Tentative First Steps

Thank you all for your support on my last post. I was absolutely overwhelmed by your kind and wise words. It never ceases to amaze me how cherished I feel when you all reach out from the ether to hold me up and impart your wisdom. I am humbled. And eternally grateful.

I emailed my pediatrician on Monday–determined after reading all your comments–and she wrote me back almost immediately with the number I needed.

I called the next morning. When the recording welcomed me to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry phone line my heart sank. I am calling the psychiatry department. For my four year old daughter. Suddenly her whole life flashed before my eyes: Was this just the first of countless mental health professionals she will be forced to consort with? Have I passed some irreparably defective gene onto my unsuspecting little girl?

I see so much of myself in my first born, especially in her emotional meltdowns. I am sure the main reason the empathetic approach has felt productive for me is because I can so easily put myself in her shoes and understand her hurt. I can touch that bottomless pool of loneliness and despair, I know how it waits silently, just below the surface, even though it has no explainable reason for being, even though there are no obvious springs feeding it. I get it when my daughter erupts, for seemingly no reason, into uncontrollable sobs, because that shoulder heaving emotion is ever present in my own emotional landscape, floating in and out of my periphery, waiting for me to turn my head just so.

What terrible mental health legacy have I passed on to my innocent little girl?

I wasn’t sure I was going to call, even after my pediatrician sent me the number. Maybe her outbursts will get better, I reasoned. They usually do, eventually. This is just a rough patch. Surely she’ll be her sweet self soon.

But then I picked her up from school and every moment was a struggle. At one point she was lying across the steps, face red from fury and despair, so angry at me that we don’t play with our neighbors, who she could hear outside. She has never exhibited any interest in knowing our neighbors! What was this tantrum even about?

And looking at her there, so upset over absolutely nothing, my heart broke for her and for the agony she felt. That is when I realized that getting help isn’t about me not being able to handle the hitting, it is about helping her navigating these tidal waves of emotion that threaten to sweep her out to sea.

I need to do this, for my little girl.

I finally got through to the doctor today. I’m schedule for the parent orientation next Thursday at 1pm. There I will learn of the various resources they have to offer. I will be matched with a psychiatrist who will give me tools to deal with my daughter’s “big emotions” as we call them in our house. Eventually she will probably go in to, but not for a little while.

Calling that number was the nadir of my parenting experience. It took all I had to silence (or at least turn down the volume) on the inner voices that insulted my parenting and condemned my emotional shortcomings. I know this is the right thing to do, that it’s a positive step in the right direction, but damn if I’m not devastated that I have to take this step.

19 Comments

    1. Thank you. I hope other parents do realize they are not alone. It can be very isolating to parent a child that pushes all our buttons all the time. We read about the “idyllic motherhood” presented in blogs and in magazines and we feel like something is very wrong with our family. But there is more of this than people know. It should be out there.

  1. This reminds me of that crossing an irrevocable boundary when I first dialed the number for a full infertility workup. It feels devastating. Like admitting defeat. And not just any defeat, but one that means more than anything else to you in the world. It doesn’t make you a failure, or defective. It means you are super smart and love your child beyond measure.

    1. For me, that feeling of defeat came when I actually went in to meet with my RE for the first time. Making the appointment felt okay, but sitting in the waiting room, that felt just awful. I couldn’t believe I was there. I couldn’t believe that was my life.

      I do feel that way now too. I worry about my little girl, not because I think she’ll be diagnosed with anything or because I think her behaviors are outside of the realm of “normal” but because I don’t know how to handle these issues and I’m pretty sure these issues come from me. That really hurts to admit.

      1. They don’t come from you! Or, I mean, in part they do, but only because our children inherit their genetic material from us. It’s nothing you did, or not your fault. If anything, she is lucky to have a mom who understands how she feels, and it probably makes you better able to address her feelings.

  2. Reading this post with tears in my eyes and a bit of a chuckle at “what is this tantrum even about?” because I have many of those moments too.

    1. There are so many situations where I have no idea what she is getting mad about. She has tantrums when we’re letting her do exactly what she wants to do! It’s so infuriating. What is the point of giving her what she wants when she’s just going to get mad anyway?! Preschoolers are tough.

  3. Oh my dear. You have the string by the wrong end! Honest.
    Look at how you struggle in your life. You want a different outcome for your daughter when she is your age. SO you need different tools than your parents had … and your parents did their best with the tools they had just like you are doing. You are not a deviant terrible person and your daughter will not be either. But think how much easier your life would be if you had been given tools to slow or stop some of the emotional ‘holes’ in your boat. This is what you are giving your daughter.
    I have learning disabilities …. when I was growing up this was not understood at all, not at all. My son has similar inherited similar learning disabilities, but he was given tools to compensate for his issues when he was young. I had to learn, painfully and over a long time period, that I wasn’t stupid and that I could figure out compensations. The differences in our lives are immense and hugely in his favor because he learned much earlier that I how to do this. This is what you are doing, you are taking advantage of today’s knowledge to improve your daughter’s skills in living with herself and not leaving her to negative name calling herself for who she is.
    Hold what you are doing this way and listen to the difference in your own self talk. Children (people) are tough to live with … and the lack of ability to tell their adults (other people) what is wrong in words makes it harder. You are doing such wonderful and difficult parenting and you increase the knowledge and power in our world.

  4. Oh I love purple and rose’s comment! It’s true! I’m sure that the phone call was one of the hardest things you have even had to do but your daughter will get the tools that she needs to help her later in life.

    What is normal anyway? Everybody needs extra help somewhere. Good for you for getting it for your daughter.

  5. Oh hon, I’m glad you found the gumption to make that phone call. Like people above and you have said, it’s not just about you, it’s about giving your daughter the tools to handle all of these big emotions. I truly feel like you’re now looking up to the light at the end of the tunnel with this phone call.

  6. You did an great thing, calling and setting up an appointment/training. This is the right step, seeking help. Please don’t blame yourself or be too hard on yourself, you are doing the BEST you can. You are an incredible, strong mother!

  7. You are a wonderful mother and I’m so so proud of you for taking this step. It’s so hard to admit we need help, especially with our kids. I hope this is a beginning of a journey of healing and health for your daughter.

  8. Great first step, mama! I know how hard it is to feel like by asking for help you are admitting you aren’t a good parent. I’m hoping that the phone call was the hardest step and they really are able to help you and your family.

  9. You did a brave and difficult thing and it was yet another example of why you are the best parent for your child. It’s so freaking hard to overcome our own fears and judgments of ourselves. I’m hopeful that this will be a positive new path for all of you.

  10. Good for you for making the call. One thing I’ve learned the last few years is that there is so little help or advice on parenting children older than toddlers. So often I find myself wondering WTF? What should I do? Why is he acting that way? We’ve had a rough few months ourselves :-/

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