On Toddler Meltdowns that aren’t from Toddlers

The scene this Saturday morning is much different from that of 12 hours ago. The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafts through the house, along with the Cinnamon/Orange oil combination I am obsessed with diffusing. I am downstairs in my little office nook, sipping on the aforementioned coffee, listening to the sounds of my daughter and husband finishing up breakfast in the kitchen upstairs. It is sweet and I am grateful and content.

But last night, there was a toddler meltdown from one of the 30 somethings in the house. I don’t want to embarrass Max, so let’s just say it was me.

My daughter, for the most part, sleeps well once she actually falls asleep, but getting there is a wholeeeee other story. The struggle for us for the past year has been the hours of trying to get her to sleep. They are stressful and dramatic and exhausting for all involved. We have done “all the things” and ultimately, when nothing works longer than a night or two, we do whatever we can to get our hysterical upset daughter to sleep at night.

Mila is a high-connection needs baby. I mean, I am her mother and I shouldn’t be surprised. She is exactly the daughter you would expect to be mine. She requires intense amounts of physical connection and needs to be relationally and emotionally connected literally *all day.* A lot of that is normal toddler behavior – of course they want to be connected to their favorite people! They want attention and affection and much of it is developmentally appropriate. But, like me, I think my daughter may be an outlier. I did one of those personality type quizzes for a college class once, and my emotional “brain” was literally so far out of the circle that it didn’t fit on the graph. Not a single person in that class came anywhere near me. This sounds like bragging – and I do think there are positives to my intense capacity to feel, but for much of my life, this has been an obstacle to overcome. And then there’s my sweet daughter. A little body and big, loving, anxious feelings. She is empathetic to the extreme and needs large amounts of verbal and emotional processing. Anything that happens out of the ordinary in our family, someone got hurt, someone is sick, Daddy had to kill a big bug – we talk about it for weeks. A few weeks ago I had a horrible stomach bug and Mila heard me throwing up. For days she did the pretend throw up sound to us to have us talk to her about what happened to Mom and how Mom is okay now. A few weeks later, Max went in to get her in the morning instead of me like usual. Since it wasn’t me, she did a fake retching sound asking Max if I was sick. She is my child.

The Lord is gracious to give me patience with Mila during the day. I love her deeply and I understand her, and while I am far from perfect, I know I am an attentive, engaged, and loving Mother to her through His strength. He gives me daily bread – even the days she naps an hour and wakes up ready to connect and process, we make it. But usually, the bread seems to run out at bedtime. There are mere crumbs left. After 13 hours of pretend play – every stuffed animal she owns is sad and sick and we talk about why. After 13 hours of my little shadow saying “up!
even when she is already in my arms, apparently not close enough. After 13 hours of tears when I am not in sight. Of holding it together and taking a big breath when I want to use the bathroom alone but she sobs at the door. Of responding to her gently when I want to snap. I am weary and the bedtime hysterics trigger me every.single.time.

It had been a long week. She was more emotional than usual, had napped terribly and I was tired. She wouldn’t go to sleep. We did our routine, had been in once to reassure her, and she screamed. Each night is like a battle plan strategy as we stare at the monitor and try to figure out our next move. I was tired. I was done. And I lost it. When Max had the audacity to say “This is just the way she is” in *what I interpreted* as a dismissive tone, I snapped.

He found me in our room in the dark sobbing. I said dramatic things like “How can she possibly expect more from me?” I cried and Max rubbed my leg and was supportive and kind and loving even after I had taken my frustration out on him. I asked him to bring me a box of cookies and I wiped my tears as her crying finally stopped and I ate cookies in bed. The meltdown was over and I apologized and thanked him for the support. As always, he was loving and gracious and forgiving.

Here’s the thing. Most days I have perspective. Most of the time I see our situation- and while of course parenting is hard – I understand the absolute enormity of our blessings. I am grateful every single morning I wake up. I am grateful for a baby that is healthy and happy and loving. A supportive husband who is totally hands on and attentive to both my needs and our daughter’s. I truly do understand that my hard is yes *hard,* but in the grand scheme of struggles, it doesn’t compare to the battles many families face every minute of every day. Parents of children with medical complications or fighting diseases or significant disabilities would probably see “my hard” and long for it. Most of the time, I view my issues through that lens. With healthy Perspective acknowledging the challenge but not wallowing.

But on Friday nights at 8:30, or 9:30 or 10:30, when she won’t go to bed and I have given her every ounce of my energy and love and abilities, that perspective seems to fly out the window. The time with the Lord in the dark morning before she’s up – my brain cannot activate it. So I cried and complained and asked for cookies. It was a toddler meltdown by a 30 year old.

Today as I reflect, I am grateful for a God who understands my limitations and offers grace for me anew every morning. Motherhood has shown me the ugliness of my own heart. It highlights every area of selfishness and bitterness and pride. I have seen my own sin in a new light this year as I find myself resentful when I hear other babies nap and sleep easily or the mom could nurse with no issues and thrived in the early days. When Motherhood comes easily for others, jealousy and discontentment remind me that they are never, ever far, regardless of the growth God has done in me.

So right now, as I move forward, I think there’s this tension of not shaming myself for my emotional struggles in parenthood, but also not excusing the sin in my own life when those emotions cause me to act in ways not pleasing to God or honoring my family. That’s the beautiful thing about Jesus. He accepts and invites and welcomes us wherever we are – without shame or condemnation –  but the call is to move beyond it to sanctification, becoming a little more like Him every single day. He loves me in the midst of my sin and struggle, but lovingly reminds me His daily bread DOESN’T run out and through Him I can overcome. If I am scrambling for crumbs by 7:30pm I better get myself into the Word of God more before that.

I can look back on the last 18 months and see the growth. I can see the ways I have been molded and shaped and changed and softened, and while clearly there is still some significant work to be done, I see His hand and know His grace is more soothing than any box of cookies.

And to my sweet, sweet, daughter. My love for you is even bigger than your love for me, which is big! Thank you for your grace and forgiveness and patience as I try and fail to be your perfect Mom. I love you.


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