Toddler tantrums and my un-peaceful parenting

The screaming was so loud I didn’t even wait to put her in the pushchair before leaving the cafe. I’d taken it because I was fed up and feeling run down. As it turned out, my eighteen-month-old didn’t think much of this plan and went completely rigid, flat refusing to get into the pushchair. She screamed so hard she began retching and almost threw herself out of my arms and on to the pavement.

Thankfully, I’d taken my woven wrap along as a blanket. So I picked it up, figuring I’d just put her down and get my jacket off so I could tie it properly. She wasn’t having it, making it clear that she’d be lying on the pavement if I put her down.

So, with the help of a friend, I awkwardly wrapped over my jacket the fastest front wrap cross carry I have ever done, toddler now screaming because she didn’t want to be wrapped, she wanted to be held in arms, naughty mummy. I’ve never been so aware of strangers’ eyes on us. I mean it.

As we walked home, toddler strapped to chest and buggy carrying our bags, she settled down and even nestled forgivingly into me. But I felt tight inside. I wasn’t angry with her so much as stressed out with the situation and wondering yet again: “What the hell am I doing? Am I ruining a human being?”

I’m not worried about spoiling her, let’s be clear. I absolutely think that you can’t hold and reassure a child too much if that’s what they’re asking for. It’s more the fact that I don’t always keep my cool. I am boiling inside when she throws a tantrum for the third time that morning.

I am feeling at a loss as to what to do. I have had to lie her on the floor and walk away to collect myself. I have told her to “Shut up!” when she was on my back screaming into my ear about God knows what. I have not been slow to anger. And I have felt utterly shitty about it. I don’t often swear but in this case, I feel it’s appropriate.

Empathy. I know that this is where it always starts. I try to work out what she must be experiencing and I know in my gut that this tantrum in many ways is not something she is throwing but something that is happening to her. She doesn’t understand it. She can’t control it. She is a little frightened by it.

I try to talk it through. “You feel angry because you weren’t ready to leave playgroup. It’s hard when we have to go but you want to stay. You can cry on mummy as we walk out. We all get angry sometimes.”

I find that last hour before bedtime the most challenging. We’re both tired. My nerves are raw. I feel like I can’t possible listen to another cry let alone scream. I distract her and sneak away to stuff chocolate in my mouth before she sees. I can see it putting weight on me but don’t care. It’s better than crying myself.

I think a few things are going on here. One is that she’s hit a period of communication frustration. She’s obviously finding it difficult because though she has loads of signs I still don’t always understand what she’s asking for or telling me.

She’s also cutting four incisors. I can see them coming through the gums all angry. Her cheeks and her chin are red and hot with it.

She’s developing her independence at a rate (not those shoes, these boots!). It frightens her, realising that she is she and I am me. So she clings and pushes, clings and pushes.

We have also only just begun to be with each other full-time again. We are re-learning how to do that.

In myself I detect fear, anger, sadness and guilt. I put her to bed and pause for a moment to realise that overwhelmingly and ashamedly, what I feel most of all is self-pity.

It’s pathetic. It is not something I want in my life. It turns me into a selfish person and I know from past experience that it unhinges my mental health if I let it. And if a couple of weeks of tantrums does this to me I dread to think what adolescence holds.

I am the parent here, the guide, the provider of security.

But I look within myself for resources and find little but dread. The first three years lay the foundations for all other relationships a person makes. I hear that statement in the darkness as I watch Talitha sleep. I repeat it to Laurence over dinner.

He reminds me that we are laying the most important foundation. We love her. We love her unconditionally. We will always love her. We will always pray for her. Everything else is a matter of working out details.

In that word “pray” I feel my heart stretching out its arms to be picked up by God the Father, God the mother hen who draws her chicks to her chest, God who gives the patience, the perseverance, the strength I am running low on.

So, having prayed, I will continue to. I’ve been trying to go it too much alone and it’s not working for me.

I’ve now begun to devise a plan. I will try tightening our routine so she has less opportunity to get hungry or tired. I will do some more baby-proofing so I have less occasion to say, “No.”

