Dear pregnant mom whose older child is being an asshole,
You are worried.
When you agreed to sign up for the obvious madness of having another child, you’d held some naive hope that you’d done this before and it would be crazy for awhile but then you’d find your groove. And now, your toddler has reached whole new levels of asshole-ness. Perfect timing, asshole kid. You are exhausted, probably puking as a not-so-side gig, and concerned about how much more quickly your body is expanding this time around than the first. You don’t have enough emotional bandwidth to email a friend, let alone deal with the raging psychosis of a 4 year old.
You are also embarrassed. Your family life has never been instagram-perfect but you haven’t considered complete quarantine a potential option until now. Maybe it’s potty training regression, maybe it’s massive tantrums, maybe it’s sudden reports of escalating aggression at daycare. Whatever it is, this isn’t how you envisioned your family, and you can’t imagine what people must think of you at school, at the grocery store, at playdates, at church. It’s humiliating.
And the scary part is, you really believe this is your new forever. Parenting a young child has an interminable quality to it to already – like a comedian trying to fill an hour, you chase your child around the living room or read them a story and – DON’T YOU DARE DENY IT – when you’re done you’re like, “that was probably about 3 minutes”. But you don’t have to fill an hour. YOU HAVE TO FILL A WHOLE DAY THAT STARTED AT 4 AM. Not to mention all of the rest of the days for eternity.
Of course, your rational brain is capable of reassuring you that this, too, shall pass. But when you have a young child and things are rough, you actually believe on a cellular level that you’re stuck here, in this horror, forever. There is no listening to reason. And if you happen to be pregnant and today has you wondering who should be institutionalized first; HALP.
So, you’re worried. You’re worried that you’re raising a sociopath, you’re worried that all this stress is going to negatively affect your pregnancy, you’re worried that it’s really only going to get worse when the baby arrives and how will you cope then if you’re barely coping now, you’re worried that maybe you didn’t get the timing right after all. Your spouse doesn’t really get it – he’s unconcerned, or checked out, or amused, or not around enough to know how bad it really is.
You’ve got your imperfect tools and you try it all – time outs, time ins, positive reinforcement, yelling at the top of your lungs, ignoring the behavior, redirection, the removal of privileges.
(as a side note, have you tried pretending to be asleep?)
When I was pregnant with our second, the first was 3. We’d finally decided there was no use in stretching it out any further, we didn’t want kids too far apart – and suddenly, mysteriously, our 3 year old was facing some complicated and very stressful (non-life threatening) health issues. This primarily affected his sleep/mood/behavior (need I say more?) and he was too young and I was too pregnant to meet each other where we were at. It was a traumatic 9 months – anxiety bloomed like a virus inside of me and he and I spent that season locked in a battle of will and emotion that took a serious toll.
It wasn’t until I learned how to truly let go – of my agenda, of my assumptions about the future, of my fear – that we began to heal and find each other again. Now, I am 20 weeks pregnant again and this time with a 7 year old – yes, he’s older and more reasonable and he and I have WAY more practice at being human to each other, but guess what? He’s being an asshole again.
If we were having coffee and telling stories that made us laugh and cry, these are the only things I would want you to know, dear mama:
What you’re experiencing is normal. So normal, in fact, that it’d be abnormal if you weren’t. Somewhere, some mother on instagram can’t relate and is posting photos of a luminous child kissing her pregnant belly accompanied by anecdotes of breakfast in bed. She’s either lying or she’s one of the unicorns who actually has a child that doesn’t struggle through transition. Either way, you should pay no attention to her. The rest of us? We’re not sure if everyone’s going to survive today either.
You are going to have days where you do great and days where everything falls apart (mostly you). You will fail miserably and be certain you’ve made everything worse. Accept where you’re at. You are hormonal and tired, your child really is being an asshole, and nobody else has to live with it the way you do.
What if your child isn’t broken? They are going through something real, just like you are, and if you see your child as something that needs to be fixed you will spend your whole life trying to fix them. Let go of what people think. Let go of trying to figure out how to “handle the situation” perfectly. Let go of the idea that any of this has anything to do with how this child is going to turn out. Just let go.
Our children know when we need something from them that they can’t give. They know when we feel like the stakes are unimaginably high, like everything is riding on this situation that they are clearly at the center of.
But what if your child isn’t broken – what if they are just waiting for you to really see them? What if they just need to know that you believe things are going to be ok, that THEY are going to be ok, that this hard day/week/season isn’t anything other than just that?
I don’t believe we’re only “given as much as we can handle”. The truth is that sometimes you get broken wide open and spilled everywhere. You will crack and you will break. On the other side of this, someday sooner than you think, you’ll laugh and drink wine excessively and face some new challenge with just an ounce more belief that it’s not going to last forever.