My two year old has had three epic tantrums in the past ninety minutes. There is chewed up corn on the rug. And non-chewed rice. And a spoon. And possibly what is left of my sanity, smooshed up in the bits of corn and rice.
It’s very hard to remember that toddlers having tantrums are not trying to give their parents a hard time. They’re having a hard time. Because they’re tired, sick, sore, hungry, thirsty, not hungry, teething or just because they’re two and a half and full of emotions too big for their little bodies to hold.
It’s hard to keep your cool. It’s hard to remember you’re the grown up one. The one capable of reason and logic and calm. It’s hard to pick your battles. Is the food on the floor that catastrophic? Is the flung spoon that outrageous?
Sometimes I lose it. I forget that I’m 33 years old, an adult who pays bills and drives a car and works and votes and is a mum and I throw a wobbler of my own. On the rare occasion this happens with no audience it can feel pretty good; cathartic even. More commonly it’s dragged out against my better judgement. Kids will do that. Big ones will leave projects til the last minute or will leave wet towels festering in shopping bags for days or won’t do the most basic chore they’ve been asked to do 1000 times.
Little ones will scream bloody murder for a turn of your iPhone or because you asked them if the wanted spaghetti, which they did, which you then gave to them- how could you?!
Is it any wonder parents occasionally run through their homes uttering obscenities and looking for an escape hatch or a bucket of wine or better yet- an escape hatch filled with buckets of wine?
I have two strategies. If it’s epic, and I’m not coping, I remove myself to another room for a few minutes to breathe until I feel somewhat less frazzled. That’s if I’m really quick. Sometimes I raise my voice or say the wrong thing before I have the presence of mind to employ any kind of strategy because hey, I’m only human.
If it’s epic and I can cope because I’m not exhausted/over it/sore/sick/whatever, I do the opposite and run to the child who is losing their shit. When it’s the two year old I can scoop her up, cuddle her, empathise, let her cry in my arms until she feels better. I can make her laugh and distract her. I can do it over and over again if needs be. If it’s a big kid, I can break the tension with a joke, a kind word or a hug. I can do that over and over again, too. Sometimes, probably most times, I have to go with strategy one- putting myself in timeout- before I can go in for strategy two.
Learning how to pick my battles has literally saved my arse as a parent over the last 12 and a bit years. I struggled for ages with getting my cranky pants on when the kids were smaller but usually this got me by. It went out the window in the lead up to and months after losing my mum, when rational thought was hard to come by. Slowly but surely, I wrangled it back. Now, before I get snappy, I ask myself- does it really matter? Really? This is the reason my eldest has a Santa photo wearing her Spiderman costume and my youngest is a nudist. It’s the reason we all ate a gritty Easter cake that was vaguely terrifying to look at last weekend. I just had to learn to relax a bit. It’s worth it- trust me.
It’s a tough gig, this parenting stuff. I feel like shit every time I get it wrong and when I get it right, I only feel relief and I think that’s wrong. Some days between a toddler, two tweens and a teen, survival is a bloody achievement. For all of us. It should be more than relief- it should be pride. Regardless of how many kids you have.
So to all you parents out there, making it through every day while trying to balance parenting with the rest of your life, well fucking done. Chances are, you’re doing a fucking great job, even if you don’t think you are. You’re balancing work, paid and unpaid, with maintaining friendships, maintaining relationships, feeding a family, getting everyone from A to B. You might be studying, you might be writing a book, you might be shuffling your budget to afford Netflix or to afford bread. You might be caring for someone who is ill. You might work two jobs. You might be doing it alone as a single parent or you might have great support but still struggle. It’s not a competition but if it was we’d all bloody win. I think it’s okay to get it wrong sometimes. It’s how we learn. So by that reasoning, I’ve learned loads and learn more every day.
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