Oh, so this is what the edge looks like

I almost hit my youngest this morning. It was the end of a few days, maybe months, of the unique parental torture called ‘sleep deprivation’. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired. Ever.

Most people think I’m a good Dad. Someone once commented that I was like Peppa Pig’s Dad (known as Daddy Pig) who never loses his cool and can, on discovering the kitchen and his children covered in mud, simply chuckle quietly and say “I think you’ve been jumping in muddy puddles! Now, let’s clean this up before your mother comes home” and then set to cleaning.

That’s the Dad I thought I’d be. That’s the Dad I’d like to be. I haven’t felt like that for a while now.

If you believe that true character is revealed in moments of great stress then it is possible I’m a mean, aggressive and ill-tempered man. My long-promised-still-upcoming post on illegal drugs and the ‘drug talk’ I even noted that in all my years of drug taking, even when  doped to the eyeballs, I never exhibited an ounce of aggressiveness. I’m unsure if I can safely make that claim any more.

I’m not saying I don’t have a temper – your teenage years are an emotional roller coaster, you spend your twenties developing a stable emotional equilibrium then kids come along and you feel every emotion, every day – however my temper usually expresses itself through a stern whisper my eldest has come to understand requires immediate obedience. My personal discipline technique is to never show frustration or plead with a child to obey – I tell, then I count, then I punish. Usually with a timeout, sometimes with a spank (yes, I know, uncool and evil – sue me). Emotions should not come into play. Sure, it doesn’t always work like that but it works most of the time. Jas  seems like a pretty stable child.

However Beth has never been a good sleeper. Combined with dealing with the death* of her twin brother the last eighteen months have been emotionally and physically draining. My crankiness has often been visible, sometimes a little more than visible. If I’m honest, this has been building up for months.

I’ve known I was at my limits for some time. But to sum up the last few days, several things went awry.

  • Jas, Beth and I all fell sick
  • On Tuesday, while sick at home with a likewise sick Beth, she insisted on being held all day long. This didn’t prevent her from crying, which was reasonably stressful
  • Beth had been doing some nice sleeping nights, but suddenly went bad again
  • My wife and I had lost track of ‘who gets up’ leading to 2am snippy arguments along the lines of “it’s your fucking turn” and “Don’t worry, I’ll fucking do it then”
  • Last night, Beth basically screamed every fifteen minutes all night long
  • During those fifteen minutes of quiet, I’d be coughing up lungfulls and not doing much sleeping

By 4am nothing would settle Beth and my wife brought her into our bed – with only slight success. As soon as my wife left the room to have a shower (around 5am, when you are awake, you might as well do something) Beth started screaming again and patting, holding, cuddling, holding standing up, holding sitting up, resting on lying down – nothing worked. Realising I was screaming inside my head “What the FUCK do you want?” (well, not all of it was inside my head and the stern whispers weren’t so in control) I put her safely on the bed propped between two pillows, popped earplugs in to take the edge off the volume and turned my back.

Later, when my wife went to dress Jas, she passed Beth to me who immediately resumed screaming. Now, Beth has always been a bit of a Mummy’s girl (Jas was, and still is, a Dad’s girl, bless) so it’s not uncommon for her to be much easily settled by her mum than her dad – so I usually laugh off her reaction. But after the most horrifying night and in a moment of pure insanity I twice raised my hand to backslap an eighteen month old baby. I know people often talk about seeing red – I saw nothing, I was in a deep, blind rage. It was a close thing.

I got up, walked into the next room and placed Beth, still screaming, in her cot and walked down to the kitchen to gaze into the backyard for a while.

So this is what the edge looks like.

I wonder how many dads step off it? Is this what abusive husbands do? Cross the line then spend ages justifying how they got there? I’m so fucking tired I really don’t care. My wife and I have a plan for tonight. Here’s hoping it is simply lessons learnt. I didn’t like myself this morning.

Sleep. I’d like some.

