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Ready to snap

woman screamingIn my reader survey, two people asked me very similar questions. Since this evening I was ready to snap, which also tends to heighten my memory of all similar moments in the past, I figured this is as good a time as any to write about it.  Their questions were:

I'd love to hear what you do when your children push your buttons until you are seething. How do you hold it together? What do you do when you do lose it? What does 'losing it' look like for you? What situations lead to you losing it and what have you changed to mitigate/avoid it?


What is the most violent immediate future you've ever avoided by calming down out of the moment? A shake? A slap? A butt smack? Nothing?    What I mean is, most parents face their anger in their child's defiant eyes, or when a child has done something dangerous to a sibling. All (most) of us just shift the physical impulse off to the left while we handle the situation, but have you ever been scared by the possibility you saw in your own emotional reaction?

Most of the time, I try to be patient when the kids are doing things that make me seethe. I can handle my kids being defiant if that is the only thing going on and I find that my Discipline Spectrum generally tends to guide me in the right way. However, I find it gets to be too much for me when everything else is going wrong too. If other things that are creating stress for me, if I haven't had a break in a long time, if I'm exhausted, if I'm sick or injured, if I've had a disagreement with someone I care about, then having my kids test my patience over and over again on top of that it can make me lose it. Essentially, if I am really far off of the balance I strive for, then I just don't have the patience.

I wrote some of my feelings on this after a particularly bad day in Berlin this summer. This was when we had only been there a little more than a week. Everything was new to them. Everything was new to me. I went from sitting in an office all day to being alone with the kids all day. We didn't have any of our things. There wasn't a backyard to send them out into. There wasn't even a television to offer a brief sanity break. There was nothing.

In Age three: defiance with a smirk, I wrote:
Both of my kids at three, it seems, reached the age of defiance with a smirk. Not only are they completely selfish, but they also seem to take joy in preventing others from meeting their needs and have little sense of potential danger or discomfort for themselves. Refusing to go the bathroom before we leave the house and taking joy in the fact that her brother and I are frustrated that we can’t leave the house until she changes her mind (even though she also wants to go where we want to go). Having the ability to open closed doors to return to the scene of a previous crime and attempt a destructive and dangerous feat once again (e.g. swinging from the curtains in a borrowed apartment).  Running in front of your feet with begs to be carried one moment (and getting tripped over in the process) and running off wild in the wrong direction or pausing to pick up dirty cigarette butts the next. Refusing to leave a playground or store when her brother has to go to the bathroom. Throwing toys or books across the room when they don’t do what she wants them to do. Asking for a specific food and then refusing to eat any of it. I could go on.

In that post, I characterized our difficulties as a "battle". A couple of commenters noted that seeing it as a battle is part of the problem. I do recognize that, but I was being honest about my feelings on that particular day. It did feel like a battle and it is usually when it gets to that point that I feel like I'm going to blow a fuse.

What does losing it look like?

I have never been physically violent with my children. I know intellectually that hitting my kids is wrong. But I also don't seem to have the instinct to hit my children when they make me angry. Even when my daughter slapped me in the face. Even when my son threw a toy car at my eye. Physical violence isn't a reaction that I need to fight off.  I know people who strongly believe that spanking is wrong, but that have spanked their children when they put a sibling in danger because they just reacted and didn't know what else to do in that moment. But that isn't an instinct I've ever had.

That said, I have physically restrained my kids or physically removed my kids from situations. I have held them or carried them as they screamed bloody murder. I have done that in public (never a fun prospect) and I have done it at home.  I have also screamed. That is probably the instinct that I have most often that I don't like. When I run out of other options I scream. I don't mean the routine screaming a lot of parents do when reminding their children over and over again about things they are supposed to do ("PICK UP YOUR ROOM ALREADY!"), but more the "STOP THAT NOW!" scream, sometimes in combination with physically restraining the child. If I get to that point, I have lost it. That is the reaction I try to fight off. That is the one that scares me, both because I don't like seeing myself like that, and because I don't like seeing the look in my child's eyes when I get to that point.

