Back when my daughter was smaller and fit better in my lap, I used to take her at night before bed and spend a few moments rocking her. Those were usually the times I would tell her I was sorry for losing my temper that day and that I promised to be a better mom tomorrow. She would stare up at my face in the darkness, not really sure what I was saying, but I always thought it was important to let her know.
As a mother to a 3-year-old, I've had a few bad parenting moments. Maybe more than a few. I've lost my temper, and I've let my daughter enter into a battle of wills with me more times than I've wanted to admit.
I've wondered why someone three feet tall can have so much power over me. It wasn't until I started changing my perspective that I've been able to find some sort of good in those times when I've wanted to pull my hair out.
Take for instance the time she took out her painting kit (thank you, washable paints!) and painted her toes, face, hands, couch, dog, curtains and dining room table. That was not a good parenting moment. In fact, I ended up shouting at her, making her cry.
I was pregnant, nauseous and exhausted. After I walked out of the room to have a good cry myself, I realized yet again, how much I felt like a failure when it came to my relationship with my toddler. And I needed to apologize. After all, it was only 7:30 in the morning and we had a full day ahead of us.
I hugged her and we cleaned everything up. She was more than happy to help and I was trying to let go of the resentment I was feeling from not quite being able to get the blue paint out of the cream-colored curtains.
In my three and a half years of being a mom, I have had some really good teaching moments with my daughter. When she was in the stage of wanting to run away from me every chance she got, I took the advice of our early childhood teacher and had a conversation with her each time we'd enter a store: "If you run away from Mama, you're going to need to sit in the cart. You need to stay by me and hold my hand."
The crazy thing was, this actually worked most of the time. It even progressed to me asking her what the rule was and her telling me in her tiny voice that she needed to stay by me or she'd go in the cart. In those moments I'd feel like I was on top of the world. I had this parenting thing down. But then we'd get home and she'd lose it because I cut the peanut butter sandwich wrong and I'd end up struggling to keep my anger in check. Why was it so hard to deal with such a small person who couldn't even say her "Ts" correctly?
In those moments of darkness, it was easy to succumb to feeling like I was an inadequate parent. That I was letting her irrationality get the best of me.
I worked purposely on changing my perspective.
I'm a far cry from perfection, but I try to keep in mind when we're butting heads that really, both my daughter and I are learning this parenting thing together.
I could actually let go of some of that frustration. Just like I'm learning how she likes her sandwich cut, I'm learning about her and who she is as a person. And gaining that perspective has helped me deal with those feelings at the moment.
She's not being a tiny self-centered dictator, she's just simply growing into who she is. And she is going to be a strong independent woman when she grows up. She's spirited and innovative and stands her ground.
I'm not inadequate— we just have to keep working together.
I can't undo those moments when I lost my temper with my daughter. I certainly can't stop her behaviors, that now include a new love of watercolors on her skin. But I can change my outlook on how I'm reacting going forward.
We're learning together. In those bad parenting moments that make us human, I have the power to repeat these three words to myself, sometimes over and over as much as it takes to sink in.
We're learning together. It's my responsibility as her mom.