Lately meltdowns have been taking over my life. And I’m not talking about ME melting down- (Just kidding. I totally melt down like every day.) I have a 5 year old and a 1.5 year old and they are both sympathy criers. BOTH. SYMPATHY. CRIERS.
I love them, I do.
I love them so freaking much that sometimes I’m patient with these small versions of myself when they scream and throw themselves on the floor. I’m patient when they point their fingers at me and say harsh words. And I’m even patient when they defiantly scream “NO!” at me. But then 7AM rolls around and I’m like I’M OUT. YA’LL CAN FEND FOR YOURSELVES TODAY BECAUSE YOU ARE MEAN AND I’M DONE WITH YOU. Yes, you read that right. I’m patient every day until 7 in the morning.
I’ve always wanted daughters. It’s not that I don’t want sons, but I have such a special place in my heart for women’s ministry. I just know what to do with girls. I have the most beautiful, strong, fiercely loving girls out there but man oh man do those girls have a range of emotions. They go from hot to cold to hot again in about 0.5 seconds. It’s definitely my fault and I take the blame for the genetics side of things- but GOOD LORD AM I TIRED. It’s hard keeping track of each girl’s emotions every second of every day.
I remember this, from my childhood days. The highs feeling so high and the lows feeling so low. The anticipation and excitement of Christmas morning, followed by a letdown that the season is over and presents are no more. The thrill of making a new friend and the pain of being rejected by an old one. There is something so beautiful about being able FEEL things, isn’t there? The wonder of emotion is exactly what these girls exhibit: high highs, low lows, and everything in between. While some people believe that emotions are bad and should be limited, I am not one of them. I absolutely believe that your emotions can run you over if you let them. But if God created everything, then He created emotions too. And what a gift He gave us in them: indicators, smile formers, memory makers.
My BFF is the mama of a curly haired drop of sunshine. We were pregnant at the same time and after a bout of infertility, it was all I could hope for- creating Tiny Future BFFS. Recently her little one, not even 2 at the time, tried to hide her emotions and shut them down, imploding before our eyes. Gently, BFF leaned down and said, “feel your feelings, baby, it’s ok.” And her sweet girl let the tears begin to flow. Somehow, I felt part of my soul heal as she spoke those words. Like they were a healing salve to my insecurities and hurts.
I’ve always had a tender heart, but growing up I was lead to believe that that was a bad thing. What I wish I would have known back then is that it takes courage to be tender. It takes courage to let things affect you and to walk through the mess that feelings can make. People didn’t tell me that when I was little. Instead they told me the opposite and tried to suppress my emotions by making me feel weak for having them. I was bitter about it for a long time, but now as a parent to two big-emotion-girls I totally get it. It’s freaking exhausting walking someone through their feelings, isn’t it? I mean that’s why people go to school to become counselors and therapists. And those people stay employed because thousands of people were told the same thing I was growing up: that tenderness = weakness and they needed to suck it up.
I decided a long time ago that I would never make my girls feel weak in their tender moments. I’m not perfect at that, by any means, but I can’t help but see my younger self in their eyes- feeling overcome by an emotion, longing for someone to help me navigate the waves. So when my girls have meltdown after meltdown I know that it is an indicator and not a weakness. An indicator that a little girl is drowning in emotion and needs a steady ship to snatch her from the swells.
When Ella started preschool she would have a meltdown from the moment I picked her up to the moment she went to sleep. This went on for about a week or so and then she adjusted. It happened again when she started kindergarten but this time it lasted for at least a month. She’d get in the car and just start crying and screaming at me when I didn’t understand why. One day she even burst into tears because she didn’t like the color green. Drama fest, like for real. I was losing my mind about it. One of my tribe mates, seeing my despair, offered to take my girls one afternoon so I could clear my mind. When she brought them back to me she said that Ella had a great afternoon and there were no meltdowns. So at that point I thought, “Huh. Maybe I’M the problem.” And not two minutes after she said that, Ella ran in and melted down in my arms about who knows what. So it was me. She always melted down with me.
Something about this really bugged me and I was talking to the Lord about it that night. I so clearly remember having this epiphany while I was praying, like God plopped this sentence/picture/feeling in my heart:
“She melts down with you because she feels safe with you.”
And suddenly- it all made sense. Suddenly, I saw time after time in my own life where I had been met with impatience instead of the empathy I so needed. And I began to see each day Ella had come home crying in a different light; realizing that she was holding it all together at school until she found a safe place to let it all out. Her safe place- it’s me.
