The early toddler months of my daughter's life were hard ones for me as a mother. I remember vividly saying out loud, "Why are you acting like a 13 (and 14, 15...) month old?" The question would start in frustration and then the absurdity of it would make me laugh. It gave me a moment to collect myself and to chill out. I'd pick her up and cuddle her. It was a reset button—those ridiculous out loud questions.
The truth behind my outbursts was that I was no longer coping well with the status quo. In those early months of toddlerhood she was asserting herself, but didn't have the language to help me understand what she needed. This natural frustration was coupled with my own exhaustion and feelings of isolation, and created tantrums for both spirited mother and daughter.
When she was about 18 months, I read the book Raising Children with Character by Elizabeth Berger. My flashes of explosive frustration with this precious little human startled me and wracked me with guilt. They also frightened me because I was certain I was continuing a generational loop that started long before me. That was the last thing I wanted to bring into the present.
It was within the pages of that book that I learned one of the most important parenting lessons: frustration and losing one's cool comes with the parenting territory. As adults, it's important to remain in the driver's seat, but these flashes of anger and irritation are going to happen. We best serve our children by acknowledging our shortcomings and apologizing for our mistakes. In doing so, we teach our children that even adults make mistakes. Being accountable for our actions and apologizing for our missteps role model to our children how to correct these mistakes. Children grow up learning how to acknowledge their own mistakes and missteps. They also grow up with a more realistic view of adulthood. That adulthood is not some magical state where all goes well all the time.
I felt a tidal wave of relief, and began putting this new information into practice. I acknowledge my moments of weakness, short tempers, and impatience with my daughter. Every time I do it, (and thankfully now that I'm in a healthier mental and heart space it happens less frequently) it creates space for really nourishing conversations about personal responsibility, mutual respect, and being kind.
I am mothering myself as I mother my daughter with new emotional tools.