On anger, and guilt, and change

by Lesley on April 24, 2014 · 18 comments

in motherhood

It’s an early spring morning, and I’m cuddled up in bed with an empty stomach and blurry eyes. I’m playing a guessing game about how the next hour will go.  I think the baby fell back asleep, but I’m not quite sure, so I can’t fully relax but I’m not ready to leave my warm sheets either. The baked avocado egg boats I’m dreaming about will have to wait just a bit longer.

Our new life in this familiar town continues to fly by, the days merging into one another and developing their own rituals, many like our old life in Sacramento but with the mountains and ocean as backdrop. We still make smoothies in the mornings and play on the swing in the afternoons, and Daddy comes home at 6pm to the same delighted greetings he always has. But there are also new patterns to our day we didn’t have before, the largest being that I’m working about 10 hours a week and exercising regularly.

I can’t tell you how good this change is for my soul.

To be honest, and I’ve shared this a little bit here and there, Owen’s birth really threw me for a loop. After dealing with (Jonathan’s) cancer during Anna’s first year of life, I thought I was ready for anything this time around. I also assumed because Owen is our second we’d have an easy time nursing and sleep training. But that really wasn’t the case. Unlike Anna, who took well to a schedule and slept through the night at 10 weeks old (!!!) Owen did not. For the first six months of his life he took 30 minute catnaps, and when he was awake he would fuss nonstop unless he was being held. I’m a researcher and a planner so his sleep schedule drove me crazy because, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t control him. Also, my arms hurt and I wasn’t showering as frequently as I wanted.

I’m convinced that regular showers help keep people sane, and moms of infants don’t get nearly enough showers.

Also, have you ever tried to vacuum with a 20+ pound infant strapped to your chest? It’s not exactly easy.

The only thing that kept me from going crazy was choosing to believe that when he began solid foods, something might change. So when that didn’t work, and when I began having major breastfeeding challenges on top of everything else, I started to crack.

By mid-February I was so tired and down and discouraged that I began seeing changes in my personality which really, really scared me. I remember holding my sweet baby, who was up again crying, and telling him: “I hate you.”  It’d be the first of several times I uttered that phrase over the course of three days.

(Ugh. There it is. Right there on the internet… ^^ …the terrible words I am so embarrassed I said.)

What happened after I said those words is fairly common, I think. The guilt and shame arrived with full force. Guilt that I wasn’t a good mom because good moms either have babies who sleep, or they fully embrace their waking with love and patience.

I entered this really bad cycle of anger and guilt, which lasted about a week before I called my favorite counselor, Lori, and cried on her couch a few times. She asked me if I was physically hurting my children, and I told her I wasn’t. But I was afraid that if I didn’t get some control over my anger then I might say awful things to him for years and years to come. This ain’t something to mess around with.

Something Lori shared with me, which was LIFE CHANGING, is: anger comes as result of something we love/value being threatened. She asked me, “What do you love that’s being threatened by Owen’s demands?”

Good question, right?

Of course, the answer wasn’t super simple. After a lot of thought I realized that Owen’s needs threatened my desires for high productivity (because I simply couldn’t get anything done!) as well as my desire for control (because he couldn’t be controlled in the ways I thought he should be.) Both of these values are idols in my life, and they have been for a long time, so I had some thinking and praying to do. Lori encouraged me and said I needed to think about the space between my expectations and my current reality. “How can you close that gap,” she asked?

Over the course of a few weeks in early March, I did a lot of thinking and praying and analyzing. I hired a babysitter a few times so I could get out and write, and you know what? I realized that having just five hours to myself each week made the difference between crazy and caring, lunatic and loving. I was actually shocked how much just five hours made an impact on my week.

I also decided that while a lot of babies can sleep through the night at 7 months old, my baby still needed to eat . And so Jonathan and I have been taking turns getting up with him each night while he quickly downs a huge bottle of milk and goes back to sleep. Instead of being bitter and angry about his waking, I am loving our time together again. I’m almost certain he will drop that feeding before college.

I am incredibly grateful that God grabbed my heart and mind, and helped push me to see a counselor because by the time our moving news came about, I was in a healthy place to take on such a change. He knew what was coming, and He made sure I was ready. How incredible is that?

These days the space between expectations and reality are coming closer together. It’s taken a change of mind, change of heart and a whole lot of grace. (It’s also taken a regular babysitter and a trip to the gym twice a week!)

If you’re a mama who is experiencing anger, or who is in a tough spot raising young kiddos, I have to recommend a few things. First, please talk to someone–whether that’s your husband, friends and/or a counselor. A book I read that I think every mom should read is, She’s Gonna Blow: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger. (The cover and title are cheesy, but the content is great.) Tim Keller also has a great sermon on anger, which I can’t seem to find online but maybe you’ll have better luck.

Please leave me a comment if you are/or have been in a tough spot when it comes to raising young kids. I’d love to know how to encourage or pray for you. We’re in this together, mamas!

Update: Those avocado boats? I made them after writing this post and they’re amazing. Add them to your weekly breakfast line-up, ok?

