Tears were streaming down my beautiful 2 year old son’s face and his chest was heaving. These were no alligator tears, and they were because of me.
The knot in my stomach tightened and I felt that wave of nausea rise up into my throat.
Something had to change.
We have never hit our children. Not once. Not by mistake. Not on purpose. Never. But what I had started to do, which embarrasses me greatly, was yell. And yell loudly.
Small things started to tip me over the edge. A tissue going through the wash, toys I’d just put away being brought back out, pants getting wet from jumping in puddles (thanks Peppa). It wasn’t always loud and angry, but it was becoming my default setting when I got annoyed.
I brought it up with some other ‘mother of toddler’ friends and they kindly reassured me it’s normal: “They’re punks at this age.”… “They push you to the brink.” “Everyone snaps sometimes”. But it didn’t feel normal, or good. I needed to find out what was going on. Why was I getting so mad so quickly? I felt like I went from 0 to 100% in a matter of seconds. I wanted to rule out anything medical, so I took myself off to the doctor. Hopefully I was low in iron or… gosh ….anything… Anything that I could take supplements for and make me feel better. More in control. Less rage.
With my daughter’s first birthday approaching, I couldn’t put it down to the newborn haze any longer (much as I want to bonsai her!) But I got the test results back and they showed nothing. Oh. so it was in my head then.
You may have read my recent blog post on anxiety was this all connected? Before kids, I had visions of the sort of mother I’d be: calm, home cooking up a storm while my kids slept soundly. And when they were awake they’d entertain themselves, cleanly, safely. Or we’d all play together happily, days and days stretching out before us in happy anticipation. At the same time, I wanted self satisfaction & to do more for our business and this blog, but I wanted to see the progress in my babies development from their level, not in the kitchen or at the desk beside them.
AND THEN I HAD KIDS. And it’s hard. It’s more than hard. How to balance everything!?
So the results were normal, I considered doing nothing, the unknown is scary right?! But then I yelled again at my beautiful son and I knew I needed help. If the first 1000 days of a childs life form the basis for the rest of their lives, I wanted to make sure I was giving it my best shot. I confided in one friend and she agreed with me, back to the doctor, my regular GP this time.
Once in her office, my eyes stung before any words had even left my mouth. I needed to know if this heaviness I felt was normal of someone in my position,you know, babies born with an 18 month age gap, a new business in a tough climate, a new city with very few family close. Or was there was more to it?
We talked. I cried. She empathised and finally she offered a diagnosis. “You’re exhausted.”
It was so validating. To be noticed and understood. My sleep over the last two and a half years has been very limited. My children were blessed with beautiful personalities and warm hearts, but certainly not the sleep-loving gene.
“There could be more to it, but let’s concentrate on prioritising sleep for 2 weeks and see how you feel. You are a good mother. ” She said.
Those last words still get me. She knew I was trying so hard to do everything and only failing by my own high standards.
She understood me, she had 3 children, also with very small age gaps. She totally got it.
We discussed depression. It’s hard to separate depression from anxiety, from sleep deprivation when you’re a Mum, we all know that our sleep bank is already in negative before the baby is even born. We discussed how studies show that there is an association between chronic sleep deprivation and increased negative emotion and behaviour AS WELL as a seven-fold increase in incidence of depression. So it was ME, but it wasn’t all my fault! Phew!
We made a plan. I took notes.
If it didn’t work there were options like going to talk to someone, or medication, but for 2 weeks I would be Queen of Naps and slayer of sleep.
So my list looked something like this
No coffee. None. Not even on a bad day. Ouch.
In bed at 9.30 at the very latest. (Well she actually said go to bed when the babies do but we negotiated this point.) Trade off between sleep and, like, 3 minutes to myself all day, right?!!?
The meditation app ‘Smiling mind’ for winding down before sleep.
No phone during night feeds. This is so important. I know, your phone is your lifeline to the real world – but it seriously gets in the way of melatonin release and confuses your biological clock so sleep is even harder.
Nap nap nap any sleep is good sleep. Even 15 minutes. Prioritize this above all else.
So day one with no coffee was tough, my daughter didn’t get the sleep prioritising memo and I usually use coffee to get me into gear. As I bundled the kids off to Mainly Music I felt the tiredness. But I wasn’t wired and buzzing either. Exhausted, but probably more centred too. I napped around midday when my daughter did and then used the meditation app to help me nod off at 9.30pm after my sleepy tea. After 2 days I noticed a difference! It was working, I was feeling calmer! I kept going, giving the baby to my husband in the mornings (6am wake-ups are the norm here) to do the breakfast routine while I had another hour or so sleep. I actually relished waking up to music and laughter from the lounge instead of me dragging my tired self around in a fuzzy grump.
I got to day 11 and I relaxed the naps, wanted to do more work, went to bed late. Boom. Day 13 started with me being loud & snappy. Just like that.
Good thing the Dr was booked for day 14. I started with “I think it’s like a diet, you’re great at the beginning then you see results and you slip back into your old ways.” The evidence was pretty clear. I need that extra sleep or I boil over.
I’ve found people to be overwhelmingly supportive when I’ve discussed my situation. With Hunter, I always felt a bit ashamed to talk about how it was all going. This time round I’ve been much more open with people and it really has made a difference. If you’re reading this and you feel like you’re in the same boat, I understand. Talk to someone. Talk to everyone. You’ll find you’re not so alone and that even a few words here and there can reset your day.
One of Hunter’s previous daycare teachers reached out and asked if I would be interested in some affirmations. I have always enjoyed my conversations with her about children’s development and I felt that our child rearing ideals aligned. She emailed me through some words, phrases and sayings. The one that struck me the most was ‘We respond with love, always’.
When I am almost at breaking point now I listen to myself, and I question “Am I responding with love?” “Is my tone kind and loving?” “Are my words coming from a place of love?” This helps keep me in check. I’m much more likely to now walk away or ask for help rather than getting to boiling over status. But the most interesting thing is that I have started to treat myself with more love. I am taking time out to sit down while River naps and Hunter is at daycare, when in the past I would have stayed busy doing All The Things because, let’s be honest,the list is never ending.
I now tell my husband (as opposed to asking) that I am going for a quick run, which had become a great hobby of mine but one that disappeared entirely when I had children (along with my size 8 pants). I cook food that I enjoy eating in conjunction with things that may be enjoyed more by other family members (specifically the whims of Mr 2.5.) Plentiful salads are heroing the dining table as opposed to being an afterthought.
So perhaps what I have learnt through this process, which is certainly not yet over, is that I must “Respond With Love, Always” to my children in trying times, but I must also respond to my own needs and wants with love. Because when I have more sleep, a smidgen of time to myself, and a hobby or two then we are all actually better off, and the yelling becomes a voice of LOVE.
If you have identified with this article, or you think it might help just one person you know, please SHARE this article. By breaking down these walls of embarrassment we can help each other through the hard times.