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32 thoughts on “Oh, so this is what the edge looks like

  1. Hard for a parent to be as honest as you are Chris; respect.

    We’ve had a really similar time with Mateo and Owen too – I completely know how you feel. I’m not going to offer any advice because the advice we got from people was based on their own kids being good sleepers….and frankly, who wants to hear, when you are sick, and sleep-deprived someone say “have you tried……….”

    One friend of mine made a joke about how tired I looked and it was all I could do not to call him a c*** and walk away.

    You said that you see the real man when they are stressed – I don’t agree. Its a version of you, sure – but letting that 1% of you dictate the identity of the other 99% is harsh. And when you’re sleep deprived the dark thoughts (cue star wars quotes) are always going to win unopposed.

    So, it won’t make your kids sleep for you and probably won’t make you feel any better about it, but at 3:14am when you’re up for the 5th time, know that we’re doing the same and swearing just as much.

    Be well.

  2. We parents are really bad at admitting the dark thoughts that can plague us after days or weeks of sleep deprivation, sick children, crying babies …

    I once told my husband about a dark thought … and he said, “Of course, and the thing that makes a good parent is the one who knows sometimes it borders unbearable, but never allows that to be taken out on the child.”

    xx

  3. I never yelled before I had kids.
    Ask anyone who knows me – I was (still am mostly) the most affable, easygoing, laidback person you could find. I never got riled. My colleagues at work used to call me “Pollyfuckinganna”.

    And yet back when my daughter was about 3, I found myself at the wrong end of a screaming match beyond all proportions. I locked myself sobbing in my room (Gilly was already sobbing in hers) and found that I was shaking from the realisation that I was justthisclose to losing it completely. I had wanted to hurt her. Not just a smack on the bum. Badly hurt her.

    Sleep deprivation (her brother was an unsettled one year old) , the torturous dripping tap of whinging combined with a strong-willed personality that constantly needed attention (still does), and a mother who just never naturally took to mothering babies and toddlers. It all worked against me.

    I never again got quite that close to the edge you mention. Sometimes I find myself climbing up the railing of common sense that protects us from the edge, but I haven’t teetered on the top again. Not like that. I’ll never forget how it felt.

    It’s not who I am. And it’s really not who you are (from someone who only knows you electronically 🙂 ) It’s just easier to be that person when you’re at the bottom of the pit.

    Wishing you all some sleep.

  4. Now that my kids are teenagers, much of the early baby years are a blur, but one very clear memory stands out. I had had a succession of sleepless nights with a baby who had an ear infection and I was tingling with adrenaline. That’s the only way I can explain it. My nerves were stretched so tautly that my skin was tingling.

    And so, when I tried to put my son down to sleep one day and he immediately started screaming from the pain in his ears, I made a conscous decison to walk. I put my son in his cot, secured the sides properly, closed the bedroom door on him and walked. I think I went into the garden. I know I cried a lot. I was out there for a good two hours. When I got back, bub was gurgling at his fingers and reeked of shit, but was otherwise fine.

    Sometimes, in the blur of sleep-deprivation, you don’t always remember the things you are good at. Reminicing about the small victories fondly is a luxury on a day like you’re having. All you can do is manage the bushfires springing up around you and know that next week, next month, will be better. Or at least a different set of issues to deal with.

    There is no shame in leaving bub alone for a while, especially if they are safely secured and have everything they otherwlse need. Standing in the garden is the best parenting decision you could have made and for that you have every right to hold your head up. Props.

  5. You are my hero. Thank you for posting this. Am utterly impressed- not that you’d want to hit an 18 month old, but that you’d admit it. My kids are 10 amd 8 now and great sleepers, but I still remember the OOC feeling I had soon after the birth of my daughter, who was a colicky baby, and at a time that my husband was in Canada for work. I remember feeling delirious with fatigue. I remember hating her. I remember getting up to her 25 times a night and having to punch my pillow on the 21st time because otherwise I was going to hit (6 week old) her. That exhausted rage is barely human, but it DOES happen and like you, I understand (certainly not condone, but understand) how babies get shaken. I can’t even imagine adding the raw ache of losing a child to that mix, I just can’t.

