When COVID-19 first forced social distancing, I’ll admit it—I was one of those annoying optimistic moms focusing relentlessly on the positive. I was counting my blessings, baking bread, and feeling certain that I was going to become an even better mom by the end of this pandemic.
I had it all planned out.
I made lists of quarantine goals for myself. I was going to try out all those methods I had read about in parenting books to encourage creative play with beautiful wooden toys. I was going to start making plant-based, well-balanced meals and rid my kids of their picky appetites. I was going to bond and connect with my babies like never before.
But…that’s not exactly how it has panned out.
No Breaks for Mom
Now that we’re months into serious social isolation with our kids, my “can do” attitude I had at the outset of quarantine has taken a precipitous dive. I forgot how much energy it takes to mother 24/7 with no end in sight. To not have a moment to gather myself. To not even have the space to cry alone when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I forgot how important it was to have the option of space away from my family when I needed it most, even when I didn’t always use it.
This trapped feeling has me reverting to all sorts of problem behaviors I thought I had resolved over the years. I’m emotionally eating like it’s nobody’s business. I’m veering off of my sleep schedule. I’m spending way too much time on screens (and so are my kids).
But most of all, I’m becoming a mom who can’t keep her cool. I find myself literally screaming when I reach my breaking point. I hate that I’m becoming the type of mother who yells, but quarantine is testing my limits in a way that puts my coping skills through their paces.
Reaching the Boiling Point
The truth is, I have valid reasons for my feelings. Tensions are high, schoolwork is relentless, and everyone, including me, feels like a ticking bomb waiting to explode at the slightest confrontation. My kids are constantly having meltdowns, and my threshold for patience seems lower and lower every day.
Their outbursts are becoming more intense, which is only to be expected while they’re cooped up at home, but logically understanding the situation and living it are two different beasts. I know social isolation is making it harder for them to manage their emotions. I know I should be guiding them through those storms rather than adding frightening claps of thunder. But I just can’t seem to get a hand on my rage.
I have spent years taming my temper, with mindfulness being the ultimate tool that has helped me be a (mostly) calm and collected mom. When we entered quarantine, I thought I had a good handle on my jedi-mind—I thought that I was done being the mom who always yells at her kids. Would I lose it every once in a while? Of course. But day-to-day, I was pretty good at using my mindfulness skills to rein myself back in.
Yet we weren’t even a month into stay-at-home orders before I found myself struggling to find the space between rising anger and reaction.
I realized that I hadn’t grown past being a “yelling mom” after all, and every time I lost my temper, I felt like I was failing my kids. It quickly became a vicious cycle where the yelling would make me feel like a bad mom, and feeling like a bad mom would make me more prone to bursting all over again. It felt like I couldn’t stop, and worse yet, it felt like the yelling was becoming the main part of who I was.
Yelling became how I started to define myself.
A Realization to Move Forward
As the weeks have gone by, things have changed for me, but controlling the instances in which I yell is still hard for me. Harder than I ever anticipated. Right now, it feels like so much is out of control, including my temper with my kids. But what I’ve learned in recent weeks is that I don’t have to let these instances define how I see myself as a mother. What I can control is how I talk to myself when I screw up, since screwing up seems, well, inevitable right now.
I can yell and not have that be the defining characteristic that I label myself with. I’m not a mom who yells, but a mom who is doing her best and sometimes breaks under the pressure, just like my kids do. I can try my best to put my mindfulness skills to use when I’m able to, and move on to damage control when that doesn’t pan out. Instead of wallowing in guilt, I can focus instead on how I approach repairing my relationship with my kids when I snap.
I am leaning to see yelling as one-off instances arising from circumstance rather than a character flaw revealing itself under pressure. I haven’t lost my calm coping skills during quarantine—they’re simply being used much more frequently and my mind burns out faster than usual. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly not a reason to feel like a total failure as a mom, especially when so many of us have taken on extra roles as teachers and full-time parents without outside help.
I’ve realized that during quarantine I need to adjust my expectations for myself, just as I have with my kids. I need to be understanding with my own meltdowns, my own struggles to manage my emotions, and even my own sleep regression. These are extraordinary circumstances where normal rules do not apply, not even the ones we’ve mandated for ourselves as moms.
Adaptation is messy. It might involve yelling. And in the meantime, the best thing I can do for myself and for kids, is to cut myself some slack while I figure it out.