when I was writing about my perceived shortcoming as a mother I lived through my most challenging day? I don’t know. Yesterday just hit really close to home. And it again makes me wonder if I should even have another kid, when I can’t seem to handle the one I have already.

Do you have any tried and true strategies for dealing with a pretty serious hitting situation? What has been your most epic (mom) fail to date?

13 responses

  1. Tantrums are so tough, especially when you’re in a public place. I’m sorry she hurt you and that you didn’t get to see the singer. As you know I have had my issues with my daughter’s tantrums. The only thing that worked when we were in public was to give her the 3 second warning to compose herself and if not just be prepared to drag her out kicking and screaming and take her home. The reason I couldn’t take the twins anywhere by myself for a while was the distinct possibility that they might BOTH launch a tantrum at the same time and I’d be powerless to be able to remove them.

  2. That sounds like a nightmare. (And it doesn’t sound like a mom-fail at all.) I know how incredibly disappointing it is to plan something special and have it not work out. I hope you find strategies to help with Isa – you’re a good mom and will figure out how to help her stay more in control.

  3. Z has just begun to scratch, lash out and bite — I’ve been trying to puzzle it out too — it sounds like you have read and know all of this — but I read once that Z needs me to be in control, since she’s lost control in those moments– and I’ve done all of the things I feel are appropriate — validated her anger/frustration, told her that mommy was too strong — there was nothing she was going to do that would hurt me (though I don’t have to tell you about the sting/yeouch when I have to stifle it silently) set firm limits, hauled her bodily out of places. I know for Z it is tied to sleep and her own set of coping mechanisms. You’ve talked a little about Isa and sleep — could there be something like adenoids or something disrupting her sleep? Just a thought and mostly commiseration. My husband saw the attempt at biting for the first time last night — she was blind-sleepy — and it was almost primal…yikes! I had to blow IN her mouth to keep her from biting my cheek!

    Ah three.

    It’s normal. This is just all to say this is in the range of normal —



  4. The best advice I have is twofold.

    One – you cannot rationalize with a crazy person. When she is in the middle of a tantrum, she IS, actually, crazy. The caveman side of her brain takes over.

    Two – the reason FOR the tantrums? Is because she feels strongly about something. And the frustration is sometimes because she feels like you don’t understand, or that you DO understand and won’t do what she wants, or something.

    But what always kept me sane during tantrums was reminding myself that Lucky was feeling something strongly, and that was a GOOD thing – that he’s allowing himself emotion (I do not want him to be stunted like me or Charlie). And then we took him kicking and screaming out of the room. And gave him a snack (which often helped) or had him sleep (which totally helped).

    Not your fail, though.

    But since you asked? My worst mom fail was falling down a FULL flight of stairs with Lucky in my arms when he was six months old. Somehow I managed to hold him and protect him most of the way down, but he ended up on the stairs next to me when I got to the bottom. To this day I have a sick feeling whenever I think about it. Which isn’t often.

  5. You’re doing a great job of being there for her, even though it feels like a failure.

    I also agree with previous posters. A tantrum is a signal that the child is overstimulated or feeling powerless, right? So I try to respond to a tantrum by acknowledging what’s happening. I validate the experience, in other words. I say: I know you’re frustrated (tired, annoyed, angry, sad, cranky….). Take a few deep breaths and let that feeling wash over you. It’s just not okay to kick or hit to show how you feel. Then I model the breathing while holding the kid tightly and lovingly. Sometimes W joins in and breathes. Sometimes he agrees that he’s angry (or sad or whatever). Sometimes he continues crying and screaming and kicking. But over time, I’m really hoping it will work. My sister in law used this method and had success in doing so (her oldest is 9 and is like a zen master, I swear), but it only works over the long term. Short term was full of failure, and this has been my experience, too. W is a kicker, and as he’s getting bigger, those kicks really hurt!

    I see this long term strategy as showing the child what I wish I had learned as a young person. It’s okay to feel an emotion. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s just not okay to take it out on myself or others (in my life, I take it out on myself by procrastinating and overeating, among other things…so destructive!). The sooner I acknowledge an emotion or experience, the sooner it will move on and I’ll be able to return to a state of relative equilibrium without causing damage in the process. You’ve written beautifully about this very idea in previous posts, in fact, and you’ve inspired ME to remember not to take out my own inner turmoil on my self (can’t find the exact post I’m thinking of in your archives, unfortunately, but I know it was you!). So we’re struggling together on this same path, I know… I’m so glad to have company!