I also cry. If no one is in immediate danger, but if my kids have just been horrible to me all day long and if none of my attempts to be patient or to connect with them have worked, then I have gone to another room and sobbed. Sometimes the kids ignore me, but usually they come to me to see what is wrong and that creates a new opportunity to discuss the problem. However, that discussion doesn't always mean that the problem magically disappears. In Berlin I sometimes had several days in a row where I ended up in tears, but it did mean that at least they recognized that Mommy can't just take it all the time.

What I do when I'm about to lose it

I breathe. I count to 10 under my breath. I leave the room. But that isn't always enough. If the destruction is continuing or if they follow me and keep up with whatever they are doing, then things just escalate.

I'm not a fan of using television as a babysitter. But I am a big fan of using television to avoid mistreating my children and damaging our relationship. That is why, in Berlin, we did end up buying a small television. I knew that I needed something that would distract and calm the kids when they weren't calm and I wasn't calm so that we could both take a breather. The television gave us that, along with the added bonus of helping them with their German.

I also think that fresh air is a great solution. Here in Canada, that is easier. Especially now that the kids are a bit older, we can just send them outside when everyone needs a breather. Even if they just go out for five or ten minutes, sometimes that is enough. But fresh air is also a good mitigation strategy in general. I find that the more time our kids spend outside, the less likely we are to get to a point where I feel like I'm going to lose it.

Trying to turn things into a game or a playful moment helps too, but usually if I am ready to snap, then it is already past that point for me. That is an idea that needs to kick in a bit earlier in the process for it to be a good option for me.

My fears

My biggest fear when I'm ready to snap or when I do lose it is that I have lost all connection with my kids and lost all ability to influence them via that connection. I generally believe that human beings who care about each other and are connected with one another will also treat one another with respect. When my children seem to have lost all respect for my needs and my feelings, then I get scared that we have lost that connection.

My other fear is that I've raised little monsters. I wonder if maybe I should have been a stricter disciplinarian and created schedules and rules and penalties and all sorts of things like that to keep them in line. I worry that they are not only going to be horrible to me, but that they are going to be horrible to everyone else.

Those fears, thankfully, are usually short lived. It doesn't usually take that long to reconnect and once we have reconnected or regrounded ourselves or reestablished some normalcy in our lives, then I realize that the absence of connection, grounding, or normalcy is what was causing them to act the way that they were acting and that they are not, in fact, little monsters but just human beings reacting to changes in their environment.

What I don't want or need

In the moments where I feel like I'm going to snap, as much as I feel like I need help, I don't really need advice.  I do not need someone telling me how great time outs are. I do not need someone telling me that I was disrespectful to my child and that if I just focused better on connecting with her that these problems would not arise. I do not need someone saying that I expect too much of myself or that I expect too much of my children.  I do not need someone telling me that we need strict consequences for misbehaviour. I need a hug. I need empathy. I need help. I need a break. I need space. I need time to think. Once I've had that, I need one-on-one time with the kids to reconnect with them and I need a few days of calm for us to get back to normal and leave our stresses behind.

How about you? What is it like for you when you feel like you are about to snap?

Image credit: Pink Sherbet Photography on flickr
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Reader Comments (63)

Sounds like you and I are in the same boat tonight. As a mother of a three year old I can definitely relate. Like you, I raise my voice. I scream. I hate when that happens and I know that I need to step away and need a break. I never have the impulse to hit, but the yelling is what happens when my buttons are pushed, my anxiety is escalated and I just can't take it.

I try to count and calm down too. We've taught my daughter to take a deep breath, count to three and say calm down when she's very upset. Mama has been needing some 1-2-3 calm downs lately too. It does help most of the time, for both of us!

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSemi-crunchy Mama

I have felt what I call "itchy hands", when I have felt the impulse to strike one of my children. Usually in situations where I perceive great danger, and they're not taking it seriously. Like, say, running away from me in a busy grocery store parking lot and laughing.

I have never hit my children. But I know I could, out of anger. Which actually strengthens my resolve not to hit. Because clearly, this is not something that is actually a measured or even response on my part, but an angry reaction.

I have gone to my room and sobbed. I have yelled, and known it wouldn't help. And I have playfully de-escalated situations. Sometimes, I really pull through. Sometimes I don't. Always, I try to do better.

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Sometimes, I really pull through. Sometimes I don’t. Always, I try to do better.

That, in a nutshell, is parenting.