    FWIW, I think you did the right thing with Beth- she won’t suffer from screaming for a bit. NOTHING worked with my daughter and she screamed for about 6 hours every night between 4-12 weeks of age. At 8 she’s bright and happy and ridiculously in love with me. Hang in there. Wishing you all a quick recovery and decent sleep tonight.

  6. Any parent who reads this article and says they’ve never seen that place is either lying or is not home very much. You are very brave to write so honestly about it, it’s a beautiful peice. Odd words to use give the topic, but still apt.

    1. Chris, you slay me. Seriously, your writing and your honesty are just utterly amazing.

      I like the commenter above who said “Any parent who reads this article and says they’ve never seen that place is either lying or is not home very much”. So true.

      I think the problem here (oh god, here she goes diagnosing the problem, yay) is that in our society it falls to the same two tired individuals to help out. One of those “if only I had that village” moments. With extended families living with us like in the olden days (what can I say, my kids are doing colonial studies in primary school, I’m getting asked about “the olden days” all the time), there’d be a grandparent or an aunty or somebody to step in and do relief duty.

      Without that, you did absolutely the 100% right thing. No child ever died from crying or screaming. In fact, if they’re crying strongly, then they’re pretty okay in the greater scheme of things. I had to do this a few times, so many nights with sole responsibility for my daughters, the eldest of whom would not sleep without hours of patting and rocking until my body ached. Put them down, walk away. This moment did test you as a man, a father and a person – and you came through with flying colours.

      Writing about this stuff, and putting it out there, is so important. Not just for the validation you get back (which is really important because you need that, we all do), but because it can help the rest of us. And maybe one of us who might one day think they are a terrible parent for these dark thoughts, and not know what to do in that moment.

      Love from The Black Haired Dumpling Lady

  7. That was an amazing read. You aren’t alone. Jesus, you hit home when you said, keep the emotion out of the discipling of your child. I actually hear myself pleading with my 3 year “Just be good, pleaaassse”

    Our second child didn’t sleep, I don’t reckon, until he was 2. We were the same, “It’s your fucking turn” or the sarcastic “I’ll do it, don’t you worry about it!” And then his older sister, about 3 at the time, started having night terrors. I swear to god, that is the closest we have come to losing our shit.

    We eventually got some help, got advice and got some plans in place, but when they are sick, all those plans mean jack.

    I hope you get some relief soon mate. x

  8. Chris, you are human, you are a loving Dad, you are reflective and honest and you stopped yourself and calmed down. What more can a parent do? Only one more thing – find more opportunities to be kind to yourself, take as many breaks as you can and keep looking after your Peppa Pigs. I have deep respect for your honesty and think that sharing these thoughts, and your response, helps others. x

  9. I think we all know the feeling you had this am. A dear friend of mine once told me a story about how she hit her two year old across the face because he wouldn’t stop screaming. 15 years later she still hadn’t forgiven herself. The story stayed with me and whenever I reached boiling point with the Offspring (which, with 3 under 4 was alot of the time) I remembered her telling me that story and somehow found the energy to just walk out of the room.
    Grieving is exhausting, so is parenting. Throw in feeling sick as a dog and it is the ingredients for the perfect storm.
    I’m not sure I would have had the self control you did.
    Thank you for sharing.
    And hope you feel better soon

  10. No one talks about this stuff, but you’ve felt it and so have your readers – we all think we’re alone but we’re not. I remember one particularly bad day with my little girl, when I couldn’t stop her from screaming and I had some scary thoughts. I *just* managed to put her in her cot and I walked outside. I could hear her screaming, but I sat there for half an hour, unwilling to go near her until I was absolutely positive I could control my actions. When I finally went in and cuddled her, she fell straight asleep in my arms and I sat there cuddling her for a long time, crying to myself.

