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The story behind my “worst mom moment.”

by Meagan Francis on May 11, 2013

Thursday night as I was getting ready to go to bed, I popped onto our Facebook page and, in the spur of the moment, decided to share this photo:

toddler tantrum

It’s a picture of me, nearly ten years ago now, carrying my screaming son Isaac away from a photography session at my brother John’s wedding to one of my best friends, Jenna. This is the message I included with the post:

“Speaking of hard parenting moments, I wanted to share this picture I ran across in a box recently. It’s me, at a family wedding, largely pregnant, carrying my completely-freaking-out three-year-old away from the professional photo session. He was a real handful back then, but he is now 13 and a more lovely young man you could not imagine. I just want to take my old self from this picture, give her a big hug and tell her everything really WILL be OK.”

When I went to bed the picture had been shared a few times and I had a handful of nice comments. But by the time I woke up the next morning and checked Facebook, I was astonished to see that the picture had been shared hundreds of times and seen by about 60,000 people. As of this writing that number is more like 135,000.

What? It was just a simple photo. Why did it strike such a nerve?

In reading all the commentary, though, I could see why: because all moms have had a moment like this one,  either due to a day that went quickly, horribly wrong or perhaps several years that went slowly, mind-numbingly wrong.

In the above photo, I was sort of in the middle of both. Not only was I dealing with an ill-timed pregnancy, but I was in the middle of raising an exceptionally challenging child: Isaac, my sweet-cheeked second son, chubby and bright and adorable and absolutely hell on wheels.

And we got it on film. After seeing my post on Facebook, my stepmother Brenda was kind enough to scan and send me some other photos from that day, as photographic evidence of just how hair-tearingly bad parts of it were.

For example, on that sweaty, max-stress-level day, my usually well-behaved son Jacob also decided to completely lose it.

tantrum at wedding

This photo was taken about five minutes before the one of me carting Isaac away. See how sweet – and shocked by his behavior! –  his little cousin looks?

And then there was this one, taken after the ceremony. It’s me, speaking intently to my Aunt Paula, who I believe was saying something along the lines of “Honey, we’re all worried about you. This is an intervention.”

wedding photo

After seeing the reaction the photo of me carrying Isaac away football-style from the photo session received, I approached the Huffington Post and asked whether they’d like an essay on the story of me, of Isaac, and the lessons that raising a difficult young boy – and watching him grow into a sweet, calm, wonderful teenager – has taught me about motherhood. And, to my delight, they said yes.

It’s up there now. Here’s a little sneak peak:

Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you why Isaac was so difficult then or why he’s so easy now. When he was a young child I got the impression that he was a mass of impulses and sensations he couldn’t control. Maybe what he needed most was simply time to grow into himself, and the acceptance of those around him while he was figuring out how to navigate the world.

I do know that I can no more take total credit for the way Isaac is today, than I can take all the blame for the way he was then.

I’d love for you to read the whole essay, but first I want you to see one last picture, another that my stepmother sent me that I’d completely forgotten about. This picture is one of me, smiling, dancing with my baby nephew Harry, holding adorable chubby-cheeked Isaac by the hand.

I guess in the red-faced heat of embarrassment over the kids’ photo-session behavior, I’d kind of forgotten this moment.

But it just goes to show you: there is always another side to every memory, isn’t there?

dancing at wedding with kids

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas going through tough times. No matter what you’re facing, it gets better.

And maybe – though I know it’s so hard to see right now – it’s already better than you think.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandria May 11, 2013 at 10:04 am

I LOVE that picture and your essay at Huffington post. For one, it is funny (looking back) and I am sure every mom can relate. & you just look so determined. This is perfect for Mothers Day.

I also think that moms are extremely reluctant to share their flaws and bad moments, so why this is so well received. Too often I have gotten a snotty comment rather than a hug in instances like this. Which is a shame.

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Meagan Francis May 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Thank you so much – I think if we were all more honest, this job would be a lot easier for all of us. We can’t all have it together all the time!

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Renee May 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Amen, sista!!

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Kirsetin May 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Hear, hear!

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Juliana May 11, 2013 at 10:53 am

Thank you for posting this! I have done precisely what you did in the photo (but without the photographic evidence–I hope!), and your post was so well-timed. Your Isaac sounds much like our current middle child (I’m due in less than four weeks with #4, so technically, he won’t be a “middle” much longer); we have been tearing our hair out over him every.single.day for the last 2 years and he just turned 3. (It is not yet 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and we’ve already fielded about five major tantrums from said child). I’m hopeful that it will begin to turn around sometime soon, but at the same time, I’m not holding my breath. Perhaps his teenage self will be better.

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Meagan Francis May 11, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Juliana, I tend to think that when it gets to a certain level of awful it really can’t get worse so it can only get better. Hmm, is that unrealistic? :) good luck and I really wish you the best with your “challenging” child!

