I had one of those days where nothing was going as planned. I had already shouted at the kids more times than I could count, and the tears from both of them seemed endless and unnecessary. I literally spent 15 minutes with a mini screwdriver and a light-up car trying to fix a piece of string that was stuck in the tire while my two year old wailed at my feet. My five year old shouted that he was “going to be bored for the rest of his life,” and dramatically flung himself on the ground and groaned. I mumbled some cliché about how he could fold the laundry if he was so bored. Which made him cry, for absolutely no logical reason, probably because his sister was crying and he felt left out. I set down the broken, unfixable car and walked away. Since the two year old blamed her brother for my abrupt exit from the room, she proceeded to hit him on the head, which made him scream louder, “Mommmmyyyyy!!!” I shouted in my most loud and frustrated voice, “STOP! You have both just got to stop!” This was followed by a glorious moment of stunned silence, filled a second later by hurt-feelings cries. “I hate this day,” I thought to myself before I mumbled that “Mommy has to pee,” and took off to hide behind the bathroom door.
Sometimes these days do not bother me. I can be so good at riding the wave of minor inconveniences and mismanaged schedules. But other days, days like this, the smallest disappointment sends me running to the bathroom to hide my tears. Then the negative thoughts flood my brain. The “I am not good enough” thoughts, followed by the “I am tired and need a break from being mom” thoughts. Sometimes they are overwhelming, and other times are easily brushed away. Either way, they always carry a little extra of the two feelings I hate most about sensitive days: guilt and fear.
There is a heavy dose of mom guilt that fills my heart every time I have an “I can’t do this right now” thought. I love my two kids more than anything, and sometimes I stare at them and simply wonder how I got to be so lucky to have these two beautiful humans in my life. Then the flip happens, I doubt my ability to be a mom, I wish for a moment that I could temporarily be anywhere but here, and then the realization that I thought this about them hits me and it hurts. All of the “thankful, grateful, blessed” comments that I’ve seen attached to pictures of other people’s children flash before my eyes, as if I’m watching the actual downfall of my parenting capabilities. Every parenting book I’ve read, podcast I’ve supported, and post that I’ve liked that talks about how to stay in control of our adult emotions when our littles need us the most, teaching them through modeling emotional regulation and control, they all flood my mind, creating a pool of guilt.
Of course, navigating a flood of mom guilt is not enough for a rough day; a layer of fear always seems to show up at the same time. Fear that this time my raised voice actually ruined my child, who will now probably spend the rest of his life hurting those around him. This time my tears have officially scared away those who had any confidence in my ability to be an adult. If the guilt was not paralyzing enough, the fear pushes it over the edge.
So now what. Well, if you have never experienced the spiraling guilt and fear that can follow overwhelming thoughts on a bad day, I’m sorry if I scared you. However, if you have found yourself being suffocated by overwhelming emotions, while hiding your tears in the bathroom, the gentle reminders that follow are for you.
I have a ton of different coping techniques I could tell you all about; techniques to break the emotions and move forward. I have a treasure trove of research-supported, well-documented tools to use in order to turn back into super-mom. Tools such as, meditation, deep breathing, focusing on the present, resetting, focusing on gratitude, repeating self-compassion mantras, looking for the truth in the stories and confronting the lies, exercising, or journaling. These are all great; they are tools I always carry in the back of mind, tools that I have every intention to use in my moments of need. However, I don’t! Honestly, I am here to tell you that in that moment when my emotions are unrealistic and unfair, I have literally one trick, one thing that I do: I get up. I open the bathroom door and I move forward. In the famous words of Dory the fish, “Just keep swimming.” I do the best that I can with the abilities that I have in that moment. I intentionally try to do better than I did before my emotional break. And if the doubt starts creeping in, I tell myself one thing, “My kids WILL SURVIVE a bad day.”
Sometimes that is it. I just put one foot in front of the other until it is bedtime and I can close my eyes in peace. Other days it gets better, I find the teachable moments in the situations. I talk to my kids about big feelings, like being overwhelmed, feeling scared, and apologizing when you say something you don’t mean. I like to think that the lessons that come out of the bad days make a bigger impact than some of the good days we have. But, if it was a bad day that contained no growth, no lessons, no turned-around pep talks, I’m learning to be okay with those too. Because honestly, that is what we all do every day, our best, and that is all we can really expect.
So, save this post for a day when you find yourself hiding in the bathroom. Don’t read the advice about controlling your emotions, or look at other people’s blessed online children, not in that moment. Instead, read this. Remember you are not alone, you’ve got this, now just take your next step.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.