Mama Meltdowns

And now we’ll take a brief break from cloth diapers to bring you the latest edition of… Mama Meltdowns!

photo by Lawrence Rayner, used under Creative Commons License

The month of November has been pretty stressful.  Our beloved kitty has fallen ill with some mysterious ailment that is preventing her from eating and drinking off and on.  Work came to a messy crescendo for both my husband and I.  And my energy level is way down due to the increased frequency of middle-of-the-night requests from the little guy.  Combined with the slight worry of a house purchase looming on the horizon, my sanity is starting to show a bit of fraying at the ends.

In the wee hours of the morning today, the last ball finally dropped.  I am a heavy sleeper, so it is hard to wake me up – and I am generally not in a great mood when I am finally awakened.  In response, Miles has figured out that pinching me is the best way to get what he wants almost immediately.  It can be unbearably painful.  After being woken up for the fourth time in three hours, I lost it.

It was like the Incredible Hulk had been unleashed, only I was awash in overwhelming emotions rather than nuclear waste.  My words and actions were certainly not winning any parenting awards.  Although most of my harshest words were directed at my husband, my feelings were directed at my son.  In the moment, I felt completely separate from – and even resentful of – my child.  I stormed out of the room, flung myself on the couch, and cried.  After letting out three weeks’ worth of raw emotion, I had no more tears to shed, but I didn’t feel better.  I felt empty, guilty and like the worst mom in the world.

Why am I sharing this unflattering moment in a public forum?  Other than a bit of catharsis, there really is a point:

Every strong feeling is a chance to stay present, breathe, and learn something new.  The trick is to catch the moment between emotion (involuntary) and reacting (voluntary).  If you feel angry at your child for waking you up with a painful pinch at 3 am, that is acceptable.  But then there is a choice: react or watch.  Even just a brief pause to ponder this choice can provide a glimpse into what is truly happening.  Did I think it was productive or even logical to get upset with a baby?  Of course not!  But I didn’t give myself a chance to reflect and gracefully handle the situation – I just reacted.

Should I feel horrible?  No.  Three in the morning is not the easiest time to practice perfect mindfulness.  But there are plenty of opportunities during my day where I can sit with frustration, stare it in the face for a moment, and then proceed in a way that reflects a calm and balanced approach.  Just like any skill, practice makes progress (perfection is not necessary).

So last night was really a blessing in disguise.  After some reflection in the light of day, I was able to let go of judgement and find the motivation to practice patience and kindness during the periodic shrieks of delight that emanated over and over from my son today.  Rather than lose it and whimper about my headache, I was (mostly) able to breathe, laugh, and do my best to find a shrieking solution (apparently it’s called bedtime).

I know I will react mindlessly again, but I also know that I can face my emotions head on and maintain control of my reactions.  All it takes is a little pause.

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