This past week I’ve been struggling a lot. Struggling with balance, with taking care of my body (like forgetting to eat because I’ve got too many other things that I want to do), with taking my emotional temperature frequently, or with being distracted and detached from my kids. Oh yeah, and I’ve been snapping at my kids.
The biggest cause of snapping at my kids is distraction. I’m working on something important to me and fail to recognize something important to them. This leads to a constant flow of, “Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama! Mama!” Screaming and tears and me feeling like, “What!?” Momzilla comes out instead of that playful, gentle person that I strive to be.
Tonight, as we were reading stories before bed, we were cozy and peaceful. They had chosen a glow-in-the-dark “Dora the Explorer” Christmas book. The littlest wanted the lights off to look at the glowing pages, so we did that for a bit. Then the older one wanted to read the pages and turn the lights off in between each page so we could see the glowing. Read and see. Read and see. Read and see. When I had to flick the light on at the read times so that the oldest could see, the littlest would scream and cry and try and pull the lamp off the table while the other is yelling at me to keep reading. Then the little one falls on the whole book, crying, and I regretfully say, “Just stop it!” Then I drop my head into my hands. Both kids cry.
Oldest says, “I’ll give you a hug, Mom. It’s okay for baby to cry because it will make her feel better.”
I mumble, “I know. I’m just having a hard time.”
He holds me (like the parent he is not but like the incredibly empathetic little boy that he is) and I try to calm down. I handled it poorly. I was grouchy. I was tired. I snapped right when I should be sending them off to dreamland feeling secure and loved.
Sometimes parenting is just completely and utterly overwhelming. It feels like there is no space between the rope being nice and loose and the rope snapping. It feels like there is no warning, just happy and calm to angry and hurtful.
The good news is that there is a moment in there. I would have seen it if I took my emotional temperature. If I labeled my feeling instead of just letting my reaction run wild. I could have stopped for a moment instead of pushing on with, “I am going to read this story because it is bed time and everyone is supposed to be happy and calm and loving,” even though that wasn’t what was happening. I should’ve said to myself, “I am feeling frustrated right now. My expectations are being disappointed.”
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor E. Frankl
Expectations can be brutal. I can envision us all laying in our giant bed wearing matching jammies with freshly-washed hair and smiling, dimpled faces, doling out cuddles, “I love you’s,” and “You’re the best story teller in the world, Mom.” Sometimes we can achieve that, but most of the time we can’t. Sometimes they have dreads forming in the hair because it hasn’t been washed in three weeks; they scream and run away when it is teeth-brushing time; one sat on the other one’s hair and made him cry; or they decided they wanted to switch pajamas even though they’re totally different sizes. And why did I get a stupid glow-in-the-dark book in the first place?
This list could go on and on. Unmet expectations. Reaction. Frustrated moment. Reaction. Reaction. Reaction.
It’s difficult to shift away and learn tools to stop living from one reaction to the next without any say in what your mouth is spouting. Our kids deserve patience, love, and kindness. We deserve to give ourselves patience, love, kindness, and tools. Here are some tools that will help you snap out of snapping at your kids.
I can’t endorse meditation enough. It isn’t some mystical woo experience for hippies (at least, it’s not only this), it’s for CEOs, parents, tattoo artists, motorcycle club members, teachers, presidents, and so on. It’s for everyone. Meditation is simple in its most basic form. You focus on your breath or mantra or object. You breathe. You’re still. If you notice you have drifted off on a thinking tangent, you gently pull yourself back to your breath (or whatever your focus is). You do this over and over.
A great app that offers guided meditation is Headspace. Even just 10 minutes a day of this can create changes, and it gets easier and easier to become fully present without having to fight against thoughts constantly. Meditation changes your brain. Studies have proven how awesome meditation is for everyone. By meditating, you’re setting yourself up for a calmer life. You will still get irritable and have those reactions start to bubble up, but with meditation practice, you’ll be able to recognize that you’re getting worked up and have the capacity to make a choice in how you will respond.
These are killer. If you expect your three-year-old to be able to play independently for 30 minutes while you get work done, then you most likely will experience disappointed expectations. You’re setting yourself up for frustration.
If you expect your partner to come home from work, clean the house, switch the laundry over to the dryer, all without you telling this person that you want this done, you most likely will experience disappointed expectations.
Starting off each day, each moment even, with realistic expectations will save you a huge amount of frustration. Even clearly communicating unrealistic expectations isn’t going to help anything. Expect the unexpected. Go with the flow. The best part about meditation is that it allows you to become more flexible.
Communicate with yourself. It’s essential to constantly assess your emotional temperature. How am I feeling right now? Am I happy, patient, sad, or frustrated? Label the feeling. This will help to accept it and allow it to dissipate rather than go on a rampage.
You’re driving down the road and get cut off, you can say out loud (or in your head), “That makes me really frustrated. I wish people were more respectful,” rather than tailing them while flashing your lights or fingers at them.
Communication with those around you is also important. Instead of communicating unrealistic expectations (“I know you are only 12 months old, but I expect you to sit there quietly for the next 30 minutes”), communicate how you are feeling in a non-judgmental way.
You can’t expect to know how to do something perfectly that you’ve never done before (unless, of course, you have unrealistic expectations of yourself). Allow yourself room to grow and practice. We all fall off the wagon at times, we all mess up, and we all have an opportunity to make it right again. There’s always a time to own up to our mistakes to the person that we’ve wronged, even our children.
You can say to your child, “I was having a really hard time earlier. I felt really overwhelmed and I yelled at you guys. You didn’t deserve to be treated that way. I’m sorry. I’m working on it, and will try to do better.”
Saying to yourself that you will try to do better next time and then doing nothing but hoping for a better reaction the next time is also an unrealistic expectation. You can’t change and grow if you don’t put in the work. A seed in its packet will just remain a seed in its packet. A seed laid down on concrete will also, most likely, remain just a seed on concrete. You can’t expect it to grow and blossom if you don’t provide it with some tools and care.
There aren’t many get-rich-quick schemes when it comes to growth. You have to put in the work, be open to change, offer yourself a lot of patience, love, and forgiveness, and keep on trying. Meditation is probably the closest you will come to seeing quick results. Meditation reduces anxiety and boosts happiness, along with many other positive changes.
It’s also beneficial to acknowledge your triggers: hitting, whining, crying, messes, etc. Once you recognize your triggers you can become more aware during the instances in which you might become reactive. Acknowledging this before it happens puts you one step ahead of that reaction and will allow you to stop and “detach” yourself from that reaction, so to speak, like pulling Velcro apart. That reaction isn’t you, it isn’t who you want to be. That trigger isn’t an emergency (although that fight-or-flight response makes it feel like it is), it’s just a behavior. Separate yourself from all of it and find your center, your calm space.
A lot of times our triggers are the result of our own unmet needs we experienced in our childhoods. Were you yelled at for crying? Were you punished for hitting? Did your parents flip their lid when you made a mess even if you were just playing? Finding the source of the trigger helps you realize why you react the way you do, usually it’s a fight-or-flight response that was developed in your own childhood.
There you have it: meditate, assess expectations, communicate with yourself and others, take your emotional temperature frequently, and practice. You can do it. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you: authentic, open, empathetic, and kind.
This post was originally published here.