It was one of those days where I would’ve been better off staying in bed under the covers. Work had been stressful. My bus home was delayed. A close friend’s actions had left me feeling hurt. And just as I was gearing up to put my toddler to bed, my husband called with the news that our car, which he was supposed to be taking for a simple oil change, would need several thousand dollars worth of repairs.
Clearly, nothing particularly tragic went down. But I was tired. I was already aggravated and upset. And yes, okay, there were also some let’s call them “prominent female hormones” at play. So when I got the call from my husband, it was that classic piece of straw that broke the worn-out mother’s back. And so I did something that I hadn’t really anticipated but also somehow couldn’t prevent: I broke down crying in front of my toddler.
Now just to be clear, I’m talking about the type of crying where you sink to the ground, your body shakes back and forth, you start making all sorts of strange guttural noises, and you generally can’t catch your breath for several minutes in a row. It’s the kind of crying you really can’t hide, and it’s the type that most adults would probably either avoid altogether or reserve for the confines of their respective bedrooms or showers. In other words, I cried like a baby. A big baby. And worse yet, I did it in front of my baby.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time my son had seen me cry. Throughout the entire month following his birth, even the most seemingly meaningless gesture, for better or worse, would set me off. (Again, blame hormones.) And there are a few songs and stories my son and I like to share that still cause the sentimental side of me to kick into overdrive.
So yes, I’ve shed some tears in front of my son here and there. But this went beyond tears. This was an all-out sobbing session, complete with a host of unsavory gulps and gasps. And as it was happening, the panic-driven part of my brain started sending me a very dire message that only served to make things worse: Get your sh&t together, or you’re going to scar your child for life.
At some point my virtual fit began to give way to a more run-of-the-mill stream of tears, and after a few minutes I realized I’d need to actually make eye contact with my son. But I was terrified. There was his mother, still sobbing while slowly scraping herself up off the floor. What could he be thinking?
I braced myself, convinced that he was either going to start crying himself or run away from the crazy lady otherwise known as Mommy. But a funny thing happened: He started laughing. I mean, when I think back on it, I suppose it was really more of a shy smile and a quick giggle, but it wasn’t the reaction I expected.
“I think Mommy needs a hug,” I told him, and he obliged. As I held him close, I couldn’t help but embrace the irony: My 2-year-old was comforting me. And you know what? Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that at that moment, my son somehow appreciated the irony too. As I lay there crying, my son got a glimpse of the real me–a mother who tries to be strong but sometimes lets her emotions and life’s crappy moments get the better of her.
When we become parents, we sometimes forget that deep down we’re only human. We often strive for perfection in parenting and berate ourselves for failing on any level whatsoever. But in reality, crying is a normal, natural human reaction to sadness, pain, and frustration, and just as we don’t judge our children for crying, perhaps we should extend that same courtesy to ourselves.
After all, the part of me that sometimes allows the waterworks to go off in full force is the same part of me that allows me to love my son so deeply. It’s the same part of me that makes me genuinely smile when he smiles and physically ache when he’s hurting. And if every so often I allow myself to lose control and give in to those emotions, it doesn’t necessarily make me a bad mother. If anything, I suppose it makes me pretty good at being human.