I was losing it – totally at my breaking point with my kids. They were maybe 4 and 9 at the time and I really hated going anywhere in the car with them. And since we lived in a somewhat rural place, I had to get in the car often to go find civilization.
That particular morning, my youngest didn’t want to get in his car seat, so I was honestly already worn out from that interaction before we left the driveway. Finally safely buckled in, my two boys had started fighting in the back seat before we were more than a few miles from home, and I thought I was just going to lose it completely.
Why can’t they just be quiet and enjoy the scenery?!
What went through my head? “Do they hate me? Are they trying to torture me?” It felt really personal. And the last thing I wanted to do was something nice for them. We were going to the park so that they could play with their friends, after all.
This is when the yelling started (me) and I started flailing my hand around in the back seat like I was going to hit someone, the same way my dad did when my brothers and I were having trouble in the car. Maybe one of your parents did the same thing. I don’t hit my kids, and this wasn’t effective when my dad did it, so there was no logical reason that I did this. It was part of my old experiences and I was in a very old part of my brain just then. The part of my brain that believes the only way through this is to fight.
It didn’t help. (I know, surprise!) My kids didn’t magically calm down and start looking out the window or enjoying the scenery. Why can’t it just work out that way?!
In the spirit of full disclosure, there may have been a bit of less than stellar driving as I started doling out threats of punishment or taking away things they loved. I finally had enough and pulled the car over on the side of the road. I got out, stood in the grass and screamed right there.
Not exactly my best parenting moment.
I was on red. I was in survival, down about 50 IQ points, and I shouldn’t have been driving. Even I finally had the sense to realize that.
My kids probably had their mouths open in the car, trying to figure out what was wrong with their mother. Or maybe not. This may or may not have been the first time something like this had happened.
For me, standing up helped.
Stepping away from my kids for a moment helped.
Breathing and getting some oxygen to my prefrontal cortex helped.
Pulling over and getting out from behind the wheel helped, too.
Maybe you can relate to my story. This wasn’t my best parenting day and I’d like to say that it was also my worst, but it wasn’t. It’s a snapshot. A moment of time. And you probably have them, too.
I hear stories like this from parents every day.
The mom who completely lost it in the grocery store.
The story about how both parents blew up at their 5-year-old trying to play a game.
The child who melted on the sidewalk like a starfish in the cold and wouldn’t get on the bus and then dad lost it, too.
The child who won’t do something for himself and the parent who can’t take it anymore.
The kids who won’t help and mom and dad are doing everything. And they’re exhausted and lose it when the kids say no. Again.
Life and parenting are full of stressors and triggers that set us off.
And parenting is less full of support. Real support. Not judgmental, “You just should have done _____” advice.
What would it be like to feel supported? How can we feel like we’re not the only one going through something like this? Surely, we’re not the only one who loses it with their kids. Right?
This particular story had a happy ending.
I was ready to go back home and skip our fun outing with friends at a park. But my boys and I were able to work it out, finding a way to meet everyone’s needs so that we could continue on our journey.
The key for me was that I found a way to regulate myself so that I could reconnect with myself and my boys. If I am stressed to the point that I am defensive and not feeling safe, they aren’t feeling safe, either. And when no one is feeling safe, we’re going to act like it. Honestly, we’re going to probably do things that don’t make anyone feel safe and that aren’t really helpful.
What helps you get through moments like this?
Chances are that your parents didn’t know either, and that you’re muddling your own way through it. And that’s not your fault! We’re talking about generations of people before you who just didn’t know what else to do.
If you’d like a layer of support to help find your way through the emotional upsets that are inevitable in family life so you can handle them in a way where you all stay connected (or at least can reconnect,) please consider joining our Tantrums and Emotional Upsets class starting this Wednesday, October 4. It’s an online class with some live Q&A calls and conversation in our private Facebook group. It isn’t just about 2- or 3-year-olds who have tantrums. It’s about emotional upsets in the family and how we can get through them together.
If you can’t afford the class, but need the support, please email me and we’ll work something out. I want you to have the support you need right now.
With so many difficult things happening in the world right now, we all really need more layers of support to learn how to handle our feelings, and a safe space to do it. I hope you’ll join us!