Sometimes You Need To Walk Away From Your Kid -- And That's Okay

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

I love my son, but sometimes he can be overwhelming. He’s four, so I don’t blame him, but he’s stubborn. And sometimes he doesn’t want to listen, and he gets frustrated when things don’t go his way. I can be a lot.

As much as I try not to let this bother me, sometimes it does. And when it does, sometimes I just need a minute to myself to gather my thoughts and calm down so I can be the parent he deserves, and not get angry enough to say or do something that I’ll regret once my head is clear.

It’s okay to walk away from our children sometimes, especially when it comes to high pressure moments where it is a matter of our sanity.

Walking away isn’t easy to do; I felt immensely guilty the first few times I did it. I remember once after a very tense standoff about teeth brushing, my son was screaming and sobbing in the bathroom and I was about two seconds from exploding. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I could see how menacing I must have looked to my son, and I froze. This was not the kind of parent I wanted to be. So I stopped.

“I love you very much, but Mommy is very frustrated right now and I need to take a couple minutes to calm down,” I told him. “I’m going to go in another room by myself.”

Then I got up and I walked out of the bathroom. He continued to cry, but the distance gave me a chance to decompress and collect my thoughts. I was able to block out the sounds of a wailing kid and figure out my next step without totally blowing a gasket. When I was sufficiently calmed down, I was able to walk back into the bathroom and hold a conversation with him about why he was upset and how we could rectify the situation.

When I was calm, it made him calmer. Kids can sense when we’re angry with them, so the more our frustration mounts, the more frantic they can get. If I take a minute (or five) to just stop myself and get my head right, I’m giving my kid space to calm down enough so that we can try to come to some sort of compromise and understanding. There’s no reasoning with a small child (or adult for that matter) who is already worked up. They can’t see around their own frustrations. So then, what’s the point in trying to continue?

“Please don’t leave me,” he begged me tearfully. I paused.

His words punched me in the face. Did he see my walking away as a sign of abandonment? I never left him for more than a few minutes, but I guess when you’re a kid, it feels like an eternity.

I almost stayed, but he then did something else that just pushed me to the brink. Now, my anger was two-fold; I was angry at his behavior, and angry at myself for not having a higher tolerance for frustration.

Maybe I was abandoning him during those moments when he was angry and feeling his emotions so deeply. Maybe I should learn how to look into his little red face while he’s wailing and despondent. I’m his mother — if I can’t deal with him, how do I expect him to learn to channel his anger in a more productive manner?

Well, I’m calling bullshit on all that. You’re not a bad mom if you walk away for a minute to get your shit together.

If your kid is being a pint-sized bottle rocket, you have every right to step away and get your head in the game. We cannot prioritize their frustrations over our own; it’s not healthy for anyone. You cannot — and should not — try to power through if you feel that you’re reaching your breaking point.

When my son pushed me, I was about to reach out and spank him, which I am vehemently opposed to doing. But I felt helpless, and spanking him seemed like it would be the only way to get my point across. I knew I had to get away from him to save both of us a lot of trauma.

Let me say it again: you’re not a bad parent if you need to take a minute to yourself. You’re actually a good parent for acknowledging that you need to check out for a second. Dealing with kids is really fucking hard most of the time. We’re human, there’s only so much bullshit we can take before we lose it.

But it’s better to lose it in private, where you can scream and jump up and down and punch some pillows than it is to do it in front of your kid. When you have a clear head, it’s much easier to create a course of action and actually deal with the problem, rather than blow up and make everything worse. Our kids will survive being upset with us for walking away from them when they see we’re being more level-headed and patient with them.