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Love this post!
I`m like you, I don`t slap, I scream. Once or twice I went outside and kicked some bricks (and hurt myself on the way) just to get it out. And I need a hug. Usually it happens when there are no people within 30min walk (we live in the mountains).
If I see I can`t calm everybody down (usually when it happens everybody, my 3yr old, 1years old and me are screaming/crying), I put the younger on my back, carry the older in my arms and go for a walk. We do calm down eventually and come back home reconnected and in peace.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlicja

I hear so many people say that 3 is often the start of a really tough phase, and seeing as I'm about to have a baby and then my son turns 3 a couple months later, I'm... a bit afraid, lol.

I identify with a lot of what you say here. I don't feel the urge to hit when I hit my limit-- instead I yell, and I sometimes cry. Usually at this point we're both yelling at each other. Often I just need a few minutes to recompose myself. Sometimes that's meant that I take him into his room and close the door, and he may end up crying in there for a minute or 2 while I take a few deep breaths. It's a last resort, when I just need to separate myself from him for a moment in order to calm down. And then I'll go back in and usually he's ready to calm down, too, and we'll sit on the floor with me holding him, and afterwards we can talk some about what happened (and I may try to explain that sometimes mommy needs a minute to myself, and apologize for leaving him alone).

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

Whoever wrote that second question is a pretentious idiot. Why couldn't they just ask if you ever want to hit your kids instead of trying to sound smart for a bunch of strangers? I hate people like that.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBackpacking Dad

You're just mad that I haven't written an ode to you yet. :P

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I really like this post. As I read it I could feel myself walking through all those emotional scenarios in my head. Actively preventing your emotional state from negatively affecting your kids is the hardest part of parenting, in my opinion. 

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

I'm a yeller and a crier, too. I feel fortunate that my impulse has never been to hit.

Usually, I lose it when I'm tired. If we haven't gotten a good night's sleep, for whatever reason, or I have a lot going on and don't sleep well, the mornings can be tough. Especially if Poppy is also having a hard time or teething or otherwise frustrated.

If I can stop and recognize my exhaustion, I'm often able to pull my rational self out and push my emotional one back inside. I can take a deep breath, remind myself that the reason I'm so angry or easily irritated is because *I* am tired -- not (usually) because Poppy is more "bad" than usual.

If I can't do that, however, and find myself on the brink, I will try to put Poppy somewhere safe (she's just over a year old, so still needs regular supervision) and close myself behind a door for a minute or two. This allows me to get away from the screaming, wailing, whining, acting out, or whatever is driving me nuts and have 60 seconds to myself to regroup and start again. I did this just yesterday when I locked myself in the bathroom for a minute, knowing she was in such a bad state that she was going to do nothing but sit on the other side of the door crying hysterically. When I opened the door a minute later to pick her up and start again, I was so saddened by her state (wild eyes, snot strung from her nose to her knees, etc.) that my mood immediately softened and I could think of nothing to do but cuddle & soothe her.

It's amazing what 60 seconds "alone" can do sometimes.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJo

This post is very a-propos for me... I don't really know what happened to me after our 2nd child, but I have very little patience left. Maybe it's because I'm permanently tired - I'm not sure, but I find that I snap a lot and I wish I didn't. I yell a lot and I hate it when anger takes over my brain. And the worst part is that other moms don't usually talk about the way they snap.

What helps me is to find activities out of the house for us to do. If I stay home for an entire day, that's when I tend to lose patience a little faster. My 3.5 yo drains my energy - he's constantly on the go and wants my attention 150% of the time (normal, but draining nonetheless). Previously I could focus all my energy on him but now that there's a baby I find it hard to deal with the 'I'm a selfish 3 yo' developmental stage. I know it's a stage and he's TRULY a GREAT kid that I love to pieces.. but it's hard sometimes!!!

