Monday, November 5, 2012

Recovering From a #MomFail

Friday night was not a good night.

It was supposed to be.  Everything indicated it should have been.

There was a concert at my church.  I've tweeted about it.  I gave away tickets on my personal Facebook page.  The band was Christian Contemporary group NewWorldSon.

Originally, I was planning to go to the concert on my own.  Jeff would stay home with the kids.  But then an opportunity came for him to help out with the youth group by selling concessions at the concert so we turned it into a family night out.

And it started out great.

The kids enjoyed hanging out with their friends and there was a lot of laughter and silliness.

Zach was borderline on the loud music and high energy so I moved us from the sanctuary out to the lobby.  The way things are set up in my church, this meant that Zach wasn't overwhelmed, Teagan could run around with her friends, and I could still see and hear everything.  Plus, we could hang out more with Jeff.

Except that Teagan decided that moving stuff to the lobby meant she was being punished.  And she put herself in a spot, started a pout, and refused to listen when I told her- repeatedly - that I wanted her to continue playing with her friends but that it was better if we had "home base" out in the lobby.  But she had started her loop "No, you said I have to stay here."

It was the beginning of the end.

From there, she went into weepy mode.  We went outside to talk but all she knew was that she felt sad and had no idea why or what to do about it.  Then back in and she continued to mope about.  She asked to talk again so outside we went again and she cries and tells me "I don't feel like I fit in with my church!"  Which is a load of bunk.  Girlfriend couldn't possibly fit in MORE with her church.  It was part of the melting down, part of this weepy loop.

She finally went and sat with her friends.  NewWorldSon takes the stage and encourages everyone to get up and dance and the place comes alive!  I'm in the back with 2 kids from youth group and we start jumping and dancing together.  My friend Paulette came by and jumped around with us.  The 3 girls that Teagan had been hanging out with were dancing and jumping.

And Teagan sat in her seat with her head down.

Her friends wanted to go up front to dance with the other kids.  One little friend tried to get Teagan to go, too, but Teagan just sat and moped.

And then came to me all weepy.  Again.  Tears, red eyes, huge frown.

And I knew we couldn't stay.  I knew that this was just going to continue and it was going to escalate.

So I grabbed our stuff and got both kids and out the door we went.  Time to go home and get to bed.

I was mad.  I was disappointed.  But I was keeping my cool.  Teagan was crying and yelling and begging to stay.  As we pulled from our parking space, she saw her friends run past in the lobby and began a new level of freak out - "I didn't get to say goodbye to my friends!!!"

And that's when I lost it.

I'm a yeller at different times.  I yell when I feel like I'm not being heard.  I raise my voice to get a child's attention.  I yell when I'm "serious."  I don't call names or get mean.  I just get loud.

I went beyond yelling.  This was far more... gutteral.  Psycho-mom scream kind of thing.  And it lasted about 30 seconds - from the driveway of the church to the first stop light.  Zach can tell you what I said and how I sounded.  "NO! SHUT YOUR MOUTH, TEAGAN! I AM DISAPPOINTED AND I AM ANGRY! YOU HAVE TO STOP!"  He was listening, apparently.

Got past the first light and I was back to calm.  My anger had burst out and I was done.  And this is where Teagan begged for the rest of the drive home to please please pleasepleaseplease go back, go back, go back Mommy!!  I'll change, I'll be different, I'll make good choices, I promise.

I just turned up the radio.

Got home, sent her to her room to put on pj's.  Helped Zach get ready for bed.  Made sure he knew I wasn't angry with him, that he hadn't done anything wrong.  Read him a book.  Had to send Teagan back to her room a few times.  Had to tell her I couldn't hug her right that second because I was still angry.

Got my son to bed, got my daughter to bed.  Sat on the couch in my living room...

And cried.

Cried because I'd gotten so angry.  Cried because I was still really pissed and sad and disappointed about missing out on this concert.  Cried because I couldn't hug my daughter due to my own anger.  Cried because a fun family evening had been such a disaster.

So what's a mom to do when most of her closest friends are at the concert she should have been attending?  Turn to Facebook, of course.

"Feeling like a mom failure. What should have been a great family night at church ended up being a Teagan meltdown drama that led to me having to leave to take her home. Haven't seen this kind of depressive meltdown thing from her in a while... so why did it have to hit the night that NewWorldSon is playing at my church? The night that I've been looking forward to for months? I feel like a mom failure right now - wondering how I caused this meltdown, what I could have done differently, and regretting my selfish anger on the drive home. Didn't plan on my night ending with my own tears..."

And you know what happened?  Mom friends from across the country (and even around the world) posted messages reassuring me that I am a good mom, sharing their own stories of their mom frustration moments, offering sympathy, offering to come and sit with my kids so I could go back...  And I remembered the people that evening who had watched our drama unfolding and had tried to help by reaching out to Teagan, reaching out to me...

And I realized that one of the most important things any parents can remember is that we are not alone.  While moms can be one of the most harsh and judgmental groups out there, moms can also be the most supportive, understanding, and encouraging groups out there.  Because we have all been there.  Every parent deals with a child's tantrum, every parent faces disappointment and sacrifice, every parent has to confront their own anger and frustration at some point.  And every parent has to do all of that multiple times throughout the journey of parenting.

By the next morning, I was still feeling kind of... reclusive... about all of it.  I wanted the comfort of my husband and friends.  But I wasn't ready to be all "happy family" with my child.  So we talked about what had happened the night before and we talked about the attitude issues we've been letting slide a bit at home and we came up with a method to demonstrate to Teagan exactly when she's struggling with her choices and when she's excelling.

At school, they do a clip system for behavior.  It isn't a reward system but it is a visual aid that lets kids see where they are and where they could be.  Each child starts on "Ready to learn" and then can stay at that place all day, clip up for being helpful or kind or following rules, or clip down when struggling.  And because the clip is fluid, it can always be moved up, no matter how far down it goes (even if there have been consequences).  While we won't be doing a literal clip system at home, we are talking in terms of clipping up and clipping down.  Our center point is "ready to be with my family."  Playing nicely with your sibling - clip up.  Reading to your little brother - clip up.  Being bossy to your brother - clip down.  Eye rolling, huffing, other attitude signals - clip down.  It's something she connects with (and does very well at school) that is a quick indicator to her of what direction she is heading in.

I think it took me well into Sunday before I felt fully recovered from my angry outburst.  And I am still disappointed that I missed the concert.  I wanted to be part of that event, I wanted to be filled with that music, I wanted to dance and sing and have fun with my friends and my kids.  But that wasn't how the night needed to go.  Because my child needed something else from me that night - she needed me to be her mother.

And I was.

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3 comments:

Katherine said...

We've all had those moments. I've had yelling outbursts at my children - and then instantly regretted it. The meltdowns always seem to occur at moments when we least want them to (or is that the time we are least able to cope with meltdowns). I don't think it's a failure, I think it's just part of being a parent, a job that all of us are still learning.

Alison said...

Frankly, I'm impressed that your outburst only lasted 30 seconds! The fact you were able to calm down so quickly shows a great deal of maturity.

Holidays in my childhood were often stressful and angry. It wasn't until recently I realized a lot of it was due to my mother's wanting everything to be perfect, and not communicating to us what her expectations were. I'm not suggesting that you're doing that, but I wonder if some of your heightened excitement about the concert was somehow transmitted to Teagan and subconsciously triggered something in her mind?

Anyway, I'm sorry this concert ended up being so traumatic for both of you, and I'm glad you have a community of moms to reassure you.

Garret Atherton said...

Oh Liz, I'm not a Mom friend and I think you're a supermom!