Kids Motherhood

Dear Mama in the Meltdown, You Are Not a Failure

Written by Katie Hutton

My son started screaming in the middle of Chick-fil-A. All the signs were there, but I selfishly let them pass me by. I was hangry and Chick-fil-A sauce was calling my name. So I bounced him on my hip and did the mom chant, “Shh, shh, it’s OK, shhh.”

For some reason, this sometimes tried, sometimes true, sometimes failed method didn’t work. He’d had it. He didn’t want to be in the high chair. He didn’t want his water or his milk. He didn’t want his fruit or his chicken nuggets. He wriggled out of my arms when I tried to set him on my lap and then immediately reached up for me as soon as his butt hit the ground.

He was hungry, he was thirsty, he was tired and he was teething. We were in a full-fledged, my world is ending, red-faced and tears streaming, God help us all meltdown.

You’re a failure, my mind whispered. You can’t even figure out what your child needs.

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We ate in shifts, me shoving chicken in my mouth as fast as I could (coated in that glorious sauce) while my husband attempted to distract him in the play land. The manager stopped by to ask how we were doing. “How in the heck do you think we’re doing?” I wanted to say. “My child is like Sam I Am not wanting eggs, if eggs means everything and Sam I Am was screaming through a blow horn at a fox in a box on a boat in a moat.” Instead I simply said, “We’re doing OK,” as I bounced and attempted to console.

You’re a failure, my mind said. You’re making a scene in the middle of a restaurant. Control your child.

My husband rushed him to the car while I attempted to clean up the mess we inevitably made. In an effort to be efficient, I carried everything over to the garbage at once and proceeded to dump my son’s half eaten meal in the garbage by accident. I felt the tears start to brim as I wearily dragged myself back in line to order $2 more of chicken nuggets in case the tornado subsided and he wanted to eat.

You’re a failure, my mind bellowed. Too distracted by other things and not paying enough attention. This meltdown happened because of you.

In the car the screaming continued. It’s amazing how one constant noise can prick every nerve in your body. I felt like my eyes were popping out of my head like a Looney Tunes character. I grasped my husband’s hand tight and sang myself hoarse. My son screamed louder.

At home, I pulled him from the car and plopped him in his high chair. I grabbed milk from the fridge and shoved it in his mouth between gasps and sobs, hoping some of it would make its way to his stomach. I prayed for grace and patience as if it was the last thing I had to do on this earth. I bribed him with ice cream, which made him scream louder. Not even ice cream? Whose kid is this anyway? I have always been able to console myself with a little ice cream.

You’re a failure … you’re a failure … you’re a FAILURE.

By the grace of God, we had cut up pineapple in our fridge. Pineapple is his absolute favorite thing right now. If this doesn’t work, I thought, I quit. I will be a captive of a red-faced toddler with a runny nose, covered in pineapple juice and uneaten chicken. Someone send help . . . and wine.

Slowly, he took a bite between heaving gasps . . . then another. All of a sudden there was silence and . . . a grin. The evening had been salvaged by pineapple. Glorious, golden pineapple. Praise God for that beautiful, tropical fruit.

Slowly my nerves began to unwind and my heart stopped pounding. I drew in a few deep, calming breaths (thanks yoga . . . and birthing classes). As I cleaned up from dinner, I began to pick up the pieces of me that I had battered during the great Chick-fil-A meltdown. I resolved to be better and kinder to myself.

You are not a failure, I whispered. Children melt down for any number of reasons. Be thankful your son feels secure and safe enough to be upset when he’s tired, hungry or teething.

You are not a failure, I said. Be thankful you can solve his problems with a hug (and the occasional fruit bribe). Some day, his problems will be far bigger than hurt teeth.  

You are not a failure, I bellowed. You are a warrior, juggling work, life and family. Be thankful for a poor Chick-fil-A manager who took the time to notice a harried young mom and ask how she was doing. Be grateful for a supportive spouse who is steady under pressure when your tears threaten to outweigh your child’s.

YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. You are a mama who loves her child deeply and cares for him fiercely. Be grateful that God called you to motherhood . . . and that he made pineapple.

About the author

Katie Hutton

Katie Hutton is a writer by passion and a marketer by trade. She enjoys sharing stories about real life, in all its messy fabulousness, wine dates, spreading random acts of kindness and exploring new places. But her favorite moments are spent with her husband and their two boys. Follow her on Twitter @KatieMHutton.