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAida N

This is a great post.
Today I was at my breaking point. Actually its been one of those weeks. I am 7 months pregnant and chasing around my 23 month old. My husband(who is currently laid off, so he is around) doesn't understand when I say I need a break or I want to sleep in or I need a nap. I get up every morning with our son. I try and get my husband to get up, but he won't, he always ends up falling back to sleep. I spend all day, just about every day with our son. Everywhere I go, he comes with. My husband can just go do what he wants with his time. I have to find a way to make everything work and try and get in a nap for our son. I've moved everything I possibly can out of our living room so we can have a zone, where I can let do what he wants so that I can get dinner going or throw a load of laundry in. Just in the past week though, he has learned that he can now reach the power button on the TV and reach the playstation. My husband gets agravated and yells at him for touching these things. I tell him he needs to figure something out so that he won't be able to touch them, but that of course is too much work. So, not only am I stressed bc of our son just acting like a toddler, I get stressed bc my husband doesn't see the bigger picture to find a solution for the problem.
Today, I was tired, hungry and stressed bc I couldn't find an office building I needed to go to. My GPS was no help. My son kept throwing everything I gave him and then whining bc he wanted it back. When we got home it was no better bc he just wouldn't nap today. I yelled so much today. It was awful bc I hate being that person, which stresses me out even more. And for me, I have to restrain myself so I don't just react with a smack. Thats how my sisters and I were raised. We were smacked, threatened, grounded, soap in the mouth. . . I am trying very hard to keep that reaction in check some days.
I love the connection/attachment I have with my son. I know its something that was definitely missing with my mom. I will fight with every bone in my body to keep that.
Our night ended well. He was beyond tired and ended up passing out on the couch next to me(sometimes that is the easier way to go about bedtime) at about 8:30. It was a long day for both of us, but we had reconnected before he fell asleep. That is very important to me. Not going to bed mad.
Wow, sorry, I rambled. Guess I really needed to vent tonight.
Thank you again for this post.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I'm very glad you posted this, and I wish that more moms would talk about these "darker moments" of motherhood when our patients are stretched to thin, we are exhausted and we just loose it. Not that it makes me happy to hear of moms having difficulties, but I think it would make us feel less alone, less isolated, and more normal if we could talk about it. Pretending to be perfect really doesn't help moms connect or support one another.

I recently worked up the courage to share my recent experience of loosing it or my "mommy dearest moment" on my blog. I didn't get physical with my children, but I really lost control and screamed in a way that I shouldn't have and I felt horrible about it.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I've had a really though time with my son lately, even though he's still very young. He's been crying several hours at a time almost every day, and I've gotten to my limit many times. I get frustrated, sometimes I yell at him to please just stop crying, I take a break and have a cry, myself. Then, I go back and try and try again.

The last paragraph is exactly how I feel: please don't try to fix it, don't tell me everything is going to be ok. Just acknowledge what I'm going through, give me a hug, give me a break, let me know I'm not alone.

I'm doing my best. I know we all are.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Reading your story was bringing back bad feelings for me. I often reminisce about those younger days, but sometimes forgetting that daily stress that often accompanied it. I had two defining moments. Once when I had my 1 yr old and 2 year old in the back yard and I was trying to dig a garden patch. The 1 yr old would not stop crying. I yelled at him to be quiet, but he won't be. I eventually go back in the house really made, then I cry and realize that in order to cope with these years, I cannot have any 'me' plans. I cannot be 'me' and mommy at the same time. I must put my activities on hold. And as much as I fought that, that was how I had to think about things, another 3 -4 years and they will both be in school, then maybe I can get back to 'me'. Later as a single mom to three, I was having a meltdown, and knew I had to think of something. I was so mad and stressed and fed up with their politics and fighting and unending noise drilling into my head, I was going to flip, and soon. I'm almost walking in a circle talking to myself in the livingroom, telling myself I have to think of something that finishes the sentence of "Isn't it lucky that . . .", But what? Damn it, I better think of something! "Isn't it lucky that . . . " Come on, there has got to be something, think harder. Then I realized something. I was a Teachers Aide at my school, and there was a 12 yr old child there that wasn't alert enough to walk or talk or be potty trained. And my children are being noisy because THEY CAN BE, not like this girl, who never would. Thank you Life!

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercourtney

"I’m not a fan of using television as a babysitter. But I am a big fan of using television to avoid mistreating my children and damaging our relationship."

I really like that thought. My daughter never watched tv until she was two and a half, at which she hit the 'terrible twos' stage with a vengeance, just as I got pregnant again. Now she watches so much more than I ever imagined, and it drives me crazy. But there are days when I'm so tired and sore I just can't get off the couch, and she's pushing all my buttons. Those are the days where we cuddle up and watch Franklin (again and again and again). Next time, instead of feeling guilty, I'll try and frame it more positively, like in your quote above.