I will take her out more often and instigate more structured play because I suspect she is getting bored. She free-plays a lot but I think the odd bit of cookie cutting play-dough and running around the local museum might do her some good. I really lack confidence in this area so it’s something I will have to work on.

I will read parenting books and blogs that resonate with my instincts and avoid those that grate against me. Ditto with other people’s advice.

Above all, however out of control she gets, I must stay calm. I am the parent.

Ah, for the days when a friendly boob was all it took.

Tell me we’ll survive?

PS: This post was inspired in part by Ella from Purple Mum who alluded to a suspicion that I had my act somewhat together, which I certainly don’t!


21 Comments

  1. ESTHER JAMES
    December 12, 2012 / 1:56 pm

    I often feel guily as I can’t rein my emotions in when my toddler has yet again thrown a tantrum. I guess I feel I have ‘anger management issues’ and am at a loss what to do about them. This parenting lark ain’t half hard!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 10:52 pm

      I definitely have anger management issues. Serenity is not my nature! I’ve learned that being tired makes them worse though so I guess that’s one thing I can sort.

  2. Hannah
    December 12, 2012 / 2:58 pm

    The thing I find hardest when my children have a tantrum is that they do not want to be comforted by me, any attempted affection just increases the intensity of the tantrum. I don’t know if it’s the ‘right’ way to deal with them, but when we’re at home I have been just walking away from Naomi and letting her do her own tantrummy thing until she calms down and then approaching her with open and inviting arms, to allow her to come for comfort if she wants it. I hate feeling helpless though.

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 10:53 pm

      I find this as well, Hannah. I’ve had to just lay how down at times and let her do it.

  3. December 12, 2012 / 8:11 pm

    This post is beautifully written and really resonated with me. My daughter just turned 18 months old, and is also cutting her incisors (poor baby) 🙁
    She has moments where she screams and goes rigid – like when I have to stop her playing to change her diaper. I also feel so tight inside, wondering what I’m doing wrong. She is always so quick to get over it, but I always feel bad for so long afterwards.
    Rachel recently posted..Some catching up

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 10:55 pm

      It sounds like we are going through the same thing. I’m learning about telling her what’s happening in advance and giving her updates on things that are about to happen. No idea if it’ll really help but it makes me feel like I’m being proactive! Good luck to us both!

  4. December 12, 2012 / 8:27 pm

    (((HUGS))) you will survive!

    Accept that sometimes, despite your best planning and intentions, you will not act in the way you want to – you will loose your temper, tell her to ‘shut up’, whatever. You can keep these times to a minimum of course, but it most likely will happen occasionally.

    What’s more important is what you do next, as always – apologise, hug, forgive yourself and move on, see if you can do something different etc.

    Also – your child melting down really drains your resources, really try to keep up with your own maintenance – enough self nurture, alone time, time to blow off steam to your partner or understanding friend, etc.

    This too will pass. She’ll have less tooth pain, or will be able to communicate more, or her hormones will calm down, or whatever straw has broken the camel’s back! xx

    One of mine didn’t so much tantrum as have crying fits, where he wouldn’t accept me anywhere near him, and would push me away, telling me to leave him alone. That was the toughest, not being able to comfort him, having to find the balance between respecting his wishes but not abandoning him, as it were. So I’d hover nearby so I was present, but not contravening his boundaries.
    mamacrow recently posted..Music Monday

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 10:56 pm

      Thanks for this comment. It’s so so helpful.

  5. December 12, 2012 / 8:56 pm

    Reading this post was almost like reading my own thoughts! Since having my second baby in May, I have found it increasingly difficult to be as patient and understanding as I want and hope to be. I very often reflect at the end of the day on my own bad behaviour, as opposed to that of my daughter. She’s two and not in control of her emotions; I’m in my 30s and should be well in control by now!
    I have noticed that tiredness is a huge factor in how I deal with tantrums, as is fear for my daughter’s safety. I think knowing where the emotions come from helps, but it’s very hard at times to keep rational and not just shout and get angry.
    You have inspired me to write my own post about this, so thank you for sharing.
    Anna recently posted..PAPS and Boobs

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 10:56 pm

      Children really take us apart and show us what we’re made of, don’t they? Yes, tiredness is a big piece of this puzzle for me.