I’m terrified of this power I seem to have. But what scares me more than the power itself is the fact that I could lose it one day. Babies grow up. Little girls turn into teenagers and that’s when the real scary things begin. That day, I will look back on this season and ask: Did I lay the foundation for an open dialogue? Or did I shut it down and trade her safe space for some peace and quiet of my own? Did I teach her empathy through my actions? Or did I show her that it’s best to keep it bottled up inside?
Sometimes we have to look to the future to find hope for today. When Ella has meltdown after meltdown, I close my eyes and picture two scenarios in my head. The first scenario is me yelling mean things at her and telling her to leave me alone. This scenario usually involves lots of cussing, pointing and accusing her of ruining my day. Then I take a deep breath. The next scenario is Ella at sixteen. She’s struggling with something big and terrifying to my mama heart, and what I ask myself is this: “How will my actions today lead her to confide in me then?” I take another breath. And then I know exactly what to do.
I stop everything I’m doing. I put the dishes down, I turn the tv off, and I scoop her up in my arms. Sometimes she screams “DON’T TOUCH ME” so I wait patiently until she realizes what she needs. It’s not my job to sink down to that chaos- it’s my job to pull her out of it. So I sit, calmly, offering her a safe place to be whatever she needs it to be in that moment. Slowly, she calms and sits down next to me. “It’s just that Andrea was mean to me at school today, mom. Why is she always mean?” And there it is: the jewel of her heart. The meltdowns she was having were just indicators that something big was going on, symptoms of a heart sick from pain. She shares these jewels with me when I’m patient enough to dig through the dirt and stones to get to the treasure down deep. We talk about Andrea, healthy boundaries, and how great of a friend Ella is. I end it on a high note- praising my baby girl for being brave enough to feel and thanking her for sharing her heart with me. She hugs me tight and says “I just love your cuddles mama.”
This is my greatest honor as a mama bear- holding the jewels of my baby’s heart safely in my hands. This is some of the hardest work I do as a mom- steadying the ship of their hearts, teaching them to feel their feelings and remain beautifully tender through the process. And it is WORK, friend. It doesn’t come naturally to me and good lord do I have to focus all my attention on it. But of this I’m sure: the safety she feels in our relationship directly correlates to the safety she feels in her relationship with the Lord. I have the power to shape that. Me. After all, what does Jesus do when I’m freaking out? What does He say when I’m scared or angry or feeling alone? “Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.” “I will lead you by still waters.” “I will cover you in the shadow my wings.” When she’s having a meltdown I have a choice: Will I offer her still waters? Or will I throw her to the waves?
This past Sunday Ella was having a mega meltdown for two hours before church. She screamed at me the whole time and then didn’t want to go to her class. So I took her into “big church” with me, rolling my eyes at Nathan as I passed him working in the sound booth. We were late to the service (because we’re always late to the service. And everything else for that matter.) and worship had already begun. We held hands for a while, until I raised my hands in worship to our King. I started to feel bump after bump on my side and I looked down to see Ella, arms outstretched- swaying while she sang, “Faithful You are, faithful forever You will be…” And in that moment I heard the Lord whisper: “This is what you’re working for, Erica, leading her to me.” I felt like I had thrown her to the waves that morning. But luckily I’m not sailing this ship alone.
Friend, the work you do matters. Every hug, every smile, every patient and calm word when you’d rather explode- it matters. And when you sow seeds of peace in your children, God is faithful to water them and help them grow. Don’t give up on this. If you’re a mama to littles who are losing their minds every hour, don’t you give up. Close your eyes. Take a breath. Scream at them in your head and then picture their teen years. The work you do matters. Your words now- they matter. And when you feel like you JUST CAN’T EVEN anymore, turn to Jesus. Your babies will see you do this and it will teach them to turn to Him as well.
I’m convinced that the greatest work we do as parents is to leading our babies to Jesus. In our tenderness, we show them His love. In our attention, we show them His heart. And in our weak, angry, falling apart moments we show them that their hope is in Him alone. When we’re focused on Jesus and His love in our homes- all we do is win, friend. Turn to Him again and again- the winds and the waves always obey Him.
I wrote a follow up post to this one, 6 Ways To Stop A Meltdown, because like I said- meltdowns have taken over my life. Hope you can glean a few tangible helpers from it!! xoxo