As for your question - when I snap, I tend to yell (totally ineffective) and then use 'time outs'. They are never long -- just enough so my daughter sees that I am serious (yelling, crying -- they just don't phase her), and just enough for me to cool down. It kind of works, but I wish I could come up with something better.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Watson

As a Dad of three with a lumpy life I can identify with this post; I'm sure most parents can. The honesty of the emotion is reassuring, if I can use that word. I think parents tend to think that they are different from the rest and are perhaps, not as good as others. I have been angry or frustrated enough to part my kids' hair with a yell but not lose it physically with them. It just doesn't seem to enter the situation. It's a bugger that kids are so good at being the straw that breaks the camels back. If a day was reversed perhaps it'd be someone at work or on the street that found their hair parted by a blast. Enjoyed the post.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBillyT

My son's only 8 months, so any frustration I feel with him is really only my issue to deal with. He's too young to "defy" me, etc. But since I've been working as a high school teacher for the last 8 years, I've had a chance to observe many different parenting styles and many different children. I feel that fostering a connection, showing your child you'll always be there, stressing mutual respect and being consistent with expectations is key. I can tell you that the "be my child's friend but then become strict disciplinarian when I realize he's out of control" has never worked for any of my students or their parents.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAbbie

Oh, this: " If the destruction is continuing or if they follow me and keep up with whatever they are doing, then things just escalate."
This HAS to be one of the worst moments in parenting.
When you just want to scream: LEAVE ME ALONE. Because I'm going to snap, because I just need a break, because I don't want to be around you right now... and they continue to follow you & be horrible (or even not be horrible, but, just be, you know... kids), when you're trying, oh you're TRYING so hard to de-escalate and remove yourself but they don't let you, they just don't GET it. Its the moment when I've locked myself in my bathroom & called my husband in tears (while they bang on the door). Ugh.
And it's the moment when I most (angrily, confusingly, guiltily) realize that they are children, not small adults, and their sense of empathy and understanding of the world just ISN'T yet fully functioning, and thus, the problem is really mine, not theirs. That's what brings me to tears - I'm being a bigger child than my children.

I've never hit my children. But my parents were abusive - phyiscally, emotionally, verbally. And shouting is something I have battled with, and continue to, though I'm winning that battle (and it IS a battle, so there.). I read lots of parenting books (which, may or may not be a good thing - I haven't yet decided in the last 6 years), talk myself up, and focus a lot on PREVENTION - determining when/how to cut my losses (and turn on the TV, which we don't do TV, but you are so right - the damage from a television being turned on at an opportune moment is SO much less damaging than choice words screamed at your child) before the problem escalates, keeping an eye on my own emotional & physical state (am I feeling hungry, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, angry over other issues, needing coffee, etc), and keeping one step ahead of my childrens' break-downs - i.e. I KNOW when my daughter is "on the edge" and if I can tear myself away from myself for a moment to fully focus and redirect her at that moment, then later crisis averted.

I've also realized that even a small amount of time on level with my kids play area - in their space - playing with them (without my phone or a book or computer in hand) does WONDERS for the next couple of hours of time. Just a little bit of connection lasts such a long time.

And finally... I apologize & explain to my children how I was feeling if I acted in a way I shouldn't have. I forgive myself. I tell myself I will do better and then I do, most of the time. It's the best we can do, to keep on keeping on. If the vast majority of interactions with your children are connected, positive, respectful, helpful - that is what they will hold on to. They might remember the one or two times you blew up - but you know? At least they can remember those SPECIFIC moments - which to me, means that they were so unusual to them that they stuck out in their minds in a sea of awesome parenting. :)

This post was so honest Annie. Thank you.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Very good post. I am reflecting on my own "worst mommy moments". Not sure if I am eloquent enough to write them down without sounding like the worst mom in the universe!! Ha ha. But I definitely have them. I recently read the Playful Parenting book which has helped me (and I know you linked to your post on it in this post). TV also helps me, too.

