The Secret of Losing My Shit

It recently came to my attention that people are under the impression that since I practice gentle parenting techniques with my son that I always remain calm. When I told my husband that I suspected people were thinking this he laughed and said “I wish they were here last Saturday, that was a real stomp-fest,” referring to the way I stomped around the house annoyed at Jack’s incessant whining. No, my friend, I do not remain calm all the time. I don’t even know if I remain calm most of the time. My buttons are pushed about 75 times a day (as any mother) and I feel on the edge of losing my shit about 67 of those times. I believe strongly in being as gentle a mama as I can, but I am a human being not a robot. So, let me clear the air.

Being an attached mom is hard. Being a mom, any kind of mom, no matter how you slice it, is hard. Becoming a mother has pushed me to my limits in ways that I have never experienced. I used to think being a waitress was the hardest job ever. Then I thought working the floor at the residential facility with aggressive teenagers was the hardest job ever. Now I am quite sure that being a mother is the hardest job ever. I know my mind will never change on this. This is the ultimate. Even harder than a job where you have no idea when a punch to face or a chair to head is going to happen. For example, Jack has a difficult time falling asleep which requires me to put him in the sling, breastfeed, sing and dance around the house for about an hour before each nap and bedtime. Sometimes I can get a good song going or daydream about getting drunk or writing a blog post, but there are times when it takes all of my energy not to scream. And a few times I have screamed. Bouncing and dancing and singing and dancing and bouncing. No bathroom break, no dinner, no back up, no training, no sitting, no shot of Tequila at the end of the shift. Being a mother has you “on” in a way that is indescribable to anyone not a mother. It’s a constant battle to remain calm and put Jack’s needs first.

The path toward losing my temper begins when I allow my thoughts to go down the route of “why does this have to happen to me?” “Why can’t I get this baby to sleep?” “I must be a horrible mother.” “I must be doing something wrong.” “Why did I have to get the difficult baby?” “How come no one else goes through this?” If you know a bit about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy you’ll know that we believe that our thoughts affect our feelings which in turn affect our behavior. The above thoughts open the door for feelings of frustration, overwhelm, anger, self-pity, anxiety, and so on. These feelings can then lead to choosing negative behaviors. Everyone has a unique set of behaviors that they exhibit when they “go too far.” This is all going to vary from person to person and situation to situation, but for me as a mother dealing with Jack I struggle with managing my urge to yell, stomp and slam things. For many people this can include physical abuse, verbal abuse or neglect. The way you were raised and saw your parent’s behave is a strong base for what you might struggle with as the adult.

Our thoughts have an astounding influence on how we live our lives, how we treat people, how we feel about ourselves and ultimately how we deal with our children. I guarantee you that any situation you are in where you feel negative feelings you can trace them back to negative thoughts. Learning to recognize negative thoughts can be difficult at first, but it becomes second nature quickly if you practice. Learning how to challenge those thoughts is the most effective way to change the way we feel. When we can change the way we think and feel it is reflected in the more positive and productive behaviors we choose.

In the example above where I am trying to get Jack to sleep my first mistake is to allow these negative thoughts to exist without challenge. I, like any therapist worth their salt, have been through therapy. I have explored my patterns of negative thinking (or thinking errors) and how to challenge these thoughts to help me feel better and choose behaviors that will help me reach my goals. It is key to recognize these thoughts as they begin to happen so that I can challenge them right away. Negative thought: “I am a horrible mother.” Challenge: “There is no evidence that I am a horrible mother. I am just struggling right now and I can get through this.” Negative thought: “I must be doing something wrong.” Challenge: “I am trying my best and that is all Jack needs. My love and nurturing is what Jack needs.” Often I let the negative thoughts go on too long and I become frustrated. I can feel my heart pound. I begin to blame Jack for being difficult. I think about how I just want to punch a wall or kick a door. A couple of times I have yelled “Oh my god!” or “I don’t know what you want!” or “Go to sleep Jack!” I think about putting Jack in another room to cry alone. This is where it stops for me. The very thought of that makes me sick to my stomach. I can usually bring myself back to reality from here. At this point I spend a bit of time shaming myself for thinking/doing these things. “You are not gentle. You are a liar, an imposter. You don’t deserve to call yourself gentle.” Of course, the only thing we can do to move on is let ourselves off the hook and promise to do better next time.