    I spoke to some other people about it afterwards and they all admitted to feeling the same way when their kids were babies. They told me it was OK, the important thing is that you walk away and calm yourself down.

    You did the right thing, and you’re not a bad parent because of what you did. It makes you a good one.

  11. My mother has always said that it’s just as well you love your babies so much otherwise you’d throw them out the window. I always thought it was a little odd, and then my daughter was born.

    I’m a really calm person. Usually. And I can see how this gets problematic with kids. Because I tend not to express anger/frustration it can build and then all of a sudden I can go from 0 to 100 in a heartbeat. Not exactly healthy. It’s something to work on.

    But as everyone else has said, sometimes the best parent you can be is one who stand on the edge and stops short.

  12. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for putting words to how I’ve felt many times.

    My daughter is a bad sleeper. Actually bad is an understatement. And we go weeks and weeks without sleep. It feels like I’m running, and running, and running until finally I arrive at the edge without warning. I think I’m doing okay for so long… and then I’m standing on the brink of darkness.

    We took her cot down when she was about 16 months because we thought she wanted/needed a big bed {she sleeps with us, and we thought that would get her out of her bed}. I regret taking the cot down. Many nights I’ve just need a safe space for her, and a safe place for me.

    I’ve used the F word in the dark of night under my breath and loud enough to hear {sometimes loud enough for the neighbours to hear it feels}… of that I’m not proud. My daughter knows she is loved though, and those rare moments aren’t what make me the parent I am. It’s the looks of love I give her in the morning as we get up after just moments of sleep all night… and the love I feel. This is parenthood.

  13. I loved how honest you were in this post.

    I’ve found that over the years, the more and more I talk to parents, I’ve come to realise how not alone I am when it comes to the wide range of feelings I can have towards my kids. One moment, I can feel so much anger towards them, and seconds later, so much love. I don’t really like to say “they push my buttons”, because they don’t know they’re doing it, but it certainly feels that way some days.

    Sleep deprivation can make you feel as though you’re on the brink of insanity. My first born was not a great sleeper, and being the first, I was struggling with the lack of sleep. One time, I was so darn tired during the day after an awful night’s sleep, I just fed him, and left him in his pram next to the bed and went back to sleep. Normally, when he was “up” I would talk to him, cuddle him. Nope. Couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even look at him, because he reminded me of why I felt so bad.

    I woke up two hours later to find him asleep!

    I hope you have a much better night tonight. And I hope from the wonderful responses above, you know you’re not alone.

    x

  14. Like I tweeted – I appreciate the fact that you are being REAL in this post…and Carol is right, we so rarely speak the truth about the harder, darker side of parenting successfully. And by success, I mean stepping back from that edge.

    Thanks for this post.

    And I hope you get some bloody well-deserved sleep, mate!!

  15. I have come to expect nothing but honesty from you. And it is what I appreciate. I like your absolute and utter raw honesty. No holds barred, you say what you think when you think it. And I like that. I think Chris, you need to cut yourself some slack, you are sleep-deprived and you are sick, above all else you are human and being pushed to the end of your tether. I can’t imagine what all that feels like, but I have caught myself in moments of rage, and wondered what I would be capable of. Most of the time I just fall about in a ball of tears. I think the difference here is that you walked away.

    When I was 4 years old, I had a 2 year old sister and a 1 year old. My mum had post-natal depression. I know this because I remember it. My 2 year old sister and I were sent to Perth for 3 months to live with our Aunt’s. One day about 10 years ago there was a story on the news which talked about a woman with PND who had drowned all 4 of her kids. In reference to this story I said to my mum: “Well what a load of crap, using that as an excuse to kill her children.” In response to me my mother turned and said: “I feel very sorry for her that she has been driven to that length and obviously did not have family around to support her through that pain and was led to that end”. Loosely translated, it was not all too far-fetched an idea for a mother to kill her own children driven to the right lengths.
    You are not alone Chris, and I think you are doing a fantastic job as a father. You need to cut yourself some slack. You are human. And you can only handle so much….