When my in-laws were visiting, they brought the kids a full-length movie. They wanted to put in the movie and watch it with the kids. My husband and I were in total agreement that "NO" the grandparents are here, it is play time. Later we also explained to the grandparents that we reserve TV time to help us when we are going insane and need the kids to zone out (quietly) for a bit. I also use TV when I need to work from home and the kids are home with me but I need them to be silent due to a conference call or something like that.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

kelly- those are my worst mommy moments too: when they want to be on you or follow you around when you really need to not be covered in multiple children. In fact, those are my only bad-parent times.

And the frustrating thing about it is that when my daughter is acting like that, it's because she needs the connection so bad and my recoiling from it makes her want it more. I've let out a few "Go away!"s that have resulted in my daughter not only wanting to sit in my lap- but now she wants to nurse for 20 minutes to make up for the loss of connection. If I just let her be with me in the first place, I wouldn't have to make up for the connection loss later. It's so hard, though. I get so touched out when her little brother needs to be held all day because of being sick or teething or whatever that I don't also want to be holding her. But she's only 2.5 and still small.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

For me it's terrifying because I have physically attacked my children, and there's nothing worse, for me. In general I can avoid getting close to snapping. In general I can walk away. But I have no idea how to not-snap in the moment, how to reach that point again but this time do something else, when walking away isn't an option and the build-up hasn't been avoided. I'm not totally certain I have the self-control. I know for certain that at least twice, I didn't.

I can't write about what I did, really. It's too awful. The only good thing to come of it is I am CERTAIN my child doesn't think it's her fault or her responsibility, and she knows I was deeply wrong to do it, and she saw me making sure I wouldn't do it again - I told adult friends, hers and mine.

Because if it happened more, it would be abuse, and we'd need intervention of some sort. It hasn't happened more, but part of my job is to protect her, and that might mean from myself.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe

LOL... the question reminds me of my years in academia. ;-)

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

it's tough, but I often try to remove myself from the situation. Removing multiple children at one time can be quite difficult,so I just remove myself..I call it a Mommy Timeout. Read how I dealt with it....http://wp.me/pHTfb-jO

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCC

I hear you. My husband(s) weren't much help either. Sadly, this is a secret that married women just don't tell you, till it's too late. Really, all moms are single moms. Our days are from the first cry (630 am?) to after bedtime (900pm?) plus we are on call all night. Our eating, sleeping, reading, peeing, bathing, phoning, brushing our teeth, are all put secondary to a child's needs. Men either don't see it, or don't want to see it. Then after a day of mind-numbing child politics, someone ones sex!

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercourtney

should read "someone wants sex!"

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercourtney

thank you so much for this post! i have a newborn and a rambunctious 3-YO who likes to push all my buttons when i am exhausted and nursing. lately i've felt that -- unlike all of these strong mothers around me -- i'm about to lose my sanity and am just not cut out for this mothering business. now i know i am not alone and i am not letting my 3-YO walk all over me (as my parents often infer). it's simply a learning point for both of us.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jo

Thanks for this post and also the comments - I was getting worried about my 3 1/2 year old and her sudden change in behaviour that is trying to push my buttons. Seems it's normal and a stage and that alone makes me feel a lot more confident that it's not me who's doing something wrong.

I'm a yeller too, and really working hard on not doing it because it scares my daughter, I so hate the look in her eyes when it happens, and wish the yell had never happened. I only ever felt like hitting when my firstborn was a baby, with sleep deprivation and endless hours of colic (often 7 hours of non stop crying, nothing we did would help). There were two incidents where I was very close to shaking/hitting. When compassion turned to fuming anger because I just couldn't take any more (I also sobbed, screamed and fortunately picked up the phone to a helpline). I didn't hit or shake, but I know how a parent close to a nervous breakdown can do it - I don't ever feel like hitting now, even with a 3 year old pushing the boundaries and newborn.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercartside


I think your comment is unfair to a lot of men. I don't doubt that there are many spouses who do not carry their weight, but to say that "really, all moms are single moms" isn't fair either. My husband is an equal partner in our home.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm sorry it sounds like you are in a bad relationship and have no good models around you. I get up between 6-7 am with my 5 year old twins so my wife and 23 month old can get a bit more sleep. I come home early from work every day so I can be involved in my kids lives instead of getting home to put them to bed. That means after they go to bed I work around the house and then do the work I didn't do at the office. And I don't think I'm that unusual.

