When Your Kid Breaks Your Heart

A stomach bug hit our house hard this week, and I'm over here just trying to tread water while keeping my infant from catching it. So in lieu of a sparkly, pretty, timely post, I'm sharing a post I had written back when this blog was just a glimmering light off in the distance. My kid still breaks my heart pretty much every day, so still applicable- and maybe you're in this place too, today. If so: you're not alone mama, and you're doing a great job.

Five days. Today marks five days straight that my 2.5 year old daughter has cried when I pick her up from daycare, starting from the moment she sees me pull into the driveway. Not frenzied, hysterical tears that pass as soon as she’s buckled into her Chicco, but considered, deliberate sobs that pour from the depths of her tiny body, indicating that she isn’t merely inconvenienced by having to suspend her daycare play until Monday, but that instead she cannot imagine a worse fate that going home with Mommy. She clings to her daycare provider’s legs, wails her name. “I wanna stay here! I can’t go to Mommy’s house!”

The first wave of pain is sharp and stinging, but expected on this, the fifth day of such episodes. But then come the embarrassment- what must her babysitter think? Does she think she’s abused at home, that I’m that bad a mom my kid doesn’t wanna come home with me?- and the guilt. If I didn’t work so much, if she didn’t have to spend so much time here, if she saw me as much as her babysitter…if, if if. All the things I’m doing wrong flit through my mind and I try to hold a smile as I get down on my knees to convince my baby that yes, of course she wants to come with mommy.

After fifteen minutes of bargaining and a tear-filled car ride, I fall apart on the couch. This fifth day has broken me. The first four were hard, but number five has convinced me utterly that I am the worst. mom. ever. My kid knows it, her daycare provider knows it, and now I know it. The tears come hot and burn my eyes. My daughter begins to cry too. I assume she’s upset that Mommy is sad. But then, through her sobs, she chokes out the words: “I…don’t….want….to be…..with you.” My heart shatters. What choices have I made that led somehow to my baby girl, my entire heart in human form, telling me she doesn’t want to be with me? Am I on my phone too much? Is it because I work full time? Do I not play with her enough, tickle her enough, give her enough candy? Does she feel more loved, more appreciated at daycare? What have I done? What could I do differently?

My own mom and the internet tell me this is normal. My heart screams otherwise. My daughter has broken my heart completely. Even as she continues to lob softball breakup lines at me, I hold her as tight as I can, kiss her face through both of our tears, and promise her that she could say anything and I wouldn’t love her any less. But is it true? Today something has changed for us. Today, for the first time she has discovered and wielded the power to wound me in a real and irrevocable way, and I feel somehow as if our relationship has changed just in these brief moments. She’s not even three, but I feel as if I have to guard my heart from her. This, of course, immediately fills me with shame. She’s two. Her brother kicks from inside my belly and I’m filled with dread. Another on the way who will spend more time at daycare than playing with me, more time with someone I pay for the privilege of raising him instead of doing it myself, and I feel helpless to stop it.

Tonight as I toweled off after my shower, my favorite necklace, a laser-cut silhouette of my daughter’s chubby baby profile, a necklace I haven’t taken off once in over a year, breaks and slips from around my neck. It feels significant, somehow, and almost too literal. Am I losing her?  

There’s no tying up loose ends and drawing a silver lining to finish this post; no sage wisdom to share to make these feelings sting a little less. Just me, sitting at my Mac telling you I’m in the shit with you. Mama in Iowa who has just locked herself in the bathroom to cry for a while? I’m right there with you. Mama holding her shattered heart in the palm of her hand and wondering if she’s the worst mother in the entire world? I know that feel, lady. We’re all in this muck together. And that’s not to say it isn’t beautiful and incredible and eye-opening in all the very best ways, but it’s also so horrible and stomach-churning and nerve-wracking. This first little (or not so little) heartbreak my daughter has dealt me is the first in a long series of them that will continue until the day I die. I cringe as I think about the fact that I snapped at my mother on the phone just yesterday. But..she didn’t flinch. Or cry. And I doubt she stayed up all night dwelling on it, replaying it, questioning herself and my love for her.

Maybe these little hurts are the first little welts that will callous and protect our hearts and prepare us for a lifetime of mothering to come. Over time they won’t hurt as bad, will even become routine. It won’t mean I love my children any less, just than I have grown accustomed to the pain. It’ll suck, mamas. The Big Things always do. But we’ll get through it together.


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