“I can totally relate,” this was the main sentiment shared in a group of some of my closest friends in a conversation about the difficulty of keeping our cool when our kids act out.
In a group of six mothers whose personalities, life circumstances, and number of kids vary we could all relate to the feeling of our blood boiling over. We knew too well the situation where a child’s arm was grabbed tighter than we meant, an angry word flung out, a voice raised too high, and overall how a hard situation got the best of us. I want to note here that I’m in no way talking about any kind of abusive behavior. But there are moments when we know that we messed up and because we are intentional, loving mothers, we desire to apologize and do better. Having kids lends itself to redoing this process over and over as we are over touched, over talked to, and in general over stimulated by the precious, yet demanding little people in our lives.
As my husband said recently, “How can someone you love so deeply cause you to feel like you’re losing your mind?” To my knowledge, all parents can relate. This lovely little person you dreamed of, you delight in, and you proudly display to your friends and family, is often also the source of feeling, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” For me, over stimulation is a source of challenge. Imagine if you dare: One kid is upset. Ok, I can handle that. But as I am trying to calmly help this child, their frustration and anger only escalates. To make matters worse, a different child starts calling out my name with a passion you’d think would be reserved for emergencies but is instead desperation for an afternoon snack just out of reach in the pantry. A third child somehow gets hurt in the midst of this and in the search for bandaids (no blood, but a bandaid is always required), a glass vase falls out of the laundry room cabinet, which I’ve been meaning to reorganize for months. As I return to the needs of the first child, who is still screaming because I said no to a second chocolate chip cookie, my blood is boiling. “Stop crying! Be quiet! No more cookies for a week!” As I’m saying (yelling) these meaningless and useless words, I feel helpless because I recognize that I’ve lost control of my emotions and that makes me feel foolish and angry at myself. The first child is crying at my intense response, another child is wide eyed because Mommy lost it, and the third is now obliviously peeing her pants in the other room calling to be cleaned up from yet another accident. Oh and obviously we are late to soccer practice.
Can you envision the scenario? I certainly can because it probably happened yesterday and I feel uncomfortable just thinking about it. I can go down two roads here: feel like I’m a terrible mom and let the guilt pile on or reach out to friends and remember that I’m human too and growth is available to me.
In the midst of all this, we have to have ways to release the internalizing build of our own emotions. We may be patient twenty times in a day and then that twenty first time just gets us. For my mama friends and I, there are several things that help in the moment:
-Pause. That’s it. Instead of feeling an immediate need to respond, a five second pause can help me gather myself and put into play some good parenting tools.
-Acknowledging out loud or under my breath how I feel: “This moment is a lot. I’m going to take a breath to help me calm down.”
-Humming (you can’t yell when you hum!) or doing some other mild emotional release with the kids if you can’t get some space: “Let’s all march around the room!”
-Remembering the phrase, “I’m going to add calm to their chaos,” knowing that my calm response can bring relief to the situation.
-Reaching out — pausing to text a friend or my husband helps me know that I am not alone in this situation. Just the act of processing with empathetic adult is an immediate stress reliever.
-Getting time alone. Whether that’s meeting your husband in the garage when he arrives home and passing the baton, or asking a friend for a babysitting swap so you can hide in a coffee shop, refueling is essential to parenting.
Thankfully when things go wrong and I fly off the handle, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. I’m reading Dr. Becky Kennedy’s book Good Inside and in it she talks about the idea of repair after a hard situation. Saying “I’m sorry Mommy yelled at you, that was not right. How did that make you feel and how are you feeling now?” has the ability to teach our kids and soften ourselves. Another friend added to this that she tells her kids what she wishes she had done, “I wish I had spoken more calmly to you earlier and not grabbed your arm roughly.” These simple words carry powerful weight with our children and with us. They can reduce our own guilt over the situation as well as show our kids that we aren’t perfect and they don’t have to be either. Absolutely no one can be calm and patient all the time, but all of us can model to our kids what it looks like to ask for forgiveness and commit to doing better next time.