Some of my favorite things to think at this point are “Jack is not giving me a hard time, Jack is having a hard time.” “I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.” “It’s not about me, get your shit together, stop being the baby, woman up and be the mother.” “He is scared, confused and helpless. He needs me.” “Someday I will regret treating these moments like a burden.” “On my death bed I will wish I could hold Jack again so I should try to enjoy this moment.” “I am a good mother meeting Jack’s needs.” “I believe in meeting all of Jack’s needs and I can do it.” “At least I am not at that horrible old job I had.” I might count to ten, try deep breathing, change the scenery, go outside, ask for help, cry or stop all together and start again awhile later.

I hope this clears the air. I do lose my temper. I do find it difficult to remain calm. It’s OK as long as I am trying, learning and wanting to be better. My parenting philosophy is gentle. I believe in allowing Jack to lead the way. I believe in keeping him close at all times. I believe in responding to all of his cries. I believe in gentle words, attachment and closeness. I have an ideal in my mind that I strive to attain, but it is an ideal, it is not realistic to be this way all the time. I am not perfect. I lose my patience and want to run away from it all sometimes. And I am OK with that for now. I have come a long way. So have you.

Abby Theuring, MSW

About Abby Theuring

The Badass Breastfeeder is a mother, writer, social worker, attachment parent, proud breastfeeder and advocate. Her career as a social worker has shown her that gentle and connected parenting is vital for life-long emotional health. You can find her blog at www.thebadassbreastfeeder.com and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheBadassBreastfeeder.

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25 comments

  1. I included this post in my monthly round up of reads. Thank you for a well written article! http://thepierogiemama.blogspot.com/2013/10/monthly-its-octoer.html

  2. Great article, I can so relate – especially at 2am when my 16mth old usually goes straight back to sleep but once every blue moon wants to party. I get very frustrated. But in the morning, I apologise to my son and forgive myself. I am human and doing the best I can to meet all his needs in the most positive way I can. Thank you

  3. My son is 3 and I remember the days just loosing it because he wasn’t sleeping or I wanted to get some things done. Then I had enough of myself and clued in that I was causing myself to melt down by having expectations of him sleeping at set times and getting so much done every day. After I let those things go I lost it less and became calmer with myself and my son. Staying calm even when he was screaming as a tiny baby really helped. I still have my moments where I feel like I am going to loose it but knowing that if I loose my nut it doesn’t help what is going on in the moment. I too figured out that his behavior and actions weren’t about me but about his needs being met. Finding my calm and clueing in about his behavior were light bulb moments when I was a tired new mom and my brain felt (and feels like) mush most of the time.

  4. Thankyou! Thankyou!

  5. Hi There,
    Thankyou so much for writing this article and being brave enough to publish it.
    After I read it I wanted to yell from the rooftop “I am not alone!”.
    I could have written a very similar article.
    Thanks again.

  6. I’ve got 4 kids and have been thinking the same way as you ever since I had my 2nd baby and realised that my kids weren’t the problem, its me and the way I was thinking and the way I approached things. I have to say that with 4 of them now (aged: 10, 5, 3 and 1) it is so so hard and I lose it several times a day. If I let negativity get the best of me I feel like walking out and leaving them all to sort each other out that stops me in my tracks, I take a deep breath and try something else that’s helpful and positive.
    Thank you for putting it out there and sharing such an insightful post :)

  7. I just loved reading this. I will be giving this article to my sister when her second bub arrives. So down to earth and I can relate with everything you say. Changing your mind set is the key to keeping it together and not blaming yourself!!

