I was in my bedroom. I heard my year old son scream and then silence. I tore out of the room as fast as I could, and turned out of the hallway to see my son's face purple with hot tears boiling out of his eyes and his mouth stretched wide and tight with the ear-piercing scream that was about to erupt as soon as he could catch his breath. On top of him was his three year old sister with her teeth clenched hard over the skin on his back.
I flew over to them in one leap and ripped her off him. The hot anger rushed through my body as my fight response kicked into full swing. Without thinking, I pushed her down on the ground, moved my face very close to hers, and I screamed at her, "STOP BITING!" She cowered. I scooped up my son and walked away. I could hear her crying over the wails of my son, who was now leaning into me, crying even harder because of how frightened he was by my outburst. I wanted to blame her. I wanted to be angry at her. How could she do that to my sweet baby? Couldn't she see he was in pain?! But, the hot rush of anger was fading into an icy cold feeling of dread. She was also my baby. Couldn't I see she was in pain? She was only 3. If, in anger and frustration, *I*, a grown woman, had used strength and anger to overpower someone weaker, how could I expect a three year old to be any more mature? How could I expect her to respond rationally when her brother took her toy and triggered her fight response when I couldn't?
I wish I could say that my thoughts resulted in me being able to immediately apologize and repair the damage I had done. But, the truth was, I was having these thoughts with two screaming children, and I felt I could only blame myself. I started the dangerous process of self-mommy-shaming. "You are a failure as a mother. What you just did to your daughter was abusive and wrong. You will never move past this. You are inherently flawed. Your kids will be messed up." The mom-guilt gripped me. The screams rattled me, and their hands yanked on my clothing trying to get the attention and comfort they needed. I was on the brink of sensory overload and another scream (or worse) was rising in me.
I knew I needed to break this cycle.
I set my kids down. I walked to the bathroom and locked the door. I leaned the weight of my body on the door and slowly slid down until I was sitting on the floor. My kids clamored for my attention on the other side.
I said out loud. one "This is hard." "This is really, really hard." Thankfully. I had some tools. I worked through a fantastic self-compassion meditation pioneered by Dr. Kristin Neff. After just a couple of minutes my body felt calm. My thoughts were still filled with remorse but also peace and hope. I knew I could repair this damage done, and maybe even use it as a moment to teach both myself and my kids about resilience, kindness, and compassion.
I opened the door. My kids clung to me. From a place of new-found confidence, I soothed them as I sat crossed-legged with one on each knee. We talked about what happened. We laughed a little. We problem-solved what to do next time so we could avoid all of the pain and distress we went through, and then we went on to have a wonderful, uneventful, typical evening.
If I had not taken that moment to regroup, gain perspective, and practice kindness, the tension would have continued. Our evening would have been "ruined," and it likely would have spilled over to bedtime and possibly the next day.
If you are an overwhelmed mom of littles, you do not have to live in chaos and frustration. You do not have to be a victim of the mom-guilt that keeps us chained to a cycle of reactivity and suffering. You can create the home environment you desperately desire (but may even believe is impossible).
Being a mom is hard. We make mistakes. We mess up. We give in angry reactions too quickly and do things we regret. You don't have to let things snowball further out of control. You just need a tool to help you stop. You need a bathroom to lock yourself in and some science-backed self-talk to move you back to sanity.
My bathroom experience led me to create this tool to help moms in a similar spot.
You can check it out here.
It is painful for me to share this story of my failure. But I know my vulnerability may be the thing you need to feel heard and understood.
We are in this together. You are not alone. There is hope.
Until next time, momma, Much love, Jenna