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17 comments
tamarajpowell
tamarajpowell

It was good to read this. We lived this time together so your words are helping me remember and reflect further. Love and miss you.

lbecwar
lbecwar

Thanks for this post - boy can I relate!  There have been numerous times over the past 10 months when I have yelled right into Nate's poor little face, and felt just terrible about it.  But I think you hit it right on the head - it is all about my expectations for productivity and control.  In almost every other avenue of life, I can research a problem, formulate a solution and execute my plan, and I usually get the results I'm looking for.  Not so with kids!  This past year has certainly been one of the most humbling of my life in that respect.  


I also agree that taking breaks is vital to being the healthy, happy parent our kids need.  That has been a huge lesson for me this year, and I still don't do a very good job of it.  It's interesting but since I quit my job to be with the kids, I almost feel like I'm not allowed to take too many breaks because this is what I signed up for and I'm supposed to like it all the time.  Otherwise I should just go back to work and at least we would have more money.  Obviously I know this is not true or realistic thinking, but it is still there in the back of my mind somehow.  Anyway, this parenting thing is certainly an ongoing learning experience to say the least.  Really appreciate this post!


P.S.  So I take it you're ready to start trying for #3?  I know I am! Haha. :) 

marisaloper
marisaloper

oh mama...you are so not alone! not alone in feeling overwhelmed, not alone in worshiping control and productivity (or sleep or peace or quiet or "me" time). knowing that everyone else is struggling with these things doesn't make it okay, but fortunately our God is pretty big into grace ;). glad you have found some balance and that His grace has covered you in this!

tim_fall
tim_fall

So you said the words "I hate you" to your baby. You didn't act that way, just words. Did you also tell him "I love you"? I bet you acted that way too. Seems to me like you did just fine, Lesley.


Cheers,

Tim

KatieHumphreys
KatieHumphreys

Lesley, Thank you so much for sharing this, your post touched me deeply. Like you, I have made Productivity and Control idols for about as long as I can remember. And although I'e managed to stay in a fairly healthy place for most of my baby girl's 18 months so far, I worry about what happens when there are two of them, and can do see myself feeling in a place like you described above. Although we only have one right now, whenever we (God willing!) have a second baby, I wanted you to know that this post will be tucked away in my heart and I'll remember the important lessons you shared. And even aside from kiddos, I think the question of "What do you love that's being threatened" is one of the most profound yet simple ways I've heard for dealing with our anger. Thank you so much for sharing this, you are such an inspiration to me (and many others!) weaknesses and all ;)

LauraDiPalermoDoyle
LauraDiPalermoDoyle

Thank you for sharing :) Raising kids is hard work. I am also finding our 2nd baby much more difficult than Ellie was. Ellie slept through the night super early too, and I was up with Clare from 2:30 - 4:30 am last night. Exercise is a must in my life and I've been getting it regularly for a few weeks now.... 

Thinking of you!

StacieMBanks
StacieMBanks

I can totally relate to the places where expectations and reality collide. I am also a person who loves control :( Parenthood is such a journey! For me parenthood had been about shining light on my darkest places and saying: "Fix this NOW!" Parenting comes with such a complexity of emotions and unrealistic expectations. I am curious to read the book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood  that I heard about in a magazine. I feel like parenting today is much more isolating and we have to work harder to build our "village."  Praying for you and your family on your new adventure. Happy to read that you are getting gym time. 

laurenamaro
laurenamaro

I completely relate to every part of this post. Caleb was an easy baby (slept well, etc.), but there were days when I resented having to wake up and immediately dedicate myself to another person. I was angry about it because, lo and behold, I couldn't get my stuff done or done to the standard that I usually uphold. Research. Teaching. Physical health. Our marriage. Things got better when I started scheduling in babysitting too. Friend, you are not alone. The enemy will want you to feel that way, and he will ask you think that anger is from you and your shortcomings. It's not. Do not agree with his lies. Rebuke them out loud and replace them with truth about who you are--a gentle, encouraging, and yes, patient woman with a mother's heart. 

LanaMarin
LanaMarin

Thank you for being vulnerable and real on here Lesley. I remember hard days when my son was Owen's age, needy and fussy, and my husband was working long hours into the night. I remember losing it and yelling at him, a little baby crawling on the ground, and feeling so tremendously guilty, while simultaneously wondering if it was insane to put a baby to bed at 6pm, and if other moms felt as incredibly overwhelmed as I did.  Motherhood stretches us into better people, it really does, because it reveals our flaws and our weaknesses like nothing else I've ever experienced. I've spent many an hour crying on a therapist's couch, believe me. Blessings on your journey. You are a wonderful mother.

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@tamarajpowell  Love and miss you too! Wish we could walk together like we used to. :(

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@lbecwar  YES. I totally feel the same way...like if I'm going to be home with my kids then I should be REALLY good at it which means I can never have breaks. So silly, right? 


Also... very funny about your baby #3 comment. :) 

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@tim_fall  Your comment is very sweet, Tim, and so true. It's crazy how in the moment one phrase seems to cancel out the other...even though it shouldn't. Appreciate your comment! 

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@StacieMBanks  I'm definitely adding that book to my "read" list. It sounds super interesting. Thank you for the suggestion and your prayers!

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@laurenamaro  Thank you, friend. I must say, the reason I loved Tim Keller's sermon is that he reminded me that anger is biblical...but uncontrolled anger is not. It made me feel less guilty. Thank you for reminding me of such truth today.

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@LanaMarin  Thank you, Lana. Thanks for being brave and sharing too. (Also! So happy to see your pregnancy news on Facebook!)