It was a normal weekday night.
I had picked up my daughter from daycare. She ran to the gate to greet me, with a huge smile on her face. After checking her out and grabbing her puppy, we were on our way.
As we continued on our drive, I had a feeling she had experienced a long day. She was tired, cranky, and it seemed as if every little thing set her off as I asked her questions about school.
Cue the deep breaths from mom, knowing we had nothing prepared for dinner and my husband wouldn’t be home for another 30 minutes.
As we got inside, it only escalated.
Meltdown after meltdown.
Sprawling out on the floor —whining, crying, hitting.
Fortunately, I knew her actions were age-appropriate and she was doing her best to communicate with me. While I wanted to cry and scream too, I tried my best to listen, validate her feelings, and offer options as to how I could help.
It wasn’t working.
At this point, I decided it was time to give her some space. Frankly, I needed it too.
I started prepping dinner, got my daughter a snack to hold her over, and texted my husband a little ‘warning’ of what he’d be walking into.
After some time, my husband arrived home — hallelujah! After a short greeting and an update on what I had in the works for dinner, he nodded to the stairs and said, “Go take a break.”
Feeling defeated, but knowing I really did need that break, I started walking upstairs to our bedroom.
Until a little voice stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Why Mommy need a break?”
Our daughter is nearing three years old. From what I can remember, the tantrums made their appearance in our house right before she turned two.
As we navigated this new stage, communication was the hardest aspect. We had to learn how to communicate with our daughter. And my husband and I needed to work on staying calm and communicating our individual needs to each other during high stress moments.
And as you’d imagine, we weren’t perfect.
At times, we raised our voices and showed frustration, to our daughter and each other. After we’d all cooled down, there’d be remorse as we truly did know better, and want better for our family, but it was easy to get caught up in the moment.
After a few tantrums, we noticed that usually one of us was handling the situation better than the other.
And the “parent break” was born.
How does that work? It’s simple.
When we’re dealing with a stressful moment with our toddler or even with each other, we each have the ability to say, “I need a break” and take a few minutes away from the situation.
No questions asked. No resentment or hard feelings from the other partner.
Just some time in our own space to gather our emotions.
Back to My Break
As I heard my daughter question for the first time why I needed a break, my heart sunk.
Prior to this scenario, our daughter had never questioned our breaks. Usually we just let her know, “Mommy’s going upstairs for a bit” or, “Daddy needs to check on something, he’ll be right back.”
She wouldn’t bat an eye, knowing one of her caregivers was still present.
As I stood there, I thought, how many breaks has she witnessed? Has she always known we weren’t just checking on the laundry or going to the bathroom?
My husband’s voice interrupted my internal questions when he said, “Mommy is feeling a little frustrated. She’s going to take a few minutes upstairs by herself. I’ll stay here with you!”
Knowing he had it handled, I continued up the stairs to take a few minutes for myself.
The rest of the evening, I could not stop hearing her little voice asking about my escape from the kitchen.
But most importantly, I continued to replay my husband’s response.
“Mommy is feeling a little frustrated. She’s going to take a few minutes upstairs by herself. I’ll stay here with you.”
I’m no parenting expert, but it seemed like it could live in a textbook.
He wasn’t blaming her for making me frustrated.
He was honest with her as to why I was walking away.
And he assured her that she wasn’t going to be alone.
Then most importantly, he described what I was feeling and an action that would make me feel better.
A teaching moment for our daughter turned into a big teaching moment for me. I learned that hiding emotions, especially frustration, from my daughter wasn’t helping anyone.
She’s seen me sad, she’s seen me happy, so why should I believe that she can’t see me when I’m frustrated and overwhelmed?
I want my daughter to see as many emotions as possible (taking into consideration what is age-appropriate).
Why? Because if she hasn’t already, she will experience those emotions, those big feelings.
When I take a break from a stressful situation, she knows that she can take a break when she feels the same.
When I’m overjoyed about a situation and express it, she knows she can share her excitement too.
While it sometimes takes a ‘lightbulb’ moment to recognize and remember, our kids are always watching and learning.
As my daughter grows older, I want to show her how to manage those emotions in a healthy manner. And my husband and I can do that by openly sharing our feelings and the steps we take to manage them.