The Real and Raw of motherhood
I had an experience today and I wanted to share it partially because it helps me sift through what happened, how I feel about it, and how I dealt with it and partially because I hope it can help another mother change how she reacts and views her children in those oh so rough moments of anger and frustration.
All 4 of my kids were more on edge than usual today while riding home from school in the car. The younger ones ( 3) hadn't eaten and were cranky and tired and the older ones ( 5 ) had just returned to school after 6 days off and were not thrilled about it. They fought with each other the entire way home so the car was filled with kicking and punching, biting and crying and yelling at each other. It put me on edge and I knew that if I yelled and added to the noise it was going to make everything worse. So I didn't and I tried to stay calm until we got home and I could get them all out of the car. When we did get home and I started to pull the little ones out of car-seats, I noticed the disgusting mess of wrappers ( thank you valentine parties), socks, shoes, and other previously unnoticed items stowed under the seats where my children sit and immediately started pulling things out and throwing them away. I also launched into lecture mode and began telling my children to clean up after themselves, and help me, in that not so nice mom voice that implies serious consequences if they don't comply.
One of my daughters became so upset at what I was throwing away she started to cry, whine and stop around. I was getting more an more irritated and feeling like no matter what I clean, it never stays clean! I was having thoughts of how ungrateful and uncooperative my children where and how they have too much and don't appreciate any of it. How they needed to learn to take care of their things better or not have as many things. Meanwhile my daughter has now worked herself into a full on tantrum and because I was cleaning the car and talking to myself, I barely noticed.
I come into the house and see her throwing her lunch pail on the ground in anger and mid tantrum and I lose it. I grab her by the arm ( the old school way) and when she goes boneless and let's her body fall to the ground, I pick her up with both hands under armpits so she starts kicking me. I can feel the anger building in me as I drag her outside, shove her in the backyard and close the gate. She is still screaming, kicking and crying as I go back in the house and I can feel my anger just boiling and rising in me. The whole time I'm telling myself " you shouldn't be this angry!" " you should be able to stay calm and deal with this!" I'm shoulding myself to death basically.
The other 3 start asking for sandwiches and lunch and as I'm making it I can hear my daughter outside throwing things against our door and our house. Seriously?
I didn't know what to do. And it my mind that's unacceptable. I feel as if I need to have the answers and know what to do all the time... impossible standards I don't hold others to, but somehow have a hard time releasing for myself.
I was becoming irate and waiting for that higher part of my brain that psychologists talk about needing to employ when dealing with your children. The part that allows you to stay calm, connect to your child, redirect their behavior, acknowledge their feelings, etc... Apparently mine was on vacation and not answering or providing me with directions. I was beyond frustrated, and angry and nothing was working.
Now I have 3 go-to parenting books specifically about discipline and these types of situations that I have been trying to get through uninterrupted which is pretty much impossible unless I get up earlier than I do now or stay up really late. While I've read bits and pieces, I did remember one specific book saying connecting with your child in these moments is one of the most important things you can do because they will be more likely to listen and learn if they are connected. So incredibly challenging at this moment. I was not empathetic in this moment to what my child was feeling or why she was acting that way. I was focused on my anger, her lack of appropriate behavior and my inability to deal with it in a way I thought I should. It never occurred to me she might be dealing with the same thoughts....
So I walked outside, and my daughter ran to me, now only crying and I hugged her for about 2-3 minutes, she calmed down and I begin to talk with her about what happened.
WHILE THAT IS HAPPENING, inside the house the younger set of twins are standing on a bench watching me and the other 5 year old decides she wants to try to play with one of the younger ones standing on the bench. She pulls his feet out from under him, he hits the corner of his ear on the bench, splits it open and starts screaming crying.
I only hear screaming so I walk in and see someone bleeding, his twin crying and have no idea what's going on. I clean up the blood, try to get what happened out of my son and his twin, who are both upset. Never once do they mention their older sister pulling his feet out. They simply say he fell and hit his ear. My daughter who was throwing the tantrum comes into the room and starts asking rapid fire question about what's going on, if I will lay down with her after I make her a sandwich, where ella is ( her twin) to which I can't answer because I'm still trying to stop the bleeding!
Then I hear my other daughter crying. So we all move as a crying, bleeding, snotty, loud, emotional mess to the room where my last child is crying and I ask her why. She through tears tells me the story of wanting to play with her brother and pulling his feet out from underneath him. When she saw he was bleeding she asked if he was ok ( he didn't hear because he was crying from the pain) then ran into her room and hid.
My daughter didn't need me to tell her she had made a bad choice. She very clearly understood that and she felt both remorse and anger at herself for everything she'd done since that happened. I could've launched into another round of anger and frustration at my child for not knowing better, for hurting her brother, and for running away and hiding from it all. But I didn't because of what she said next. Through her tears and sobs she said, " I made two mistakes today and I'm so angry with myself." And I thought, I think the exact same way. I get angry and judge and criticize myself for getting angry and having feelings of frustration, and for a range of other emotions deemed undesirable. I judge my emotions, the things I'm not doing, the things I should be doing, shouldn't be doing and it's sucking the life out of me. I expect myself to have it together, make as few mistakes as possible and rebound quickly when I do. That's a lot of pressure for an adult and even more for a 5 year old to feel.
Do I want my child to grow up thinking she can never make a mistake? Do I want her to grow up thinking that any emotion other than happiness and joy are unacceptable and she's a bad person if she feels those things?
No. I want her to know that emotions are ok. I want to teach her to say yes to the feelings and no to the behavior. How she feels is ok. I want her to have tools to deal with emotions that are strong and can grab hold of you without you realizing it like anger and frustration and in order to do that I need to live it and practice it also. And it's hard. And it's a process.
This is what I learned today:
1. "Shoulding" myself to death is not productive, helpful or empowering as a mother in any way. Reminding myself I'm doing the best I can with the information I have, while also seeking ways to deal with it more effectively for all of us, is the best I can do.
2. Judging myself for the emotions I'm having about myself, the job I'm doing or not doing, and how I'm feeling is teaching my children to do the same to themselves. Not productive, helpful or empowering in any way. Silencing negative nancy and judgement judy by saying or thinking a phrase that makes me feel empowered and back in control of my thoughts and my emotions is helpful and works for me. My phrase is " Bi$%h Be GONE! " Yes it involves swearing, and it makes me laugh and it evicts those thoughts. I recommend you choose one to evict your own peanut gallery of judgement judy's.
3. Pausing when I got super angry, helped. Literally stopping myself and walking the other way. I 'm not saying this is easy. I'm saying sitting in our anger makes this moment about us, and not about what we want to teach our children. Remembering that how I respond to the situation will impact how it continues to unfold.
4. Connecting to my child before attempting to reinforce boundaries and redirect behavior did help. They were more responsive after willing to talk about what we could've done differently when we have feelings of anger and frustration that don't involve hurting bodies or destroying our house.
5. I am human and imperfect. While I try to be superhuman and have it together all the time, I don't and at times that makes me feel like a fraud. Other times it's how I know I can really help people, because it's real life, I'm aware of it, and I'm working to become the type of person I want my kids to grow up to be.
What has worked for you? What do you do in those moments?
Here are some of the books that have been helpful for me in dealing with these situations and my twin tornados of emotion.
No Drama Discipline : The Whole Brain Way to Calm The Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Between Parent and Child , by Dr Haim G. Ginott
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish