Why I cried when my toddler reached multiple milestones — and how I maintain my mental health as a mother
Last night, for the first time, my toddler slept through the night in his own room, without a Pull-Up, WITHOUT HAVING AN ACCIDENT! I couldn’t handle all these milestones at once. Potty training has felt like my greatest parenting fail to date. My sister’s children were both potty trained by the time they were 18 months old, and here was my kid still wetting the bed at almost 4.
Being a mother is hard enough without feeling like I have to lie about my son’s ability control his bladder. I found myself getting unnecessarily upset with him when he wet himself in public.
Feeling like an inadequate mom sucks.
I tend to panic a lot about milestones — but last night was different.
We just moved into a new house, so it’s also unfamiliar territory. To say that a toddler does not enjoy change is an understatement. On top of being in a totally foreign environment, he had just spent six weeks with his father in a different state with daddy rules instead of mommy rules (we share custody). We live a few time zones away from each other, so going back and forth is stressful and heartbreaking. I always feel guilty if I go out or have any fun while he’s gone. There are usually major adjustments when he returns — I just wasn’t expecting a smooth transition.
His first day in the new house started after a couple delayed flights that he handled exceptionally well. I had a fridge full of juice boxes and grapes (his comfort food) along with enough PB&J to make 50 sandwiches. His favorite things of the season were sprawled out on the bed for his return — two Daniel Tigers, his plush Tinga Tinga Tales crew, and the Wind-Up Train Book. We read the book, he took a bath, we brushed our teeth, and he snuggled up under his Star Wars covers. Within seconds, he was asleep. I couldn’t believe it. Without coercion or negotiation, he passed out softly and quietly. I clicked on the nightlight, tiptoed out of the room, and pulled up the kitchen chair to his bedroom door to listen for his cries to sleep in my bed.
The cries never came.
I went to check on him five or 10 minutes later. He was still knocked out, peacefully holding his two Daniel Tigers. I sat back in the chair to listen just in case. I caught up with emails on my phone for a while before it hit me — he was really asleep. My immediate thoughts? Oh no, he’s growing up too fast. He doesn’t need me anymore! I am obsolete!!!
Like I said, I tend to panic.
Yes, I want him to be on track with milestones. Yes, I understand that he is going to grow up and become more independent. But none of that matters when I think about how little time I have with him at this stage.
After my initial mom-crisis, the whole situation made me smile.
I was so worried about potty-training that my anxiety was probably rubbing off on him. He is his own person and he will do things at his own pace. Comparing him to other children only stresses us both out — and doesn’t increase his potential to meet the milestone in question. There will be more worries in the future, and I have to remind myself that he is happy; that’s what matters. Everything else is a process.
You know what would have been helpful, though (besides wine)? Some coping strategies.
A lot of motherhood is about survival. We have to take care of ourselves in between each crisis.
All children miss a few milestones, but usually it’s totally fine. In the moment, though, the anxiety takes over our entire existence. First-time moms sometimes have it super rough while navigating the unchartered territory of parenting.
Here are a few of the coping methods I’ve found helpful:
1Sleep when your little one sleeps.
It seems simple, but our mommy brains sometimes trick us into staying up to fold laundry, binge watch Netflix, catch up on work, or watch them breathe. You’ll feel much better if you get some rest. You can’t really sleep when they’re up (which is basically all the time), so take of advantage of those naps when you can.
Yes, I said it. Sometimes I just scream like a mad woman. Often, my son participates. It’s a great stress reliever in my life. I don’t do it everyday or even monthly, but after working a 10-hour shift, supervising a playgroup with his 20 closest friends, loathing my non-existent dating life, and spending my entire check on rent, it takes a good scream to calm me down. For fun, you can set some of your own milestones. By the time your child is 5, see if you’ve had 10 scream sessions. Reward yourself with an episode of your favorite show when you reach the goal!
3Take up boxing…or yoga.
Folks suggest yoga, and that’s great for those parents who can quiet their minds enough to get down with downward dog. I am more of a punch-out-your-frustrations kind of woman, so boxing hits the spot for me. I do it 2-3 times a week, and it feels great. And it’s convenient for me that the community center where I train has a children’s fitness class at the same time (by design). The point is to produce endorphins and relieve some of your stress. Do it as often as you can, both as a preventative and restorative measure.
Parenting can be overwhelming and scary and terrifying and exhausting (and it has some positive things too). We have a responsibility to ensure our mental health stays mostly intact.
If these methods don’t work or your anxiety has gone beyond a few random moments, reach out for more support. You can connect in person, by phone, or via inclusive, positive mom communities online. I use these measures a lot, and above all, just reach out when you need support. Our children are different and beautiful.
So are we.