When Your Kid is the “Only One” and You Feel Like a “Bad” Mom

This week has been hard – I was originally thinking “awful” which is also somewhat accurate, but obviously more negative. This week was our son’s first week back at daycare in two weeks because of the Christmas break – and our son has not handled it well. Most drop offs have ended with me walking away down the hallway, still hearing his screams as I exit the building. And it hasn’t just been screaming – he’s started running away from me and hitting when he doesn’t like something – he’s even begun to hit other people now if he’s extremely upset. 

My identity as a mom has been a bit shaken this week – I hate feeling like I can’t control my child (I hate not being in control of things in general…) I hate feeling like I’m the only one whose three-year-old has extreme tantrums anytime I try to leave him at daycare – those feelings of “what am I doing wrong?” begin to spring up, and I start convincing myself that everyone is judging me for being a “bad” parent.

I know my kid is a good kid, but I also know he is easily overwhelmed by people, loud noises, and changes to his routine. He used to tell me that he didn’t like daycare because “everyone said hello to him” – so I get it, he’s introverted, and that’s okay. Hitting, screaming, and throwing tantrums are not okay, however, as I have told my son numerous times this week in our heart-to-heart talks at the end of the day.   

I confided in a trusted friend this week about how I was struggling with mom guilt, how I was so tired of every day being a struggle for myself and my child – and she did exactly what I needed her to do, which was to speak words of truth to me, validate my feelings, and to remind me of the lies I was telling myself. Here’s part of a text she sent me yesterday:

“That is so hard, friend. It [my son’s behavior] feels like a reflection on you because you’re the mom – but really the reflection on you is that he’s a secure boy who knows he has a voice and feels comfortable and safe to express his frustration or anxiety…”

We talked about how his “bad” behavior was not being done maliciously, but the screaming and hitting were his way of trying to communicate that he felt unsafe, or scared, and that he really, REALLY was not happy. We talked about doing things to help validate my son’s feelings – saying things like, “I know this is hard for you and that you are not happy. You are safe. I will come back this afternoon to pick you up.” She reminded me that I was not alone, as I had convinced myself, and that many other parents were also struggling this week coming back from the holiday break. She reminded me that the people who might be labeling me a “bad” mom were not the people who mattered anyway.

Something else I also had to come to terms with this week was my pride. I realized that I was allowing my pride to either be puffed up, or totally flattened, by my son’s behavior. I came across this posted on a friend’s Facebook wall, and I felt like it was meant for me to see:  Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 11.08.25 AMI want to be proud of my son when he does good things and when he overcomes his fears. But I don’t want to let his choices totally define me and make me feel secure or insecure about my abilities as a mother. But how often do we find ourselves thinking this way? We see a “badly” behaved kid (or sometimes more accurately, probably an emotionally overwhelmed kid) and we sometimes unfairly assume that the parents are just failing to do their job or put in the effort. Many times, as I can attest to, the parents are doing the best they can – and they’re tired and frustrated and feel helpless. 

So, where do I go from here? My husband and I have tried to be creative in how we attempt to get through this phase – one thing we have tried to start doing is dropping our son off earlier than normal to daycare, when there are fewer kids in the classroom (aka. creating a less overwhelming environment). The few days we have done it, things have been better – not perfect, but better. We want to strike a balance between validating our son’s feelings, allowing him a voice to say “no,” but still requiring him to be able to function in day to day life. It’s hard, I don’t always find the right balance – but I’ll keep trying. 

As always, my hope is that sharing this post will help at least one other person to not feel so alone. The author Brené Brown says that shame grows in us when we convince ourselves we’re alone and keep our struggles a secret. Shame is destroyed when we experience empathy from others – that moment when someone says “me too.” If you need another parent to say “me too,” I’m here for you.

Thanks for reading.

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