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The Day My Toddler Broke Me

Image source: thinkstock
Image source: thinkstock

“It’s time to go,” I tell my little girl, getting down on her level to let her know we need to leave the park. Instead of coming compliantly, though, she pulls back her arm and hits me in the face – all the while screaming, “No!” at the top of her lungs.

It’s not even the first time this has happened that day. And as I look around at the faces of other parents around us, embarrassment washes over me and I think, “My toddler is beating me.”

I am one of those women who fought incredibly hard to become a mother, after facing the very real possibility that my dream of motherhood would never come true. The day my daughter was born was the happiest of my life, as I held her close to my chest and realized I was more in love than I had ever even imagined possible.

Our last two years together have been mostly amazing. I routinely brag about what an easy baby she was – sleeping through the night at 6 weeks, always happy and smiling, and potty trained by 2. She is smart and funny, sweet and loving. There are days when she will grab me out of nowhere for a hug and a quick “wub you” (love you, in toddler) and my heart just melts.

But lately, there is another side of my sweet and vibrant little girl. A side that can only be described as the onset of those terrible twos we’ve all heard so much about. Tantrums have set in with a ferocity I never expected, and without warning, my loving little girl turns into a head-spinning, face-hitting, hair-pulling monster.

She had thrown tantrums before, but never to this extreme. In the past, her fits were almost always linked to a missed nap or being sick, and those moments were few and far between.

This last month, though? We’ve had at least a tantrum a day — almost always the result of her not getting something she wants. And when my girl tantrums, if I am anywhere near her vicinity, she hits me in the face to express her rage.

At first, it was one of those things I tried to brush off as normal. I punished her for the behavior, of course. There were time-outs and talks, and at the end of every tantrum, we hugged and discussed why it isn’t kind to hit, while also practicing “nice touches.”

I’ve said things like, “We don’t hit each other,” “Mommy doesn’t hit you so you don’t hit Mommy,” “We’re a team, we have to be kind to one another,” and, “When you are mad, you can tell Mommy, but you cannot hit.”

In the moment, once her anger has dissipated, she seems to understand these sentiments. She says, “sowwy,” cuddles against me, and appears to even feel remorseful for her actions.

But the next time a fit comes around, she’s hitting me in the face all over again.

As the weeks have gone by, it has grown harder for me to deal with this hitting — for so many reasons, not the least of which being that I fear her aggressive behavior is a reflection of my parenting… something I once yearned for so badly, but now seem to be failing at.

While I realize on a logical level this isn’t the case, and that her behavior really is within the realm of normal for her age, every strike to the face has me questioning myself.

The truth is, I honestly don’t know what more I should be doing.

I only know that it is important to me to raise a kind and compassionate child — and right now, I have a little girl who hits when she is angry.

Add into that frustration and worry some basic life stress — a water heater leak displaced us from our home and a lingering illness had me feeling exhausted and sick — and I was probably primed for a breakdown a few weeks ago when my little girl began in on a fit as I tried to buckle her into her car seat after daycare. She wasn’t ready to go. She wanted to keep playing. And so, she took her cup and pulled it back, gaining extra momentum before striking it against my face.

Immediately, I burst into tears. For the first time, one of her hits had actually hurt me — my lip was busted open and I could taste the blood. The shock, frustration, and pain all collided at once, and there I was, crying in front of my toddler.

Something I had never done before.

I didn’t even know what to say. So, I said nothing. I finished buckling her in, holding my lip with one hand as she sat in silence – seemingly shocked herself by my tears.

And then I got into the front seat and drove her to a friend’s house, where we were staying during the week that our house was drying out from our indoor flood.

I cried most of the way. Frustrated and tired, yes. But also mad at myself for crying in the first place. Wasn’t I the adult? The one who was supposed to keep her composure? Shouldn’t I have been able to calmly parent my child, without being reduced to tears?

When I pulled into my friend’s driveway, I took a deep breath and tried to steady myself. Then I got into the back seat and looked my daughter in the eye as I began my spiel, “We don’t hit each other. Mommy doesn’t hit you, so…” she pulled back and smacked me in the face again.

That was it. It was the threshold of what I could take. Something inside of me broke. And once more, the tears welled up in my eyes.

I was at a loss. I felt like a failure as a parent, and like someone who was clearly not strong-willed enough to handle this situation.

A blow to my own ego, as I normally pride myself on strength and my ability to maintain calm.

So I did the only thing I could think to do in the moment. I looked at her and sternly said, “We don’t hit!” before getting out of the car and locking it behind me.

I began the trek towards my friend’s door with trepidation and fear.

What was I doing? Was I really leaving my toddler in the car?

It was 50 degrees outside in a very nice neighborhood. As I walked, I knew there would never be a point when I couldn’t see the car — even once inside, the window would keep her in my line of sight. But still…

What was I doing?!?

As soon as I entered the house, my friend could tell by my face that something was very wrong. She jumped up from the couch as I gave her the brief rundown, tears streaming down my face.

“I left her in the car,” I sobbed. “What kind of mom does that?!?”

“It will be good for her,” my friend said. “But let’s go back outside anyway. Not to get her right away, but to get you some fresh air. Let’s go breathe.”

And so we did. We walked outside and up the street a few houses. Then we walked back, always with the car in our vision. We talked, I breathed, and we tried to brainstorm solutions for my own little Mike Tyson.

By the time we got back to the car, I was feeling better. More calm and capable of parenting in the way I always believed I would, back in those days when I longed for nothing more than to be a mother.

I opened the car door to find my little girl in tears herself. While the entire ordeal had lasted less than five minutes, I’d never left her alone like that before. She had known she was in trouble, and had sat strapped in her car seat, scared and upset.

She had also peed in her pants. My child, who had been successfully potty trained for a month, had gone to the bathroom right there in her seat – something I want to believe was more an act of defiance than necessity, though I honestly can’t be sure.

It was far from my proudest parenting moment; the day my toddler broke me down, and I walked away. As I pulled her out of her seat and held her little body against mine, pee-filled pants and all, I felt the tears welling up once more.

This wasn’t the kind of mom I wanted to be.

“Sowwy,” she said, as she gently touched my face (one of those “nice touches” we practice). I held her close and told her Mommy was sorry, too.

I would love to tell you that was the last time she hit me. But, no… I’ve taken at least a slap to the face nearly every day since. These rages come over her with little to no provocation, and then they seem to dissipate just as quickly.

My toddler, Jekyl and Hyding all over the place.

But she hasn’t made me cry again, so at least there is that. I have raised my voice, I have enforced timeout, and I have held and cuddled her into calm. I’m honestly not sure what more I could be doing.

Though I am absolutely open to suggestions.

At this point, all I know for sure is that I am the mommy. I have to be the one maintaining my cool. I have to be parenting with a calm and collected head.

Because I want to raise a kind and compassionate little girl. Which means, first and foremost, getting the message across that hitting is never okay.

I am the mommy. And most days, I would tell you that I am a damn good mommy. But that day was not my finest.

The day that my daughter and I cried together. Both confused, frustrated, scared, and… a little unsure of what to do next.

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