“I’m going to throw the f*cking iPad out the window!” Those are the words I yelled at the top of my lungs one typical Monday night for all the neighbors to hear. The worst part is, I’m a therapist who specializes in helping people learn to regulate and better cope with their emotions. But in that moment, I was so far from regulating my own emotions I could barely recognize myself.
Before you stop reading this article and deem me totally disqualified from helping anyone, let me give you some context. It was nearing 6pm… and perhaps that’s all I need to say, because we all know the post-dinner / pre-bedtime witching hour struggle is real. Plus my husband was at work at the firehouse, so I didn’t have any backup, the kids were exhausted from a long weekend, my 4-year-old was melting down over the “gross” dinner he didn’t want to eat, and I was tired from a full day of seeing clients and burnt out from holding it all together for everyone and everything, except for myself.
My daughters are 6 and 7, and it seems they constantly live somewhere between best friends and worst enemies. On the night in question, they were fighting over the iPad (again). When one of them let out a shriek that sounded like an assault to my ears, I felt the cortisol and adrenaline pump through my veins and up through my chest like a ball of fire and I just…exploded. My two youngest children burst into tears and ran into the other room and my oldest daughter looked at me with a look of sadness and fear in her eyes and said, “mommy?” It seems I wasn’t the only one who didn’t recognize my own voice that night.
As somebody who never angered easily before children, the emotional roller coaster that motherhood puts me on is often hard to reckon with — and sometimes words fly out of my mouth faster than I catch them. The good news is, I am really great at apologizing, and the past two years of pandemic parenting hell has given me plenty of opportunities to “practice.” So, I apologized, they accepted, and life went on, as it does.
Here's the truth; no matter how prepared we think we are to parent, or how much knowledge we have around child development, emotional regulation, or mindfulness we are all human, reactive, and imperfect. Nobody is immune to the challenge of raising small humans — not even your therapist, or that mom on Instagram who feeds her kids only the most nutritious food and does yoga with them daily. I promise. We are living in a world full of uncertainty and constant stimuli, inside of systems that don’t support parents, especially mothers. Moms are often overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and really tired.
But we’re also grateful, resilient, and pretty damn impressive when it comes to getting shit done. That’s the thing about motherhood: it’s the greatest practice of holding the “both ands” of life. We can be both love our children more than anything and struggle to deal with their constant needs and demands. We can both be grateful to be moms and need time for ourselves. We can both make mistakes, repair and still be worthy. Fortunately, there’s always another opportunity to do better. When we admit to the fact that we are imperfect, learning, and in so many ways growing up alongside our children, we both give ourselves grace and the opportunity to grow. To that end, here are some affirmations to help in that moment where you feel like blowing your top.
“Deep breaths are a mom’s best friend.”
The next time your kids start fighting again and you feel like you want to explode, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. This may sound like the most annoying and cliche suggestion ever, but there’s a reason we therapist types are always talking about breathing. One of the most powerful things you can do in moments of high emotion is to interrupt the nervous system’s automatic responses by deeply inhaling for a count of 4 seconds and exhaling for a count of 6 seconds. Something as simple as a few deep breaths can truly keep you from turning into a momster (or in my case, swearing at our kids).
“It’s okay to feel exactly how I feel.”
Contrary to what we may have learned from our well-meaning parents who told us things like “big girls don’t cry,” all feelings are valid…and,also, big girls do cry. One of the most powerful things we can do, after using our breath to calm the F down, is to validate our own feelings by reminding ourselves that we’re human and it’s totally reasonable that we feel overwhelmed when our 4-year-old screams like the world is ending when we turn off the tenth episode of Blippi.
“I will not abandon myself.”
When we abandon ourselves time and again, putting everyone and everything else first, we put ourselves in the express lane towards burnout. Would we expect somebody to charge our car without a battery charger? No, because you can’t give what you don’t have. When I think about the times I’ve lost it with my kids, it’s never really about them. Sure, they can be pains in the you know what, but they’re just being kids. It’s about the fact that my reserves are low, and I haven’t gotten the time and space to be a whole human. Burnout leads us to feeling depleted, resentful, and angry.
So, as hard as it is these days, find/ask for the time to get your needs met and get curious about you, the person beyond mom, again. And, no, I’m not telling you to get a pedicure. (Though they’re great and all.) I’m telling you to get interested in your own self again…find out who you are and what sparks your curiosity. Because while we can’t change the fact that the load of motherhood is heavy to carry, we can choose to change the narrative, both for us and for our children, by refusing to give all of ourselves away to the role of mom.
Kaitlin Soule is a therapist specializing in women’s mental health, motherhood, and anxiety. Her mission as the author of the new book A Little Less of a Hot Mess, speaker and podcaster is to provide practical mental health guidance to women so they can step into their power as mothers — and so much more. You can join Kaitlin’s community @wellnotesforher on instagram.