Parenting Through Pain


My toddler has learned to scream. He screams when he is happy. He screams when he is sad. He screams when he is angry. He screams when I won’t allow him to throw my iPhone across the room or when I strap him into his car seat.

Today’s agenda included a trip to the zoo with me, his aunt, and his cousin. It should have been an exciting time. But he screamed because he wanted to run wild through the primates exhibit. He screamed because I wouldn’t allow him to stand on the train ride. He screamed at Starbucks because I would not allow him to drink my coffee. The day wrapped up with me finally waving my white flag of motherly surrender in the grocery store after a mere three minutes. I gingerly placed a small bag of oranges back in the bin, and I made a beeline for the exit. All the while, he screamed. I felt like he might be hungry, and I was spent. So I did what any self-respecting mother would do. I drove through the McDonald’s drive thru, because it was the closest, and I bought my son $1.62 worth of contentment in the form of chicken nuggets. Not my finest parenting day.

But we all have these days, right? Days when our children aren’t perfect. Our patience is gone. Our discipline looks less like teaching and more like unsuccessful lion taming. For me, though, days like this are made heavier by one thing. It is the black cloud that has overshadowed every birthday, anniversary, family get-together, and every toddler milestone that has occurred over the last few months. Months ago, my dad suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a fall. He has been in a coma ever since. For these months, we have worried, prayed, cried, and we have spent our days driving back and forth to the hospital to see him.

This is a hard thing. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever been through. And I have lived enough life to know that none of us are exempt from hard things. Elderly parents get ill and pass away. Miscarriages happen. Accidents can take away people we love. Divorce proceedings are started. Cancer is diagnosed. And through this, we do our best to smile through the pain and care for our children, when some days we can barely care for ourselves.

But what’s a mama to do? We can’t push pause on the needs of our children. The day-to-day routine of motherhood goes on even on days when we feel despair. How do we handle the tantrums when our nerves are raw and our emotions feel so fragile? Take a deep breath, mama, let me offer some help.

Give yourself so much grace. Grace over meals and messes and meltdowns. This is obvious, but it can be so difficult to do. But for today, I am not beating myself up over fast food chicken nuggets. Over the past few months, we have made toddler meals out of organic fruit and vegetable pouches, cartons of milk from the hospital cafeteria, and leftover bagels with cream cheese. Balanced? Not exactly. But my son has been fed. I have not dusted the bookshelf in the entryway in . . . well, I don’t know how long. I overreact at times to regular toddler behavior. I simply apologize and move on. Go ahead. Give yourself room to not be perfect.

Let other people help. While my friend Catrina’s husband was living his final days with cancer, my husband and I offered to take her son to a museum for a special kids’ event. We were thrilled when Catrina allowed him to go. She explained her feelings about it this way.

Did I want to take him to the Nasher Sculpture Center? You bet. Was I thankful that he had an amazing afternoon with people who loved him? Absolutely. Some day, I’ll have the bandwith to take him myself. Until then, I’m happy he’s been able to be loved and experience new things with others. 

There were others who stepped in and took over caring for her young son while her husband was hospitalized. Allow friends and family to love your kids so that you can have a break.

Ask for help. This is connected to the last, but it’s so much harder. Sometimes people don’t know how to help. You can help them help you. Those that are closest to you want to help. Communicate clearly what you need. This is not the time to worry about what others will think. You are asking not only for your own sake but for the sake of your kids. You would do anything for your children, right? So ask.

Keep it simple. Now is not the time to take on a remodeling project or to decide that you want to cook your way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Today’s biggest mistake was my over-planning. Expecting an 18-month-old to tolerate lunch at a restaurant, a zoo trip, a coffee shop visit, and a grocery store trip was unrealistic. Even as I type it, I am shaking my head a little. Keep your meals simple, your schedule simple, your expectations simple. You have grieving to do. You have healing to do. Focus your attention and energy on those things.

Push play on the positive. What you say to yourself during these hard times can have a huge impact on how you handle the situation. Positive self-talk is invaluable. Find something that encourages you — a Bible verse, an inspirational quote, a positive song — and put it on repeat. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, sing it or say it to yourself. Get your kids in on the fun!

We all have screaming zoo days. Sometimes we have them while we are carrying a burden of an entirely different kind. These days are tough, but they don’t last forever. Cry when you need to. Wipe away those tears. Look into the future and hope. There are good things to come.

Julie is a Texas-born missionary kid that grew up in New Zealand and finally found her way back to Lone Star state, by way of Missouri and Tennessee. Back in the DFW area, she met her worship pastor husband, Jake, in 2011. In 2013, Julie gave birth to a feisty little boy named Jude. In the summer of 2016, Ella Jene was born and balanced out the family. Julie loves good coffee, thrift stores, and occasionally faking a New Zealand accent. She is also a teacher, a singer, a songwriter, an Alabama fan, a traveler, and a Jesus follower. She considers herself to be an expert in food, music, and mistakes. Julie tells stories about her life and the people in it over at The Potluck Diaries.



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