    To answer your other question, my most recent mommy fail was lat night. I snapped at the kids because W was happily screeching like an eagle (why? not sure…) and E was laughing loudly in response. It just became too much and it all overwhelmed my sensitivity to noise. I yelled sharply to just stop it and immediately felt terrible. How selfish to squash their joy just because I couldn’t take the sound of it! I should have stepped away and taken my own damn advice to breathe and get some distance from my own frustration. Sigh. Total fail.

  6. Tantrums happen. As my daughter is still a bit too young to have complete thermal nuclear meltdowns, I’m inexperienced. However, I think what you described is most likely what I would have done. Although I don’t know if I would have had the patience to last as long as you did. I’m probably more along the lines of what jjiraffe would do, 3 strikes and we’re out of here kind of thing. You are a success. You recognized the situation, did what you could to diffuse it, and when it couldn’t be diffused you left. Yes other kids may have asked what was wrong, but 2 hours ago, there were other kids asking what was wrong with them. It happens. All parents recognize, and the majority of them can empathize with you. We don’t all handle it exactly the same, but we handle it.

    I’m really glad the book is offering you a different perspective and so far reading it has been a positive experience for you. I think this adds to your success as a mother. You realized you needed new way to approach a situation. You are doing research….this is the work of a successful mother…one who recognizes change needs to happen and is doing what she can to make it so!

    HUGS!! I’m sorry it was a bust of weekend, but in then end I think you have found positives….

  7. If it makes you feel better, when I first read your post, I had a massive headache from J hitting me on the head with a drum mallet. Physical abuse, unfortunately, happens. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to happen to us in public so much. When we’re at home, I just put J in his room (and yes, I get hit/kicked on the way there). Sometimes I have to stand outside and hold the door shut so he can’t get out. But I think sometimes, we just need to wait it out. When he calms down, that’s when i try to hold him and talk to him about what happened. I used to tell J, “it’s hard to be two. Someday you’ll be able to tell me what you’re feeling, and then you won’t yell like this.”

    Tantrums in public are definitely the hardest. I think my worst parenting moment to date was when we tried to go on our little weekend away in September. Our only family vacation all summer, and J got so overstimulated and just couldn’t control himself, and there was no place to confine him, and it just went on for HOURS. I have trouble canceling plans due to tantrums, and I would’ve been the idiot who tried to bring Isa into the concert anyway. So, as much as it sucked to miss the concert, it sounds like you did the right thing.

    I am not a fan of that book, though. I feel like it makes something into a syndrome that’s basically within the spectrum of normal, and that didn’t help me. I do hope it helps you, though. This WILL end, I promise. She’ll grow up to be just fine, and you’ll be fine too once you get through it.

  8. Oh the meltdowns. I’m so sorry you got stuck with the meltdown before something you were looking forward to so much. There’s no predicting when you’ll get a great meltdown, and it sounds like you’re doing your best. My super parent fail was when the kid was at an event with a bunch of kids, mostly older ones (like 5-7 when she was 3), and they were all coloring. While she was off finding a different color, a bigger kid took her drawing by mistake (and me the idiot hadn’t made her come get her name put on it because “what’s going to happen with it anyway?”) and then she SCREAMS and cries and it was a truly impressive yowling fest. She hit and kicked and screamed when I tried to just leave after a few minutes of attempting to quiet her down, so I propose starting over (NO!) and eventually she got herself cried out and a new thing to color, but she continued carrying on about it for several hours… ugh. Hopefully the things you look forward to start happening more often so if there are meltdowns, they don’t ruin all the fun stuff, just the occasional thing. We do a 3 strikes and then we’re done rule, and it doesn’t work, but usually the “stay in your room” or somewhere else alone until you’re steady works all right. My kid just seems to process stuff slowly and sometimes she needs her space to work that off. If she’s biting or kicking, I walk away and tell her it is never OK to hurt someone to show how we feel (but that only kind of works… I think it’s a phase… I hope it’s a phase… will it ever be over?). That Mr. Rogers song “what do you do with the mad that you feel?” was helpful a little bit when she sang it to herself as a way to calm down.

