When a mother snaps

I am a terrible mother. My baby is only a few weeks old when I come to this realisation, one morning sometime between 2am and 4am, when unable to sing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean for the 100th time. Watching as his face turns the colour of cherry tomatoes and his little voice grows hoarse with hysteria, I pick him up and am about to shake him out of his crying fit. I stop myself in absolute horror. I nearly run out of the house in shock. But I'm wearing pyjamas covered in spit-up so decide to stay put, wallowing in guilt and misery instead.

I blurt out my feelings to my gorgeous friend Katy*, mother to a cute one-year-old girl called Tara. She tells me that all mothers feel like that at some time or another and how she had once, in a fit of frustration at Tara's uncontrollable crying, pinched her ‘to give her something to cry about’. 

With a huge sigh of relief I think, ‘At least I haven't done that.’ Of course, there is still time.  My child is still young. But I wondered whether she was right. I started asking around and was surprised to hear how all my friends who were mothers, had at some point screamed, yelled, slapped and swore at their kids. Not necessarily in that order.

My friend Genevieve, mother to three lovely well-adjusted children, admitted that she often yelled and shouted at her children and especially when they were difficult toddlers, sometimes slapped them and pulled their hair. 

I was shocked when a medical doctor and mom of a teenage son confessed to one time giving her crying baby such a heavy dose of a sedative that he was knocked out. She was too scared to take him to hospital, knowing that doctors would point a finger at her.

The myth of perfection

I did a little online research to find some answers and found Kimberley Converse, who in her book, The Myth of the Perfect Mom, discusses how mothers make motherhood even harder work by trying to live up to impossible standards and then being unable to match their unrealistic expectations with reality.

I read on to find psychology professor Cheryl L Meyer, who said she had been approached by scores of mothers confessing how they had almost snapped and hurt their children. She said most mothers seemed able to understand how a mother could kill her child. Of course, she was at the time working on a book about mothers who had killed their children.

Another psychology professor, Francine Deutsch, found that 58% of stay-at-home moms and 53% of working moms felt depressed, angry and were struggling to cope. She also identified another big issue: women putting the needs of children and family before their own.

The shakenbaby.org site states: "providing caregivers with the skills to cope with crying babies is essential". It claims that babies cry to communicate and that most babies cry several hours each day. “It is the caregiver’s job to learn how to cope with a crying baby, not make the baby stop crying.”

This came as news to me. I thought my job was to make baby stop crying. But apparently it was ok to sometimes leave the baby to cry, once hunger, discomfort or illness as source of the crying was ruled out. It was eye-opening to read that children were not injured by crying, but by someone who had become frustrated with the crying.

So perhaps I wasn't the worst mother in the world. I decided to cut myself some slack and to shift my focus a little. The next time my baby went into a crying fit, I packed him into the car and drove to my sister's for tea. Within minutes, I was eating cake and the baby had stopped crying and was sleeping peacefully. Victory!

Have you ever had a 'breaking point' moment with your baby?

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent children
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