I had been talking to a dear friend about how she has been losing her cool lately; yelling and losing her temper a little more than she would like to admit. I gave her some encouragement and afterwards she confessed that it was so refreshing to hear. She has experienced going to mom groups, including Christian mom groups which give advice and a checklist of how to be better but leave her feeling defeated when she leaves.
As a therapist, especially in my field, I often shy away from sharing “advice” with others unless they specifically ask me. It’s a matter of education, really. In college and grad school one is taught to hold on to tight boundaries with client relationships and friends. However, in the field of perinatal mental health, that is a little different if you are a mother yourself. Many times, it is therapeutically important for a mother/therapist to share her experience and share her particular struggles and success- this in turn allows the client to build rapport and truly feel like someone relates. In the case with my dear friend, I did just that. I shared my struggles.
2018 had to be the worst parenting year for me yet. I was struggling internally with my fourth pregnancy and trauma from previous births, depression, uncertainty, lack of sleep, and anxiety. In turn, this made me ‘lose control’ many times. I had such little patience that toward the end of the year, I had to lock myself away in my room to keep from ‘ruining my children’. I told myself I wasn’t a good mom, and I believed it.
I later was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. I knew my expectations toward myself had to change. That the traditional classes and courses on parenting were not going to work for me.
One specific way that helped me with my funk was realizing that I am a good mom and that when I am lacking, (sleep, time for myself, productivity, etc) I get frustrated and it spills out of me to those I love. I had to treat my frustrated state as a separate part of me- one aspect of who I can be, if I don’t take care of myself. I decided to give this part of me a name:
Mr. Mean Mom.
This idea came to me after listening to one of the many documentaries that came out about Mr. Rogers’ life. It mentioned that whenever he had to discipline or have a stern talk with one of his boys, he would take out a puppet (usually Lady Elaine Fairchilde) to relay the message for dad. It was still dad talking but he used it as a means to separate himself from that disciplining persona, in a way he could switch roles and relate with his children.
I don’t have a puppet and to tell you the truth, I would probably lose or misplace the thing if I actually had one. However, one day I talked to my kiddos and explained that when I yell or lose my temper that is because I am letting my Mr. Mean Mom come out. I told them that I sometimes need help to recognize that Mr. Mean Mom wants to come out. I gave them permission to tell me if they saw signs of Mr. Mean Mom. I often use this when I notice that my kids are in a silly mood when it is helping time and I am getting frustrated. I will simply say, “Please help me do this chore, I don’t want Mr. Mean Mom to have to come out”. Right now my kids are 8, 5, 3, & 1. They usually settle down rather quickly.
Doing this helps me catch myself before I lose it. I can make myself aware of my rising negative emotions and gain power in stopping a blow out just by saying out loud what I am noticing. I am able to forgive myself a lot easier and give myself grace when, really, that is what most of us need. I know that some days are awesome and other days I greet my pillow with mom guilt and I have to binge watch a show until I can fall asleep.
But- there is always tomorrow. Always forgiveness, especially in the mother-child dynamic. Kids are so forgiving. And likewise, us moms forgive easily- just think about that time your toddler was a jerk-face, slapping your cheek whilst you tried kissing his boo-boo and yes, you cried and sobbed at him, ‘why would you do that?’ (True story, my oldest was 2.) But then he hugs you right away and says, “sowwy” and all is changed. Instant forgiveness. I can’t imagine being that forgiving if my local grocery store cashier did that to me! I would make sure that person was fired on the spot.
Remember that God also sees you, mama, as His child. He offers grace and care toward you in ways you can’t imagine. He understands the struggle and the fragility that we operate under with little sleep and high demand of our time, energy, and emotions. Count your good days, and live them up! And on the bad days, pray for forgiveness and renewed strength from God. And ask for forgiveness from your kiddos, try a different strategy (maybe a puppet or an alter ego) and make them funny-faced banana pancakes. Reach out to a therapist or a mom friend who will simply listen with a grace-filled ear. Stay away from the know-it-all, ‘do this and it’s fixed’ Karens of the world (and it’s sometimes a well meaning aunt or bestie).
Motherhood is hard. Kids are human, you are human- don’t let anyone give you a special secret recipe about being the perfect parent, because you will feel like a failure if either you or your kids stray from the perfect formula. And I speak mainly for those who are not neurotypical, I am sure traditional parenting groups and advice work just peachy for you. Keep an open mind, don’t give up. Keep trying. You got this, mama. Forgive yourself, let it go, try the next tip or technique. Gain strength and patience from God, it’s there for the taking.
Mr. (Sometimes) Mean Mom