I had a very distinct moment last year when I decided I wanted to quit parenting.
It was maybe early winter and Willow had just turned 2. We we were going through this phase where Willow’s sleep was far below par for her age. We share a bedroom with Willow (because adding an extra bedroom in Toronto costs a least an extra $400 a month). As a result we end up sharing our bed about 75% of the time. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Willow was starting to develop language, which was really fun, but could become easily frustrating for Willow when she understood more than she could communicate. This lead to the typical terrible 2’s tantrums and other difficulties. She was also starting to learn other social skills, like hitting and, my personal favorite, biting. All of these new things were happening and I didn’t know the best way to deal with it all. I felt out of control and hopelessly alone. When I became stressed or overwhelmed I lost my temper. I yelled. I threw an orange at the wall. I threw it so hard it exploded. I jumped up and down like a 2-year-old in a fit.
This day, the day I told you I wanted to quit, it was a particularly hard day. I was particularly tired and Willow was acting particularly difficult. Each act of defiance started to create this ball of anger inside of me that only seemed to grow. My hands were in tight fists and my teeth were clenched. Every time I had to discipline Willow I would run through my head the kind of discipline I really wanted to give, something we don’t practice in our home, a real big smack. Nap time had finally arrived and I found the couch facedown and started to cry. I wanted to quit. Like if being a parent were a career, I would be sending in my letter of resignation. I was done. The sea of guilt, synonymous with being a parent, started to pour in as if I were a sinking ship freshly punctured by an iceberg.
“I’m not any good at this”.
“Why am I so angry?”
“I am destroying my child’s self esteem.”
“I am not cut out for this.”
“I am a really bad parent.”
And then I checked my email.
When Willow was born I signed up for an age-appropriate developmental screening survey that helps track your child’s development. Every month I do some activities with Willow to see how she is doing with her developmental milestones. After the results are analyzed, they send me a kind of report card for her development along with a lengthy newsletter pertaining to her current age and the phases she is going through. I just happened to receive this email on this very bad day.
I read through the pamphlet and with every word grew increasingly more engaged. Because everything they were describing about children at Willow’s age was everything we were going through. It described how Willow was feeling, what she could comprehend, and how to help her through difficult and frustrating moments. They talked about ways to stay calm as a parent and practice positive discipline methods (because that whole orange thing wasn’t working). And in a matter of 20 minutes I went from completely defeated, ready to walk out the door and start day drinking, to a confident parent. I realized that what we were going through was normal and gained a handful of tools to help deal with it.
That day I learned the key to good parenting: education. Yes, I think it’s important to listen to your intuition and draw from your gut, but there are people out there who research and educate about childhood development for a living. They write really good books, put on workshops and run community programs. They are experts and parents who have worked with children for years. There are some things your gut just can’t tell you. Google is fine for the quick, “how do I help my child stop sucking their thumb” or “how long can breast milk stay in the freezer”, sure, but for the big stuff, the stuff you are pulling your hair out about, trust that to the experts. And never, NEVER draw anything about being a parent from social media. EVER!!! You will just fall down a rabbit hole of guilt and shame because everyone comes across as the perfect parent on Facebook or Instagram.
Every parent has moments when they want to quit. If you are not a parent, don’t trick yourself into thinking that you won’t be like that. You will. It’s ok and it’s normal. Find someone to talk to who is a parenting expert. Find a community resource. Find a great book. Education is empowerment!
I still have tough days, but now I know when that feeling of desperation starts to kick in or I find myself regretting some of my parenting moves, all it means is I need a little more knowledge. I find a highly recommended book, drink some kombucha, and eat a square of really dark chocolate (this is the trinity or parenting survival — well at least for me) and then I feel pretty freaking amazing.
Book I am currently reading: “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk” (and it’s life changing)