Good luck.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

Sorry, but I have to chime in here as well... I understand the "all moms are single moms" comment. Yes, it's a generalization but then so is thinking that all husbands are equal partners. Of all the families that I know with kids I have to say that there are only 2 where the fathers are truly doing their fair share of the parenting duty. In all others the moms comments on how they feel they do all the work and get minimal help. It just seems to be more of the norm...

My hubby's not a bad guy, in fact he truly believes that he tries really hard to be helpful. And sometimes he is. But, the reality is that even when he's around and physically helping with the kids I'm still the only one thinking about what needs to be done... such as, we need to prepare food for them, need to change the baby's diaper, need to get them to nap so they won't be cranky, need to give them a bath or wash their hair or cut their nails... the list goes on and on. He tends to stay at work late because if he came home and helped with the kids then he'd be too tired to complete his work. So, I'm usually the one tending to the kids morning, daytime and at night. He also never got up with the kids at night... etc. I've learned to deal with our differences so we're ok - but I just wanted to say that I get where the comment comes from.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAida N

Aida N:

I understand how any individual mom could feel like she is a single mom, I just don't think it is fair to project that onto all moms/dads/relationships.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I love the fact that there are comments on how we yell,scream and sometime regrettably physically punish the children when we reach our breaking points..... I wonder if this was a face to face group...would we admit to it then? This is a really great article! I feel that too often reaching our breaking points is looked down as being a BAD PARENT. so we don't talk about them. when it's actually...being human. Listening to other mothers and knowing I am not alone...IS my therapy.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCC

You know, that's exactly how I feel too. That's why I think this kind of post is a good idea. It's healing to know that I'm human and not alone - it still doesn't make it right to yell at my child but at least I know I'm not the only one. Interesting point about being 'face to face' and admitting to losing it. I recently had this exact same conversation with some friends of mine... we all 'came clean' and it felt wonderful!!! I strongly encourage this kind of open dialogue.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAida N

Enjoyed the post!

BillyT, "I think parents tend to think that they are different from the rest and are perhaps, not as good as others." I totally agree, we always (at some point) think we're worse parents than everyone else. I can not say enough about the need to support eachother as a community of parents. I have always thought, from the moment I became a mother, that we are parents not only to our own children, but ALL children. In a parenting role, we are bound to lose the plot without a sense of support and belonging.

Cherie - Natural Mama NZ

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCherie - Natural Mama NZ

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to start something. I just really needed to vent and this post came along at just the right time.

I think it is probably split down the middle with the dads who help and those that don't.

I belong to a mom group and I get jealous when the other moms talk about their husbands taking the little ones out to do things and helping around the house or making dinner. My husband doesn't do any of that unless I specifically tell him that he has to do something. I think part of it stems from the fact that he is an only child. He has only ever had to think about himself and trying to change that way of thinking is difficult for him.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

[...] at PhD in Parenting gives us a picture of what it looks like when she is Ready to snap. I really appreciated the honesty in this post and related a great [...]

Thanks so much for answering my question! I wrote that first series of questions after my husband had been away for almost 3 weeks and I was at home with a 3 year old and a 10 month old who has just started crawling. We were sick, and grumpy, and whiney. I had most of my least proud mothering moments in those weeks and needed to hear that others have those days too. I am very similar in my approach to parenting to you and apparently very similar in my meltdown moments as well. After screaming at my daughter one night, I put her in her room for a few minutes to find the sanity I needed to make it through the rest of the night. I try to use these less proud moments of parenting to get better at apologizing and show humility to my children.

Anyway, thank you. It helps to hear that everyone has these moments.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Its my expectations that do me in. On top of daily circumstances. When i'm under stress and start thinking "he should be acting like this...he shouldn't be doing that" etc., that's when I cry, yell, walk away. Taking time away, recognizing I'm 'shoulding' on myself, and apologizing to my kids and using it as a moment to talk about our behaviour is how I cope. I will turn on the TV and I also keep a few special toys locked away for those moments when they need immediate distraction (a box of noodles with trucks, a box of sand with tools).

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

The younger of my two daughters has always had a talent for pushing my buttons. I have to admit that I did slap her once when she was about two (after she hit me in the eye). I wanted to many other times but I didn't and I can't even describe how much I love her. She is a spirited person and so am I. It ain't easy.