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Tragic Sandwich May 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

I looked at that photo and had two immediate thoughts:

1) Oh, I know that moment.
2) That’s a terrific dress. Megan looks great!

And that last picture is a reminder that, no matter how often those moments come, they also pass. Thanks for sharing all of these pictures.

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Meagan Francis May 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Hey, I’ll take the compliment! I kinda wish I’d kept that dress. I think it would even look good as a non-maternity outfit! :)

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Tragic Sandwich May 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I didn’t realize you were pregnant until I read the quote from the article, below the picture.

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Alison May 11, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I think you looked like a complete professional carting your child off. I love the photo. It’s real life and you totally had your act together. I’ve carried my kids away in the grocery store over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes kicking and screaming. It happens to the best of us. Any mom who hasn’t had those days is lying to herself and others. You rock.

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Meagan Francis May 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Ha, love the “sack of potatoes” description! Too, too funny :)

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Leanne May 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I too have carted my 4 year old temper tantrum throwing prima donna over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Sometimes it is the only way!

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Lisa May 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Great piece Meagan! Reminds me of a family wedding we attended when our triplets were 2-1/2 and we hadn’t yet realized two of them have autism. It was a good day for us, but oh boy, were we glad the bride & groom wanted the unpredictability of children at the wedding. (We came armed with a nanny and that helped a ton – but still it was a guaranteed 1 to 1 ratio at all times – problem solving at every turn). I didn’t look nearly as great as you did, while pregnant & toting the boy! Congrats on working through it all. Congrats to Isaac too for simply growing up and learning how to be – Good job Mom!

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Stephanie Precourt May 12, 2013 at 10:32 am

Meagan, I love this and you so much. You are a wonderful mom.

Steph

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Thank you so much, Steph :)

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Devon May 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I can’t believe I missed all of this last week! I definitely could have used the encouragement. But I’m so glad I’m catching up now because – as others have said – your picture shows exactly what Alex and I are experiencing with our daughter. I have never been so challenged by such a force of sheer grit and determination in my life. Most days are ok, but the days that aren’t … well, I’m just glad there isn’t a photographer around.

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Jen May 12, 2013 at 10:20 pm

I needed that today. Funny how these things pop up just when we need to see them the most. Thanks for sharing it with those of us “in the trenches”.

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Heather Danek May 12, 2013 at 10:24 pm

When I saw the first picture I chuckled..when I saw the follow up with the “seriously kid” look on your face I was in hysterics…not because I think agony is funny (but more as a solidarity, I feel your pain sista’). In honor of mother’s day you have inspired me to go way back in the Facebook albums to post my kid being hauled off screaming from a photo shoot circa 2008? 2009? Have a wonderful day!

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Prerna@The Mom Writes May 12, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Ohh.. Thank YOU for sharing this.. and I LOVE your essay and I agree, sometimes, I wish I could give my scolding self a big hug and tell myself that it will be okay:-)

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Jeanne May 13, 2013 at 9:36 am

My “wild child” is now 27… We experienced that type of scene many times during his growin up years. As “A Tale of Two Cities” opened, “It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.” But we live through it and get through it one day at a time. He has grown into a caring, sensitive, and thoughtful young man who makes me proud every day. It’s worth every minute.

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Bekki May 13, 2013 at 11:33 am

I saw your blog on Huffington Post and thought that could have been a letter I wrote many years ago. My son was so wild and disruptive it was truly heartbreaking…what was I doing so wrong and what could I do to fix it??? We called him the wild banshee! We learned early on that spanking didn’t help and we just got through the years in survival mode. Now my son is 20 and pursuing a mechanical engineering degree and I think back and I am amazed at how far we come. I try to explain to people that know my son now what it was like back then and they are in utter disbelief… my son is kind, patient, loving, hard working, funny, thoughtful, empathetic…I often wonder if my memory was wrong, but then I see old photos and I am reminded of the days, months, and years that I questioned and know it was not a bad dream, just a period of time we all thankfully survived. Hang in there, it sounds like you are already past the hardest part of the storm, but I guarantee the best is yet to come. This is the very same child I cried for 16 hours as we drove him to Oregon and had to say goodbye as he started his adventure into adulthood as his college journey began. He calls/texts/facebook messages me often and thanks me for the wonderful job I did raising him and his siblings and can’t wait to come home to be with his family during his breaks! Imagine that!!!! I guess I didn’t do so bad after all!

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I love this story! Thank you so much for sharing – your son sounds like a wonderful person.

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Ana May 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Oh my goodness, that was me this weekend, except we were at the Y after swimming lessons when my 3-year old flipped out, and I didn’t look 10% as gorgeous as you do in those photos!
With 2 challenging little boys right now (seemingly surrounded by wonderful well-behaved kids everywhere I go…) its nice to know they can (and likely will) turn out OK and its not necessarily that I’ve done something wrong to make them such terrors (not enough breastmilk? working full time? not giving them juice?) I mean, I KNOW that, but its still nice…

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Heather Caliri May 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I think this is one reason to be supportive of other women. Just this weekend, I’m with a friend who is in a tough moment of transition and questions. And I was able to encourage her that she is enough, that the time will pass, that she is capable. And I was able to do that because in my moments of desperation there have been women alongside me to tell me I am enough, that the time will pass, etc. If it works, it’s like a relay race for us all.

