Shoes are thrown across the hall, bouncing off the wall and skidding into the next room. A jumble of bags, coats, books, and random bits of string littering the floor is kicked aside. I am furious.
“Why can’t people pick their stuff up, just once?” I shout at no one in particular, my words echoing up the stairs though I suspect my daughters are shuttered away in their rooms, headphones drowning out my attempts to guilt them into clearing up.
“Okay,” my voice rises higher, frustration mounting. “I’ll do it myself. As always!”
There’s no denying it: parenting can be hard. From a newborn that never stops crying to high schoolers experimenting with sex and drugs, I don’t think there is a single period after you give birth when you can kick back, relax, and think, “ah, it’s not really so bad this parenthood thing, what was everyone stressing about?” I’m not there yet but I have a feeling they’ll still be causing me problems after they’ve left home and had children of their own.
But how do we get through those rough patches, the dark days, the lowest lows?
This is what I do: I channel someone.
What I mean by channel is I think of someone and try to behave how I think they would behave. Or I consider their lives and how much harder they have it than me, but yet they still cope. Basically I do anything and everything to stop feeling sorry for myself. Putting things into perspective is, I have found, the best way to cope when your toddler has just thrown the entire content of their dinner bowl on the floor, the dog has then eaten it and been sick, and the baby will only stop screaming when you pick her up.
So who do I channel? Who do I turn to in my head to help me get over myself and realize that I don’t have things that bad. I have two people – one real and one made up. You, of course, can chose whoever you want.
My real person is an old friend who recently lost her very sick son. I will call her Lisa. It was a heart-breaking situation, but in fact when I think of her, I think of what her life was like when he was still alive. I don’t channel her because I feel sorry for her – I channel her because she was someone who had an awful lot on her plate (she also has two other sons), and she just got on with it.
We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes in anyone’s life and for all I know my friend was doing what we all do when things get hard – silently screaming, locking herself in bathrooms, and packing her suitcase with the intention of running away forever.
But the person she presented to the world was one of an organized, efficient, no-nonsense mum with a great sense of humor, who loved her children and who gave them a great life despite the problems that had been thrown at her. And when my own children are having tantrums or kicking each other or refusing to wash their hair, or clean their teeth, or whatever the latest protest is about, I think to myself “how would Lisa cope?” It might be that Lisa would do exactly the same as I do nine times out of 10: shout at the kids, threaten them with something and never follow through, and run away to hide from the problem. But whatever she did – or didn’t do – I am sure it wouldn’t be the end of the world because to her these are normal, everyday problems. As opposed to the never-ending difficulties she had to cope with around her son.
The other person I channel doesn’t exist. I have made her up. I don’t really know when or where I first got the idea for this person but they are probably an amalgamation of a few different women I have seen by the roadside on my travels or on television documentaries about poverty. This woman lives in a tiny shack with her partner and several (probably three or four at least) children. She has to get up before dawn, she has to work hard all day, every day, she has to sleep on a room with her entire family. She has very little and has to make it go a long way.
I don’t have a name for this woman. She is just someone I have created to make me realize that however crappy my day is, however much I resent having to still do the dishes, the ironing, and cleaning the floor at 10 at night even though all I want to do is collapse on the sofa, she will always have it worse than me. And in my imagination, this woman wouldn’t let something as unimportant as a tantrum or a pile of dog sick stop her.
You don’t have to conjure up these exact people. Think of someone whose courage or endurance or cheerfulness in the face of adversity you admire. Perhaps think of your own mother, parenting at a time without all the modern conveniences like 24-hour cartoon networks or baby food that comes in pouches. Or make up your own. Maybe some tough Stone Age mama carrying a baby on her hip while she picks berries and tries to escape from a hungry saber tooth tiger.
It might all sound a bit far-fetched but try it. Parenting problems can seem overwhelming when we are in the thick of it and things like tiredness and isolation add to our feelings of helplessness. But there will always be someone in the world in a worse situation than us and putting our issues into perspective can only help us get over them.
Or, if nothing else, by the time you have spent 10 minutes making up some poor woman living in an isolated forest shack somewhere with no running water and eight mouths to feed, your kids will have stopped fighting and you can carry on with your day.