Shortly after my daughter’s second birthday, the tantrums started. We’re not talking normal, run of the mill, terrible two tantrums. We’re talking hours upon hours of inconsolability. Screams of agony. Rages out of nowhere. Hitting, scratching, and hair-pulling any time I attempted to get near her.
It was like a switch had flipped. My sweet, loving, verbal little girl was melting down in front of my very eyes. And I felt completely and utterly helpless in witnessing the destruction.
I wrote about one of those instances here, admitting to my own failings as a mother on a day when I had succumbed to that helplessness. The armchair analysts of the Internet declared my 2-year-old a “monster” and me “a doormat.”
I was doing it all wrong, they cried. My little girl was doomed for failure and a future prison sentence, they said. All of this based on a single post about one bad tantrum.
For my part, I was torn. I knew my little girl wasn’t a monster, and I knew I wasn’t a doormat. But I’ve worked with kids my entire life. My degree is in developmental psychology, and I spent years working as a nanny and volunteering with kids of all ages from abuse and trauma backgrounds. I’ve seen my fair share of both “normal” and “abnormal” toddler behavior, and I know there is a range there — that sometimes a bad tantrum is just a tantrum. But something in my gut was telling me this was veering outside the range of normal.
It was just that admitting that thought about my own child felt … wrong.
It didn’t help that, as a single mother, no one else was around to witness exactly what I was seeing. My friends tried to help me problem-solve, but I was the only one who saw the full extent of what was going on, which left me second-guessing if it was really all that bad. Or maybe the problem was me … what if I was just a terrible parent?
Those fears resulted in me staying silent about the struggles we were dealing with in our home. I love my daughter fiercely. She was (and is) the best thing to have ever happened to me. Talking about what was going on felt like a betrayal to her, like trying to convince others that something was wrong with my child. And admitting to my fears felt like ammunition for those who might already think I was in no way deserving of parenthood; those who might be quick to assume that as a single mother I was intrinsically lacking, with my daughter’s behavior serving only as proof of that fact.
When I finally wrote that piece about the single worst day in our tantrum struggles, what the Internet commenters of the world didn’t know was that I had already scheduled our first appointment with a behavioral specialist. I had already picked up the phone and admitted that something was wrong; I just didn’t know what that something was, or whether it stemmed from her or me.
That was, perhaps, the hardest part to swallow. It was painful, making that appointment and admitting that I needed help; that my child’s behavior felt outside the scope of “normal”. But it was even harder to face the two possibilities I saw in front of me: That this was either my fault (some flaw in my parenting), or that something was wrong with my little girl (and what kind of terrible parent even contemplates something like that?).
By the time our first appointment came, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t want to learn my daughter was suffering from something that might make life harder for her, but I was also terrified of being told that I just wasn’t enough for her. It didn’t feel like anything good could possibly come from this appointment, but what was the alternative? Sticking my head in the sand and ignoring that something wasn’t working?
More than anything, I didn’t want to be the mom who was so afraid of the truth that she allowed bad behavior to continue into the long term rather than admitting she might need help. So I swallowed my pride, and fear, and I called.
In the end, asking for help was the best thing I could have done. The behavioral therapist served as another adult to help me rationally assess the situation and search for solutions. She was kind and empathetic, and she treated me like an educated peer rather than an ignorant woman who had no business parenting.
Over the last few months, my girl and I have been making great strides together, and the solutions we’ve latched on to through behavioral therapy have helped us both immensely. This isn’t to say there are no more extreme tantrums, because sometimes, there still are. It’s just that now, I feel better equipped to deal with them and to help my little girl process through, when that switch flips.
It was the right step to make, as scary as it was in the moment, and I’m glad I made that call. Not because the Internet declared my child a monster or me a horrible parent, but because we just needed a little help.
Maybe you just need a little help, too?