    1. Thanks Em. The good news is Beth slept much better last night. From 7ish through to at least 230am, then on and off until 6. All in all I only got out of bed around three times but the four/five hours at the start were great.

      The bad news in is now I’ll have to fill in the shallow grave I’d dug out back.

  16. The edge is a scary place. I visited it often when my boys were little and even now they are teenagers i occasionally visit the edge again. The one thing I have always done is understand that i am merely a person. I am flawed, imperfect and make mistakes. But I am capable of giving my children great love and even if I crack and say things i don’t mean they will always know how much I love them. There were many times I smacked my little boys, because lets face it, boys don’t listen to words and sometimes instant reaction is necessary. Is it right, is it wrong? I don’t have an answer. Parentling is not one size fits all and most of all it is not easy. If I had little kids now would I smack them – absolutely. Would I bash them or abuse them – absolutely not. There is a huge difference. Your posts are amazingly honest and you are a very beautiful man. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yeah I don’t know if I’ll ever blog about spanking. If I ever participate in online conversations about the topic I seem to slotted in with Christian fundies. It’s a far more delicate topic than almost-hitting-your-kids.

  17. You are sometimes so made of win it blows my mind.

    But srsly, Chris, to be human and to own it is an amazing quality. To own it and then make it public is kinda fabulous. When we connect to each other – through darkness as well as joy – bonds and community become so much stronger. That is evident by the responses to your post here. The sooner we all stop trying to peddle the ‘perfect’ line the sooner we might relinquish some of our insecurities, hang-ups and the sometimes too-tight noose of guilt.

    (or maybe that’s just me – lol)

    But TBH mate. You keep it real in a way that is superspecial.

    And OMG – you are *so* like the Peppa Pig Dad! hehe.

    PS: LOVE that title.
    MWAH!! (will that do ffs? I KID!!)

  18. The edge is a place all parents have been. It’s just the honest and brave who admit to it. I have been there more than once. It’s a scary place to be.
    I put my baby in his cot and went to the top of our property more than once. I asked a screaming baby what the fuck he wanted at the top of my lungs more than once.
    But, sleep deprivation is a dark place. Children can be irrational creatures that pierce ear drums.
    Knowing your at the edge and stepping back form it – and away from your kids – that’s the difference.
    Thank you for this post.

  19. First time stumbling onto your blog (I have NO IDEA how I got here incidentally) but I totally understand where you are and if any parent says that they have not been there then they either should be sainted or are a liar.

    My first born had reflux. Basically if she wasn’t eating she was screaming.

    I ended up putting her cot near the sliding window in the dining room and stood outside to calm the hell down… numerous times a day. She is now the most wonderful and confident young woman.

  20. Thank you. I did once slap (hard enough, it was really a hit) one of my three year olds. I was spending a few days at my parents house. My PERFECT mother always goes on and on about how my PERFECT brother has two PERFECT toddler girls and how IMPERFECT my toddler boys are. It was the last night at the end of a long weekend and one of them was soooo tired he couldn’t fall asleep and he was crying and I was so strung out for feeling like a parenting failure for four days that I just couldn’t take it anymore.

    I called my best friend in tears and she consoled me. Of course, I knew she was judging me. She’s not a parent, she doesn’t know. Hopefully someday I will be able to be there for her after she gets married, has 25 million children and is a stay-at-home mother and understands what the Edge looks like, because it’s scary out there, especially when you’re alone.

    1. I wrote this the same morning, before I’d had a sleep. It contains some statements and self-analysis that I, now, don’t agree with (and have also been refuted by others in the comments) such as suggesting that maybe I was a violent person or a bad parent overall. Now I’ve had some sleep and stepped back the post seems a little hysterical, but it is a true reflection at my absolute dismay of my behaviour at the time… sans-sleep.
      Sometimes, we just aren’t in control of our actions.
      So thanks for your story too. Being strung out sucks. I hope you have built up a community too, because it is scary when you’re alone.

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