  6. Mum2BabyInsomniac
    December 13, 2012 / 8:27 am

    I think it’s so important to share posts like these as it helps is all to realise that actually it is normal to totally dispair sometimes. I have noticed a change in Iyla’s behaviour since she turned 2 and I have had a few of the most challenging days of parenting experience yet and have ended up shouting shut up on more than one occasion. Iyla can say pretty much anything now so tantrums aren’t so much of a problem, unless she doesn’t get her own way, but she is so bossy and doesn’t stop barking orders all day, plus she says things repeatedly until I do them. It is really starting to test my patience, I can’t even really complain as it’s not really like she is doing much wrong but it leaves me wanting to go and lie down in a dark room by the end of the day! I really wouldn’t feel guilty, you are an amazing mum and the fact you are so dedicated to finding solutions to the problems is proof of that. I underestimated just how much toddlers can be, babies are a doddle in comparison! X
    Mum2BabyInsomniac recently posted..Rashes – What To Look Out For

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 11:00 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree, they are such hard work! And I don’t know why I walked into this so unprepared. I clearly hadn’t spent enough time around toddlers!

  7. December 13, 2012 / 11:34 am

    Your Lawrence is quite right – that unconditional love and the fact you are worrying about doing things properly underpins everything – if you weren’t worrying you wouldn’t be such a good parent

    We went through this phase and it was horrid both times (not helped by me working) – co-sleeping to reassure that we were there for them, trying not to interfere when they decided to wear something totally inappropriate (yes darling a swimsuit and wellies for nursery….) and accepting that it will pass and that sometimes they will see you being less than perfect but that in itself is a lesson – to learn that behaviours can affect others
    Muddling Along recently posted..The insidious spread of social kissing

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 11:01 pm

      I’m smiling at the swimsuit and wellies. Your comment highlighted a few things we’re working on: deciding when “no” is unnecessary, keeping connected and letting this idea of perfection go.

  8. Purplemum
    December 14, 2012 / 8:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, if you can I think it helps for us mums to be honest with each other about how damn hard this parenting thing can be at times.
    I remember feeling the same emotions you are describing during my first few years as a mother. Now I have learned that to be the patient, nurturing mum that I want to be I need to make looking after me high on the priority list. When I am happy, and at peace then I give so much more to my children than I can when I’m frazzled.
    Your plan sounds like a good one, heading potential meltdown stuff before it happens will help.
    Purplemum recently posted..What Is Christmas?

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 11:03 pm

      Very wise. I’m terrible at sorting out “me time”.

  9. December 14, 2012 / 9:48 pm

    Oh the joys of parenting!

    I wont lie to you and say it gets easier, although my mum says since I turned 30 I have been much better behaved.

    Plus is you have lots of company!

    am sure you are doing an excellent job x x x
    Jane @ northernmum recently posted..It’s time to say goodbye…. ~ Northernmum

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      December 15, 2012 / 11:03 pm

      It’s good company. 🙂

  10. December 28, 2012 / 8:29 pm

    You most certainly will survive it. I have been that agnry and impatient parent so often but I can honestly say it has got better as they have got older, I have learnt more as a parent and I have handed it over to God. You’ll do just fine my love.

    Happy new year, Mich x
    michelle twin mum recently posted..A simple Christmas #R2BC (Week 52)

  11. December 28, 2012 / 10:31 pm

    You will Adele. There’s some great advice here but a key theme is that we all have these moments – they are tough but normal. I think it’s all about learning to pick your shots and navigate the tough times in a way that works for your family. Working this out comes with highs and lows but if at your core you care and love, as you clearly do, this is what counts.
    Tanya (Bump2Basics) recently posted..Twas the night after Christmas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.