  8. First: kudos, great insights, including on self management through thought management. Thanks for sharing something so personal and for doing it so clearly. Second: personal share. My son (18 months) tells me ‘sleep’ when he has had enough to drink (still breast milk) and gets off my lap to grab the side of his cot in excitement while waiting for me to lift him up and in. I consider myself lucky, not just that he has a particular ‘temperament’ but that I came across enough random comments on baby websites to try letting him cry for a little each night when ‘transitioning’ to bedtime self-soothing at around 1 year of age. It probably seems counter intuitive, but I think he is happier overall because he had the opportunity to develop a positive association with separation from me at night time. I would cry too, if I was little and somebody tried to teach me something new and unexpected (such as going to sleep by myself). But that didn’t stop him from ultimately loving the process of going from drowsy to asleep all by himself.I imagine this comment won’t be particularly well liked but that’s cool. I understand everyone does things differently and that’s also cool. I just wanted to let you know that there are fiercely attached breastfeeders out there who don’t also subscribe to the ‘never let your baby cry at night’ ethos. It could be the case that too much silence around the issue will give new mothers the impression that no loving parent could ever try that technique. And it’s a technique that might benefit some over-tired, over-stretched people. Maybe. Ta for reading the spiel to anyone who made it to the end :-)

  9. Jack sounds exactly like my son. And you sound exactly like me wanting to yell and stuff. I am so glad it happens to you too. I was feeling guilty. I want to be an attached parent but sometimes I just dont feel like one. But now I will remember to just try my best!

  10. Thank you! I have yelled too! And stomped… and beat myself up for it… and sulked about it… I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s less than calm 100% of the time.

  11. Hi Abby – thank you so much for this article! It was exactly what I needed to read tonight. I’ve really been working through dealing with my frustrations constructively, and your ‘challenge to the negative thoughts’ is definitely going to be on my mental play list during the tough moments. I am going through with my 6 month old the exact non-sleeping you described – in fact I could have written it. This has been very helpful for me – well written! Thank you again!

  12. Great post! I just discovered gentle parenting and Im doing my best to implement it with my five year old high-energy boy. I have a lot of “time out” moments. For me. He seems to be really loving the transition and we’re having less behavioral hiccups from him (he was notoriously defiant and Im assuming that was my fault for constantly trying to make him obey) but its hard at times not to yell and send him to a time-out or threaten to take away a toy or priveledge. I have to pull myself aside from the situation at times and remind myself how snapping will not help my relationship with my son or teach him that his behavior is inappropriate. Its trying at times but its worth it in the long run!

  13. full time stay at home attached dad.

    oh, i get it. and, the shame i feel when i lose it far too often. didn’t know i had control issues. ’cause when i look at what triggers my stuff to lose it… always has to do with control. at 9 and 10 just should not be an issue (i judge – and harshly)

    it is a heavy burden to be the disciplinarian to my children when their mother who has them about 10% of the time spoils them, has money to do so (i qualify financially as “poor”) and then i have to deprogram when they get home.

    the most difficult job that we’ll ever have… and the most difficult job that i LOVE EVER.

  14. This sounds a lot like how things go at our house, except I’m still working full time and my toddler’s in daycare, so I do have a break from the toddler whining (to go deal with adolescent whining, but whatever). I most often lose my cool around bedtime, when A just isn’t going to sleep. (Of course she isn’t, she wants to hang with me, she hasn’t seen me all day!) I too have lost it and told her to “just go to sleep!” and considered letting her whine and cry in her room alone. And that’s one of the things that stops me. Would I rather be in this moment, dealing with a cranky toddler, or not have her at all? That always, always helps me focus on her needs again and summon up more patience. We tried so hard for so long to have her, and she’s finally here. The whining and exhaustion is an easy price to pay for having her in my life. But those moments exist for all us mamas.

  15. I sooooo needed to read this today. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for this! It’s nice to know that other “calm” moms break too!

