“I won’t yell tomorrow,” I say to myself, as I sit full of guilt after getting my kids to bed. Today was really hard. If I try to explain the reasons why today was really hard, my reasons sound so small and insignificant. It’s not like we had any major injuries or anything dramatic happen today. It was just a regular day, full of regular fighting and regular whining and regular disobedience. It was run-of-the-mill, really. The real problem was that I couldn’t keep my cool today, and I feel awful about it.
Before I became a mom, I wouldn’t have described myself as an angry person. I have never been prone to outbursts. Generally, I’m pretty even-keeled. It’s really after I became a mom that this all started. I would say newborns are my sweet spot. I thrive in those hazy early days of up-all-night breastfeeding and innumerable diapers. Milky smiles, round bellies, and babywearing snuggles are my jam. I feel the most at peace when I’m holding a brand-spankin’, new baby. These tiny humans are difficult sometimes, sure, but that is expected. Newborns can’t talk to tell you what they need, so they cry instead. They don’t understand the time and are crying whenever they want, day or night. And really what they need is so simple, milk, softness, sleep, and snuggles. I can do that. I know the newborn phase is incredibly difficult and isolating for most people, and I totally get that. I just don’t seem to fit in that category.
Motherhood started getting the hardest for me when my twins were a few months old. My oldest was two-and-a-half, and if you looked up “strong-willed child” in the dictionary, his picture would be there. He did not adjust well to two new babies usurping his coveted only child status. We started to see more tantrums, harder bedtimes, and increased impulsivity. Still, to this day, at almost six-years-old, he reminds me of a Sour Patch Kid, sour one minute, then sweet the next.
The unpredictability was difficult for me. I had this sense that I needed to be always on my toes, even in my own home. I couldn’t leave the babies in a room with him alone for even a few seconds, because he might be too rough with them. I never knew if we would make it through an outing without a tantrum. Many times, with a baby on my front and my back, I would have to wrangle his little flailing 25-pound body through a parking lot and into his car seat. It was exhausting.
I began having intense anxiety surrounding my kids’ safety around that time as well. I would wake up in the middle of the night and have to go check the kids’ rooms to make sure no one had broken in their windows and taken them while I was sleeping. I would have to make sure every child was buckled into their car seat, with the doors closed and locked, before I could walk two stalls down to return the shopping cart, in case someone was waiting to abduct them. During play dates at parks or splash pads, I couldn’t finish even one conversation with a friend because I was constantly counting my children, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three.
I started having tantrums too. My anxiety caused this feeling of hyper-vigilance that completely exhausted me, mentally and physically. By the time we finished an outing and got to the safety of our car, we would all break down. The kids, because they were tired, and me, because I was tired, too. We would all scream and yell and cry. I don’t even fully know how to describe it, but it’s like I just couldn’t hold it all in anymore, and my kids had to witness me unraveling. I was angry about all the normal kid emotions and reactions, and I was showing that anger by yelling at my kids. The smallest things, like running late, would put me over the edge. And then I was feeling immensely guilty, adding “get it together” and “be a better mom” to my already full plate every day.
I like to think that now I have learned some better coping skills. I spent a few weeks at counseling last fall. I started sharing more openly with my husband and close friends about how I was feeling. I had days where all my kids were at school and I could catch up on all the tasks that had piled up. I quit a lot of things. I started making more time for long talks with friends, prayer, reading my Bible, yoga, baths, podcasts, audiobooks, alone time, favorite shows, date nights, and listening to music. We were in a really good rhythm at the beginning of this year! Maybe I was even thriving?
I would be lying if I said this pandemic hasn’t thrown us all off our game. We’re all back in survival mode, balancing crisis schooling, work, copious amounts of time at home, and almost none of our usual escapes. We’re all living in so much unknown and hoping that at some point (preferably soon) we’ll get to a new normal that somewhat resembles the things we miss about our old one. I am coping by not pressuring myself to be productive, spending time outside with my family, baking, and catching up with friends. I am trying to imagine how my kids might look back on this quarantine time. I want it to feel mundane and magical, joyful play amidst comforting predictability. I want them to feel safe and loved. And I am remembering that they still only really need softness, sleep, and snuggles. Oh, and lots of snacks.