Okay so this post is really for me. I’m in the middle of the “it’s almost spring but not really” blues, and I have been feeling really crabby. I mean like REALLY. Our lives have been a little more tumultuous than normal due to a move, so boxes everywhere. I am feeling pretty much stuck inside and kind of alone because I don’t know anyone yet. To top it off the apartment that we moved to is significantly smaller than our last place so I am hearing a lot more of the constant chatter, fighting, video games, more fighting, jumping, shrieking, playing, and not sleeping. So I decided to put together a list of things that have helped me, even in a minor way because, let’s face it, sometimes parenting is a win if both you and the kids barely squeak over the finish line by surviving until bedtime.
1.Acknowledge your feelings
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not an unfeeling robot. Listening to constant insults, and whining, and complaining, and fighting would bother anyone. What I feel is important and normal. If I continue to ignore my perfectly human feelings when I am under pressure the effect is both mental and physical. A major headache and a major tantrum will come, and not from the kids.
2. Take a deep breath (Mom this one is for you, she tells me to do this constantly)
According to google the average adult at rest breathes between 17 and 30 thousand times a day. Breathing is essential. You literally can’t live without it. So what is it about taking a deep breath that makes a difference in my day. According to an article on stress.org, entitled Take a Deep Breath, the best thing you can do to elicit a physical state of relaxation is to, yep, you guessed it, breath. According to the article deep breathing increases your supply oxygen to the brain, and stimulates your nervous system in such a way as to promote a state of calmness. As a practical application, I have noticed that when I take a deep breath I do feel a little more relaxed almost instantly. Let me be clear, deep breathing does not take the stress away, sometimes for me it only gets me through the next minute, but a clear head for a minute is way better than nothing.
3. Engage your kids visually
It is so easy to scream at the kids to stop fighting, way too super easy. It is something I am constantly struggling with. My girls are currently sharing a very small space, and tempers run high. When I am doing something else, you know, cooking, cleaning, practicing the piano, writing my blog, and the fireworks begin, my first instinct is to shut it down fast and forcefully. I have definitely been the mom who prays the neighbors didn’t hear her screaming. It’s something I’m working on. I do find it easier, however, to actually handle the situation and not make it worse when I make the effort to get up and go be in the same room as them. Sometimes I have to call them to me when I am in the middle of something I can’t leave, but the point is that a face to face conversation is far more practical than a conversation shouted through walls. You can hear what the other person is saying better, and gain a clearer understanding of the situation when you can observe their physical reaction to things.
4. Engage your kids physically
Now I’m not talking about the “swat across the bum when you’ve had it and feel guilty about it for hours” kind of physical interaction. Human touch is a powerful thing, for both you and your kids. A hand placed on the shoulder, or hug can instantly change the dynamic of a tense situation. Let them sit on your lap, let them hold your hand. Sometimes holding their hand can make a lot of difference. A few minutes ago my seven-year-old was hysterically upset because her sister wouldn’t help her find a certain toy. So I asked her to hold my hand. She rolled her eyes, but she did it, and was a lot calmer and more willing to listen. When I let my five-year-old (who is very high energy) sit on my lap to talk to me she listens better to me and retains the things I ask her to do better. To her it’s like me saying “honey, you have my full attention.”
To me this is a little different from taking a deep breath. If I can catch myself in that moment right before I lose it, to take an instant to evaluate the words that come out of my mouth I find I am a more patient parent. Yes, that kid may have just told you that you are a terrible mom, and they hate you, but returning with a highly charged, angry response only adds fuel to a fire that will consume any chance of peace in your home. Speaking softly and carefully when you want to scream and shout not only prevents sore vocal chords and headaches, let’s face it, yelling is definitely a physical thing, but it also prevents very real damage to your kids. We all know how much words can hurt, how much more do words hurt when they come from the person who is supposed to love us, and care for us. Additionally, it is scary when someone so much bigger than you is screaming like a maniac. So take a moment to consider what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in all the stuff we have to do as adults. Beds must be made, dishes must be washed, bills have to be paid, meals have to be cooked. There is always so much to do and it is never truly done. I mean really all I want to do is finish so I can watch some tv and or read a book. Kids have no such time table. What adult wouldn’t want the responsibilities of a child for a day right? Kids are busy learning all day in this thing we call play. Play is so important to them. It helps them improve physically, mentally, and emotionally. They want you to be part of it. You are one of the most important people in their little world. So rather than getting frustrated when they pester you to spend time with them do it. Even if it’s just “okay guys I have five minutes to play and then I have to cook dinner.” In addition to that playing can be a great way to break up a tough situation. If they are sitting there arguing and mom suddenly turns into a crazy-brain-eating zombie what kid can resist running from the room screaming in delight. If a tickle spider jumps out to bite the closest kid it can cause stress to dissolve into giggles. Play is still good for us grown-ups too.
If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die. Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3
Music can be an ally for you in your times of trial and grief. I have felt such deep feelings as I listen to music that truly moves me. Good words and melodies fulfill the emptiness I feel at times. When I have been so stressed out there is nothing like listening to a song that makes me cry. Sometimes putting something soothing on can keep peace in your home. Putting on something with a good beat that you can dance to can make you feel lighter in an otherwise heavy situation. Teaching your children that music can strengthen you can bless their whole lives.
I know it sounds awful, and it is definitely not appropriate in all situations. “If you stop hitting your sister you can have a lollipop” is not really okay in my book. But sometimes the cranky child can be soothed with a snack, or the hysterical child with a cup of tea and a quiet one-on-one conversation. The best kind of bribes are the ones meant to meet the need of a child, not to just shut them up.
9. Get Away
If all else fails remove yourself from the situation. There are times I just need five minutes to myself. There is nothing wrong with putting a door between you and child that is making you feel angry. For the safety of your little one as well as your own sanity take a break. Sometimes I even put on the tv so I can get a little something done (gasp) I know so horrible. I try to time it appropriately with their age, because coming out to a huge mess of oats on the kitchen floor is definitely not a mood booster, but the mess just might be worth it if getting away from your child is the difference between a heated argument or a tragedy. I have had those horrible moments in motherhood where all you want is a little sleep and that screaming child is about to make you lose it in a big way. There have been times when I read about those awful stories where a mother shakes her baby and causes permanent damage, and I vow to myself to never let that happen. Your sanity is important and needs to be protected, just like your precious little ones.
My faith is a very important part of my life. It touches every part of my life, from the way I dress to the way I parent, to the way I treat a stranger on the street. In my darkest moments communication with my Father in heaven has been literally the only thing to get me through. I have cried out to my God in anguish, and felt relief. I have made it just one more second longer because I said a prayer in my heart. I have had beautiful touching moments with my children because when I didn’t know what to say or do He did.
So there you are 10 things I have found useful in my quest to be an almost sane parent. Even if this helps no one else I have to say it has already helped me a little. There is something about thinking of all the ways that help you feel better that makes you actually do some of those things. Ha ha! I guess I now have 11.