The Day I Walked Out On My 4-Year-Old

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
parenting stress bad days
Squaredpixels / iStock

My 4-year-old daughter Mari cried for pretty much all of yesterday. She also cried for the whole day the day before that, and the day before that. She has good reason to be emotional. Since we’ve started back to school, she’s short on sleep as a result of our earlier waking hour, and she’s having a tough time transitioning from being home with me all day to attending pre-kindergarten for half the day.

For a 4-year-old, this level of devastation is completely reasonable. The grown-up equivalent of Mari’s present circumstance would be if you plunked a modern Western-world adult into an isolated jungle tribe and mouthed, “Good luck, asshole!” while giving him a sarcastic thumbs-up from your helicopter as it rose toward the sky.

It’s a lot for a little kid to take in.

On an intellectual level, I understand Mari’s reasons for her precarious emotional constitution. But possessing this knowledge does not automatically turn me into a Zen Earth Mother. When Mari told me last night the food I’d prepared for dinner (nothing out of the ordinary) was “weird” and began to howl inconsolably, I kinda just didn’t know what the hell to do. Other things that made Mari inconsolable over the previous three days include her shorts “felt funny,” Lucas touched her shoulder, and I “yelled” at her (asked her to move her cup away from the edge of the table).

And at bedtime last night, the grand climax: She decided that we are a co-sleeping family. The only time we’ve ever co-slept is immediately following birth, when staying in a hotel and when sleeping in a tent. My husband punches me in the face enough in his sleep; I don’t need my kids attacking me too.

I had been patient and sympathetic with Mari for three days. Even for 90 percent of yesterday, I continued to maintain a fragile state of quasi-tranquility. I hugged. I soothed. I explained. I distracted. I sang. I snuggled. I did all of that motherly crap you’re supposed to do. I took deep, cleansing breaths and tried to pass my fucking peace onto her through my goddamn heartbeat.

But last night, at the end of a too-long day of being The Best Mother in the Universe, I checked the fuck out. My 4-year-old child was screaming in my face that she would never sleep in her room ever again. I tried calm and assertive: “It’s bedtime now.” I tried more empathy: “I understand. It’s been a rough few days. I’ll rub your back for a while.” I even tried: “Don’t you talk to me that way, young lady.” But finally: “I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!! I’M LOSING MY FREAKING MIND!!! I’M DONE! I’M SO DONE! I’M OUT OF HERE!”

My husband stayed with Mari while she screamed, and I went outside and walked circles around the driveway. I had to get where I couldn’t hear her crying anymore. I’d arrived at the point where I was either going to scream so loudly that I would emotionally scar my kids, or I was going to pick up a piece of furniture and hurl it across the room. So I checked out.

There was a brief moment where picking up Mari’s nightstand and throwing it at her dresser seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I imagined the shrill sound the mirror would make as it exploded and hurled shards all over the room. I pictured myself screaming in Mari’s face. My innocent little 4-year-old, going through a tough transition, and me, a grown-ass woman who done lost her damn mind, screaming in her perfect, stunned face. Not only had I ceased to pity her, but I had ceased to feel guilty for not pitying her. The only thing stopping me from acting out the calamity in my head was that I knew I shouldn’t.

For those who say, “It’s fine. Your husband was there. She was supervised,” I gotta tell you: I was leaving that house whether he was there or not. And, assuming one doesn’t have blowtorches and freshly sharpened sickles lying around the house, I would venture to say this is an OK thing for any parent at their wit’s end to do. Maybe, if my husband hadn’t been there, I would have simply locked my bathroom door and taken a shower. Maybe I would have stood on the back porch and guzzled an entire glass (bottle?) of wine.

I’m not telling this story because I need to moan about how sad it is that I lost it with my kid. We all do that. I’m telling this story because my first instinct was to feel like I’d done something terrible by walking out on my kid. But I’m tired of playing this ridiculous guilt game. I think—no, I know—I did the right thing by walking out on Mari, and I’m giving every other mother out there permission to do the same. If it’s between throwing a piece of furniture and leaving your kid alone for a few minutes? Sometimes you have to walk away, and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it.

These are the down-and-dirty trenches of parenting. Sometimes you have no other choice but to check the fuck out.

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