  9. another great book for challenging little ones is ‘how to calm a challenging child’ by miriam chachamu I read this when munchkin was 3 and it was like someone had written a book all about munchkin and her difficult behavoiurs. i don’t know if it is available for download i found a copy at my local library. It is definatly worth a read. hope she settles down for you soon. take care

  10. Every kid is different, but with our daughter I find keeping her fed and hydrated is KEY to avoiding tantrums. I now feed those candy-like Annie’s fruit bunnies gummy snacks about once a day to get her past the “no no no” regarding eating something when I know she NEEDS to. She will literally refuse food more when she has such low blood sugar it is affecting her mood. My dad is the same annoying way. So, I break past the refusal to eat with something like the bunnies or some juice that raises her blood sugar enough to apparently make her able to feel her own hunger. Then she’ll often eat a lot, or at least follow the bunnies with a more nutritious snack like yogurt or green beans.

    I have actually taken comfort from all I’ve learned in my hobby dog training. Overstimulation is the number 2 reason they lose their minds, and once pushed past a certain point, nether dogs nor kids are even capable of hearing you. When I see it coming, I just give up and we leave wherever we are so I can get her somewhere that she can allow her stimulus levels to come down a bit. Our worst public tantrums have all been at very stimulating fun places that she was really enjoying – like the children’s museum, the zoo, the toy store.

    I hate the violence. I don’t know if Isa is more violent than my daughter but I feel bad for you with your description. 😦 I don’t know if “spirited” really means anything but I know a mom whose oldest is diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder/ADD and although that sounds totally made up he really does seem different than other kids in terms of being able to keep his temper. NOT saying this is what Isa has, but maybe those are the types of kids that book is describing. Anyway, she taught me about time outs and their correct use, and that’s what we use, consistently, when Taiga begins hitting or kicking etc. I can’t chance her upsetting the dog by being violent to him, any dog will bite if pushed far enough and she can be truly awful. I also don’t want her hurting anyone at school. So I think I am a bit harsher than you described with the intentional violence. It has seemed to make a difference in the past 6 months but who knows if that is the method or her development.

    One thing – I no longer judge other mothers with kids that appear to be little demons when I see them in public. I remind myself how she often seems like an angel in public, but during those tantrum times, you’d never think I was even close to a competent parent.

  11. My kids both have meltdowns. Luckily, not in public places too often. But as everyone else has said, it’s because they feel powerless. One thing I’ve tried to do, too, is teach them words for their feelings … so they learn that if they can express themselves, sometimes it’s easier to resolve the problem.

    My 22 month old daughter this morning shocked me when she said “I’m really angry.” But you know what? It was AWESOME. Because I asked her why, and she could actually TELL me in a word or two … and it was SOO much easier to resolve the conflict. I suspect that the resolution will come and go as she grows … I won’t always be able to explain my reasoning, but I hope we can at least talk about it.

    The “compose yourself” approach is also one that we’ve taken … we treat them like they are capable of composing themselves, and give them space to do so … and they often do. My son’s Montessori teachers taught me that. 🙂

    But you are NOT failing! This is NORMAL.

  12. oh the tantrums. three is so much worse than two for the tantrums, at least for us. and being in public is the worst. you do just have to be prepared to leave. lots of good comments above about looking to triggers — e.g., overstimulation, hunger/blood sugar, frustration, etc.

    no good solutions but know they will pass, eventually. remember she is irrational in those moments and logic doesn’t usually work. removal, distractions, ignoring (when no one is being hurt), countdown until consequence, giving her space and time to herself to calm down, etc. it’s just hard. I feel you.

    at times when J has tried to hurt someone we’ve used consequences — usually taking away something she really enjoys like a bedtime story or song.

    you actually witnessed my most epic parenting fail at the same place, about a year ago. remember when J wandered away across the entire place to play on her own, without looking back once or getting scared? ugh, I get sick to my stomach just thinking about that moment until I knew she was OK. btw, your moment was not a fail, just a really hard challenge.

    • I never told you that I actually lost Isa there too, about a year after your experience. It was awful. They had to use the walkie talkies to coordinate all the employees looking for her and it took about four minutes for them to find her. I was totally panicking. You’re right, that was a WAY bigger parenting fail than the other day. 😉

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