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I love this, Heather! You are so right.

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Omer May 14, 2013 at 3:09 am

Meagan – It’s not just moms who’ve had a moment like this — us dads have also had the ‘pleasure’ and I can totally relate to the pic too. I heard your interview with Pat today so I thought I’d drop by and say hi. I really enjoyed listening to you.

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

You are SO right Omer! My husband Jon has definitely had his share of “moments” with a capital M. Thank you for stopping by!

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fausto412 May 14, 2013 at 8:06 am

As someone who is living with an Issac right now…I actually have a bunch of questions for you. What worked? what didn’t? how did you deal with people always trying to diagnose your kid? how did you deal with problems at school controlling impulses, paying attention and disturbing the class? what would you have done different know what you know now and all the stress and effort you dealt with in the past?

My son is 5 now and while I know there are brighter days ahead the near future is scary, i even want to hold him back from starting school this year only because I know that will help him.

Please share more of your story and answer some of the questions some of us have. You give some of us hope!

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm

This is a really tough question to answer because it’s been a long time and honestly, I am fuzzy on a lot of the details. I think I was living in crisis mode so much of the time that my brain sort of fogged over. In hindsight, I don’t think I would do anything differently – I let my son be who he was, as much as I could, and tried to find supportive environments for him to grow in. One thing that I think made a big difference is that he was enrolled in a small parochial school from Kindergarten through second grade. There were only about 10 kids total in the classroom and his teachers were very flexible and willing to let him stand at his desk while he worked, fidget, etc. I always felt very supported there and never got the sense from his teachers that he was a “problem” at school. By the time he entered public school in third grade he had already made so much progress that he was much more able to handle the larger classrooms and different structure.

Dealing with other people (strangers, well-meaning relatives, etc) was definitely the hardest part – but again, I tried my best to shut out the negative voices and listen to my mom gut, which was telling me he needed time, not a diagnosis. I do think that diagnoses and outside help can be wonderful when needed, but I had a very strong sense that Isaac would be fine if we could just ride out those few years. And I was right.

I hope that helps a little.

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Ashley May 16, 2013 at 9:40 pm

This is exactly what I needed to see and read today! My 3 1/2 year old has been tough to handle lately. Some days are great some are so tough. I question what I am doing quite frequently. Everyone tells me it will get better and I’m just waiting for that to happen and in the mean time trying to do the best I can and keep it together the best I can.

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Michele Andree May 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Meagan- I do not see that photograph as a worst parenting moment at all, I think that removing an “overloaded” Isaac from the situation was absolutely the best thing to do at the time. So many other parents would have yelled at him, yanked him up by the arm, spanked him, made threats that were never going to be carried out, had the father intervene (giving the child the impression that the mother had no authority at all), slapped him, done any amount of things that would only serve to make the situation worse and upset everyone in the area. I say this not as a mother, because I have never been a mother, but as a retired Child Protective Investigator. For twenty-six years I investigated reports of child abuse and neglect, most of which were unfounded, but in the cases where abuse had taken place, I met people with the parenting skills of eggplants. Anyhow, Meagan, kudos to you ten years later. I think that you did the right thing at a time when things could have gone so wrong.

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nikonmom May 20, 2013 at 10:02 am

I sooooo needed to see and read this today. Last night at a birthday party my precocious 3 year old decided he needed to be free and unhindered to dance to the stage show music at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party….so he dropped his pants and danced bare a$$ed. In front of everyone. Then, as the cupcake cake was brought out, before the birthday girl could even blow out her candle, the face planted in the corner and came up face full of frosting. He was showing off for his brother’s older friends. Delightful. He’s usually not THAT bad, I swear! And his brother is going through a very mouthy, sassy period that has the family looking at me as thought I don’t discipline. Which I do. He’s just decided he doesn’t care. Again, I swear he’s not like that all the time, its an occasional outburst, short lived, but still. It’s just that he’s either ALL good, perfect little angel that melts your heart and blows your mind how sweet he is, or he’s the devil himself willfully pushing your buttons. No in between.

So…it REALLY does get better?

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Kristen May 21, 2013 at 1:46 am

This brought tears to my eyes. Times get so tuff but in the end it’s all worth every yell or grounding the child gets. You will never come across anyone’s love that adores you
More than your own children. You seem like a wonderful mother to issac and I’m sure he knows it and appreciates every bit of you!

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edenland May 26, 2013 at 11:04 pm

I love you for posting those pictures. My five-year-old is (slowly) growing out of a very challenging period.

(Your hair looks hot and so does that dress, by the way.) xx

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