  17. This story feels like a Godsent sign. Yesterday I just felt like I was near the edge of a nervous breakdown because my little girl was just moaning and doing everything she wasnt suppose to. I said no like a hundred times, yelled and then finally ended up goving her a spanking. After that, looking into her distraught, sad little eyes I just felt so disgusted with myself . I gave her a kiss and a hug and put her to my breast. While she was falling asleep I was stuck with my thoughts and realised I have trouble controlling my temper and that I need to find a way to control it. And I realised that she has had way too much of being yelled at or spanked for her age. I started to ask for help from a few parenting pages and I got answers like leave her in her room or make her sit in the corner and I just knew in my heart that those weren’t the answers I was looking for. And now as if written especially for me I have finally gotten my answer from you! Thank you so much for this awesome post. Making some major changes to the way I am parenting from mow on and I am just hoping that I have not affected my precious little angel too much. Thank you so much. Xxx

  18. Thank you! Reading this brought tears to my eyes because this IS me… I beat my self up over all the times I have lost it, especially when my son was small and I was selfish wanting sleep and focuisng on myself. I do belive so much of it has to do with being a first time mom, learning to sacrifice everything, give up control and learn to just go with it is hard!!! I try to treasure every moment with my almost 2 year old son because now I know how quickly time passes and how I will never get these days back. Sure I still loose it on days when I am focused on me, but I do know that things will be so differnt the next time I have a newborn in my arms… I should make a DVD to remind my zombie newborn mom self from my now clear mental state haha!

  19. Hi there, thanks a lot for your response. I still have to sit up in the bed every two hours at night, and put Amelia back down on the bed very carefully after she finishes drinking and after the first of her 356 burps… I guess I could get used to the position, but the burps only come when sitting or standing up these days, and she usually gets woken up a while later with more burps that get stuck for a while. I suppose it will get better as she grows older, but I will keep trying the lying down position for feeding her as it is so much more tiring to have to sit up every time, doze off and get startled by my own head drooping over the baby as she drinks! Love your new post, “the truth about my home”, I felt so alone when everybody told me they had a great time and it would get easier… I have sworn myself not to lie to any new mother EVER, even if they end up having an easier time, then it’s a good surprise for them, better than have them think they are the only ones out there who can’t figure it out!

  20. Hey, just found your blog by chance and oh my God, reading this post in particular is like listening to my own thoughts!!!!
    Oh it feels good to read this tonight after a day of dark thoughts, guilt and despair over a baby that I am finding fussy with me but that other people call delightful (it MUST me then!).
    Curious about one thing though : when co-sleeping, do you and your baby fall asleep on your side with baby at the breast like on the photo you posted? Because I have tried this position to nurse and doze off but I find the arm behind the head very uncomfortable, and also what about burping the baby? Mine won’t sleep most of the time because of burps it seems… Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts, it does make one feel a bit better about the whole frustration/anger/guilt thing. People think I am always calm too, my husband says I never am, funny how it can look from the outside!

    • Marina, thanks for the kind words! I am so glad it helped. Yes, we do fall asleep like this. Sometime I put a pillow under my head and that helps a little. I don’t burp him like this but you could maybe try rolling him onto his belly and patting his back. Might work in the lying down position. My boy is now 14 months so he is not as bad with the gas anymore. I used to pull him onto my chest and pat his back or like I said, just roll him onto his belly. I found it took us a good month or so before we got really comfortable like this. We had to just keep trying different positions. I bet you will get it soon! Good luck!

  21. I loved reading this. I felt like I was right there talking with you. I don’t feel so alone lol. It was a great read. Write a book ? 1

  22. I love your site! You are as real as it gets and I wish more women carried themselves with the confidence that you have! Breastfeeding is something I am absolutely passionate about and have been lucky enough to land a job with the WIC program as a peer couselor. I hope to pass the passion along to other moms and help them gain confidence, because that will make all the difference in a life-long BF advocate and someone who “tries it”. Thank you very much!

  23. Thanks for reading! It is a good thing to remember that babyhood doesn’t last long. I will have to use that one too!

  24. Just found your site and love it. I completely have those days where I feel like I am about to lose my shit the entire day and cannot wait to open a beer when he is finally asleep. I really like your “challenge the negative thoughts” explanation. I am going to put that to use in those tough moments. As we inch toward 2 I do find myself more and more willing to just hold him and rock him to sleep if that is what he needs as his babyhood certainly is fleeting. After spending so much time stressing that he couldn’t fall asleep on his own and feeling like a failure, it feels good to go with my gut.

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