She is 23 *years* old now. She moved back with us after graduating [with all kinds of honors] from college. She works a low-paying job that allows her to pursue the theatre and fiber arts stuff that I think she will eventually make a decent living from and I am supporting her on that. We get along 97.5% of the time. The other 2.5%? Well. It's complicated but today I felt like slapping her again. We know each other well and she is a well-adjusted adult and we both know that, when we have these "moom/mouse" moments, it's best if we just separate for a while. She went off to work and I did whatever and, when she came home, we were both able to talk about the issue, calmly and happily.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkayak woman

*nodding* The "disequilibrium" stage of Age 3 was really really rough here. But knowing that it was "normal" helped us get through it.
"once we have reconnected or regrounded ourselves or reestablished some normalcy in our lives, then I realize that the absence of connection, grounding, or normalcy is what was causing them to act the way that they were acting and that they are not, in fact, little monsters but just human beings reacting to changes in their environment."

yes, yes, yes, YES!

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSally

I know a few parents who definitely could benefit from reading this. I see the way they handle their kids in public and I think.. if they do this in public how do they do it behind closed doors? I almost feel bad for them and their children. My husband usually does the disciplining and while he is no where near physically or mentally abusive, he strikes fear in them. I think its fear of letting him down as he has high expectations.

November 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen Simmons

This was the perfect thing to read today. I am glad I am behind in my readers. :-)

November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

Thank you for writing about how you lose your patience. I've been struggling with my patience today too. And I also believe it stems from a loss of connection. Hugs to you. I need a hug too. I find myself apologizing to my kids for getting mad. I also tell them that I am trying to take a deep breath and work on not getting frustrated. I see my little girl taking a deep breath occasionally too. She's 4. Beforehand though, I try to steal myself away. I try to give myself a little vacation from the moment, from the worry and aggravation. In a breath or two. Sometimes it works, when I remember to breathe. A lot of the time, I don't remember. What pushes my buttons the most is when they hurt each other. My bad reactions, yelling, doesn't help. Thank you so much for this reminder to re-connect:)

November 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

[...] outrageous bragging confessions from moms about how “bad” they had been. Talking about our rough days — sure, that makes sense. But bragging about them? Not my cup of [...]

There is one thing I will do when my kid grows up. If he physically abuses anyone, no matter what it is, it warrants some discipline.

This happened two kids to me and my husband while their mother was standing there. The two kids were throwing sticks and rocks at us...and she didn't do ANYTHING. She just let them be total brats to the two of us. We had to turn around and walk into our apartment because the two of us were that close to disciplining her bratty kids for her.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKat

When I reach my Limit.. Thats when i pull out the belt and start wacking

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjackson Bryant

I loved this post. I'm a new reader (like, started today) and it makes me feel heartened to know that I'm not alone in questioning my parenting choices (maybe the MIL is right & he DOES 'need to vocalize' aka CIO) in the hard moments. Oddly, reading this helps me feel I'm going in the right direction! My husband & I have chosen to go the AP route, away from the mainstream herd, to find new meaning & end up with new results. Our families don't quite get it, why we decided to it "the hard way." Sounds crazy - but this is my Everest. I take the responsibility I have toward my son more seriously than anything I've ever done before, which seems only appropriate to me. I haven't quite been able to explain that it's not 'harder,' so much as it's putting the effort into it that is commensurate with the task at hand: helping create an adult. I struggle every single day with this challenge, but I know it's so much better for our family & so worth it in the long run.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

My baby screamed and cried with fright at my yelling the other night - I never want to do that to him again. I just feel angry so much of the time and never learned how to manage it growing up. I am desperate to get it under control before it does any more damage. Knowing I am not alone and that there is help out there gives me hope. Thank you.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterH


A friend of mine felt angry all the time after she had her baby. It turns out it was a form of postpartum depression. You can read her story here: http://blog.babyready.ca/2009/03/darker-side-of-postpartum-depression.html

If you need more info on getting help to deal with your anger, let me know and I can pass along more resources and links.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you, I will take all the help I can get right now. I have just started seeing a psychologist and am on medication for anxiety (pre-existing and making life with a baby harder), but am on the lookout for good books, websites that might help too. I have ordered "When anger hurts your kids" and will be getting "The dance of anger" - do you know of any others you would recommend?

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterH

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