Remember that night a few months ago? When the sight of us putting our three kids to bed most likely looked like a tiger trying to swaddle a freight train. There was screaming, tears, and tantrums. And the kids were pretty bad too. I cried to you while I nursed the baby and wondered why it was all so hard.
Things are different now. Not perfect—not even remotely close. And not even always good. Sometimes we still have bad moments. And by moments I mean days. And by days I mean weeks. But still, mostly better.
When we decided to switch our parenting style from "OH MY GOD JUST PLEASE DO WHAT I ASK ONE TIME" to a more peaceful approach, things started turning around. I had decided to dispense with my previous philosophy of, "Don't read parenting books! Just go with your gut!" and started reading everything I could get my hands on.
Raising Your Spirited Child seemed like a good place to start, seeing as how the other day I had caught my oldest child yelling at his brother, "Just do it! I'll catch you! I promise you're not going to die!"
From there, I moved on to Peaceful Parent, Happy Child which seemed like a good antidote to the working title of my autobiography, Hot Mess Mom, Feral Children. I read every article I could find on peaceful parenting. And while some of it made you roll your eyes when I started reading it out loud to you, slowly, it all started coming together.
While we've made a lot of changes (hello, earlier bedtime), looking back, here are the three things we did that I think helped the most in creating a more peaceful, and less chaotic, home:
1. Start taking care of ourselves.
Self-care doesn't have to mean a spa day. But you have to do a few things: Get as much sleep as you can. Eat three meals a day. Participate in some sort of exercise that isn't picking up toys. Go outside regularly. Drink water.
For you, it's working out. For me, it's getting out of the house alone. Deciding to protect that time with the ferociousness we do our kids' bedtimes has meant we snap less. It's easier to not lose your temper when I know in a few hours, I have a break coming.
But self-care can be even simpler than that. Taking a deep breath before I dive into the age-old dispute of 'but-I-was-playing-with-it-first' can help me remember that this is not an emergency, and we're all doing just fine.
2. Start appreciating our kids for who they are.
Remember when our second kid would call colors by the wrong name for so long we thought he was colorblind? And then we realized he knew the correct names, but just enjoyed being stubborn?
Sure, our kids are stubborn, demanding, and wild. But when we finally tuck them into bed at night, pull out our phones and start flipping through pictures of them, we remember their other sides.
They aren't stubborn—they have plans that they like to see through. They aren't demanding—they are inquisitive and want to know exactly how the world works. They aren't wild—they are enthusiastic and energetic.
(Okay fine, they are a little wild.)
Too often, at the end of a long day, it had been us-versus-them in the dinner, bath, and bedtime battle. We forgot to enjoy our kids—to laugh and play with them. Taking time to set aside the long game of raising good humans and remembering to enjoy them in the moment has shifted our perspective immensely.
3. Stop trying to win, and start trying to work out solutions.
Remember having this conversation a million times?
Kid: I want to go to the park!
Us: Okay! That is actually a feasible request. Put your sandals on and let's go.
Kid: NO! I DON'T WANT TO PUT ON MY SANDALS! Us: PUT YOUR SANDALS ON OR WE WON'T GO TO THE PARK.
Whenever we start trying to win a battle of wills with our children, we've already lost. In a power struggle, kids have the upper hand.
They say idiocy is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But nevertheless, that was our primary parenting approach.
So instead of getting into power struggles, we decided to start focusing on solutions. At first, it was a little weird to start giving them the power to make some decisions. We were the parents and shouldn't they just do what we say? I mean, yes, preferably, but we tried that tactic and it didn't work so onto plan B.
Us: Why don't you want to put on your sandals?
Kid: The wood chips at the park get stuck in them and hurt my feet!
Us: Oh, well yeah. Totally makes sense. How about your tennis shoes?
Kid: Okay! That is actually a feasible request. (Puts on sandals.)
Us: (Sigh from here to eternity and head to the park.)
I started looking for other opportunities to solve things that we were constantly battling over. They got dressed for the day before breakfast to lessen the leaving for school battles. I took out all the clothes in the drawers they were refusing to wear anyway. When they argued over a toy, I asked them to come up with a sharing plan of their own to satisfy both their needs.
When we take a problem solving approach, rather than our tried and failed power struggle approach, I remember to ask them why they are finding the task at hand so offensive. Seven times out of 10, the answer breaks my heart. They're scared of the dark, or they are worried about school tomorrow. The other three times they are usually over-tired or hungry. Or both. (Usually both.)
Are things perfect now? No. Did. I call you and beg you not to work late again tonight because I was going to lose my mind? Yes. (Self-care, honey. Self-care). But are things getting a little calmer at our house? Yes.
I mean, I set off the smoke alarm regularly while making dinner and someone is usually yelling at me to wipe their butt and the baby is taste-testing crumbs off the floor left and right. But I can handle that.
When I was big and pregnant with our first kid, we couldn't really comprehend the chaos we were bringing into our lives. We dreamed about walks in the park and reading Goodnight Moon while we snuggled in bed. Life isn't like that all the time.
Maybe our loud, rambunctious, and at times challenging family isn't what we pictured originally. But this is what we've always wanted. A family where we work through the hard times together. A family that chooses, first and foremost, to put love first.