Motherhood feelings of failure and what separates us from gerbil mothers.

Here is my disclaimer for those of you who may not hear the sarcastic tone in my voice, just imagine it: I do not nor will I ever eat my children the way gerbil mothers eat theirs. Also if this pulls at your heart or feel that another mom may benefit from knowing that she isn’t a failure, share the love!

tantrum two year old. first time mom“I know why gerbils eat their babies,” I said this to a friend of mine on the phone today. At the time both of my children were screaming at me for something. Kendall, the two year old, would do nothing more than shriek, “ah!! ah!” every time I asked her to use her words so I could actually figure out what she needed. The five year old, Brennan, who had just arrived home from preschool had done nothing more than whine and complain to me about going to Target to purchase another toy for his birthday. (Despite the fact that he had his birthday two days prior.) No, “Hello, Mommy. Yes, I’ll tell you what we did at school today.” Nothing of the sort. Instead this is his response, “No! I want to go to Target! We need to buy the repair Dusty Crophopper.” (The main character in Disney Pixar’s newest movie, Planes.)

I know why gerbils eat their babies. When leaving a local outdoor sports and farming store, my son wanted to look at the DVD display. The entire time we were at the store I took him from place to place; the toy section, the holiday lights display, the candy section and yes, we walked by the DVD display. You may be wondering why I didn’t want to take him to the display itself; if you have a child who can walk, talk and is fairly determined that whatever fleeting thought that he comes up with is precisely what should happen or what will happen you understand my hesitation. I held my ground with my son while my husband and daughter stood in the checkout line, anticipating the meltdown that might occur when he realized that we were in fact leaving the store and not looking at DVDs. I tried exiting the store quickly; however, I question whether the architects who designed the store have any children of their own as the entry to reach the exit doors are quite literally on opposite sides of the store.  We had to pass the perfectly marketed display, there wasn’t another way, I couldn’t avoid it.

Then it happen; he screamed in terror, realizing that his reality was not the outcome he anticipated. He threw himself onto the floor, kicking and screaming wildly. There was nothing more that I could do other than chuckle at the scene we were creating for the crowd standing in 20 aisles of registers. My husband looked on in horror when he realized that the screaming child didn’t belong to a stranger but was part of his bloodline. I shrugged my shoulders at him and avoided making eye contact with our on-lookers. If you’ve ever been the parent of a tantrum throwing child you know the looks I’m talking about. The kind of stares that feel like people are thinking, “My little Johnny would not do that” or “When I’m a parent there’s no way I’d accept that behavior from my child.” Maybe they aren’t thinking that. Hopefully humanity is kinder than the animal world.

My cheeks started to become flushed, my heart started pounding with each step toward the door proving to be farther than the last, a pair of sympathetic eyes looked at me. Quietly a kind woman, an angel surely sent for me for that moment, said to me with affirmation, “You’re doing a good job, Mom. I’ve been there.” And like that my mood lifted. Her kind words somehow erased the embarrassment that had encompassed me for the past five long minutes. I stood up with confidence and continued toward the door, knowing that at least one other person had walked in my shoes before and didn’t think I was completely messing up my child by not giving into his deepest desires.

I do know why gerbils eat their babies. And maybe you understand too. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, in the beginning of the most epic tantrum the world has ever seen, it’s all that we can do as mothers not to criticize ourselves to the greatest extent. Some days, when I’m feeling like all I do can be likened to a maidservant, cook, and nurse whose main job is wiping butts, I’m thrown back to that day in the store and those kind words, “You’re doing a good job, Mom. I’ve been there.” I remember that this time of my life, when my children are young and incapable of performing many of life’s most basic tasks, may be extremely exhausting physically but surely I am more than a mother gerbil.

first time holding baby. first time momAnd while I know why gerbils eat their babies or at least have the notion to do the same, I also know what separates us from the animal world: In an instant, one look from your child, mid-tantrum, and suddenly your heart is filled with the same love you experienced the first time you held him or her. All of your feelings of frustration, failure, embarrassment and self pity disappear when you hear, in your heart, the words from a kind, older and wiser stranger say, “You’re doing a good job, Mom. I’ve been there.”

Elizabeth "Bert" Anderson is a stay-at-home mom of two living outside of the Twin Cities and the writer behind the blog FirstTimeMom. She's a lover of cloth diapers, pop culture, health and fitness, and the blessings that comes with being a mother.

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12 comments on “Motherhood feelings of failure and what separates us from gerbil mothers.
  1. Laurie P says:

    I’ve never had to deal with a meltdown with my son, but I have been stuck in homework hell lol. He’s 15 now so those days are very few. But this little girl of mine will be the one to throw herself on the floor at the stores….I know it. I jokingly tell my hubby we were way too lucky with our son, our little girl is gonna make us work.
    I can hear me saying it now “this is why gerbils eat there babies”…

  2. Erin K. says:

    I needed this post today.

    The high of Christmas is still upon us and the kids are still acting crazy, running from room to room. My oldest asked me if he could build the Polar Express out of couch cushions and I agree since then I can sit from afar and watch. I tell him…”do not let the cushion hit the tree since it can bend and break the branches.” It was my one request, the only thing I ask of him. After about 15 min. of playing he asks me to join in. I do, playing the part of a kid on the train, sipping my hot cocoa and eating cookies. And then he does it. He pushes one of the cushions right into the tree and a branch is left dangling helplessly (this is our new artificial tree). Now, I should have known it was coming since the cushion was close to the tree. I should know by now that if something CAN happen it most likely will so focus on prevention. But I didn’t. And I start to yell. The kind of yelling that you play back in your head and know you went too far too fast.

    I am exhausted. I have a 3 year old, a 20 month old, and I am 7 months pregnant. My hips hurt so badly that I can barely walk which is not the ideal situation when you have little ones running around. But I know that is no excuse. His little eyes just look at me. I feel so bad. I start to think to myself, “great job. You just destroyed his self-esteem, his confidence…you made him feel bad and now he will grow to hate himself forever, never feeling good enough, and will most likely feel the need to engage in risky behavior in order to get my attention. I have ruined him because of a fake tree branch.”

    It is moments like this that I feel like a failure. I never thought I would be a mom that yelled. I thought I would be the most patient and understanding mom. I also thought that my kids would never talk back, that they would listen the first time, and that I would never need to yell because they would be the best behaved kids EVER. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I had no idea what kids were REALLY like. But I am grateful that I can see (some) of my faults. That I know when I go to far and I can get onto my knees and say “I’m sorry” to my three year old.

    I always find it comforting when I read posts like this. It makes me feel like “failure” is a common feeling among moms and, even though it sucks that others are experiencing it, I feel a little bit better.

    So, thank you for this…especially today. But now I need to go since my kids have now built a fort that is way too close to our ceramic Nativity scene on our fireplace. PREVENTION PREVENTION PREVENTION!

  3. Emily Stewart says:

    My baby was colicky, and once SCREAMED while we were in line to check out . . . but the ladies in line were so nice! They told me not to be ashamed or worried . . . most moms will understand! It’s amazing how someone telling you that its OK relaxes you!

  4. mary timmers says:

    Bert,

    “I Know Why Gerbils Eat Their Babies” sounds like a great book title! And yes, you’re doing a great job!

    Love,
    Mary

  5. Bri Sherman says:

    I’ve not yet had the pleasure of having children – but I have babysat, worked in day cares, and nannied for the past 10 years of my life. If mom’s feel this way, then I don’t feel so bad. ;)

    Love your sarcasm. :)
    Bri Sherman recently posted…Cure for DeathMy Profile

  6. Danielle D says:

    I love when moms feel safe enough to be honest and not feel like they have to act as if every possible things involved in motherhood is incredibly amazing! It does help knowing you’re not the only one!

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