Let’s be honest here: when life is hard, when parenting feels like the hardest, most thankless job on this planet, finding joy can feel like pulling teeth (or downright impossible). And yet, there’s something to be said when you take a breath, step back, and try to find some small positive nugget in an otherwise unending gauntlet, trial of a day.
Because it works.
Because suddenly, when you find that one little piece, suddenly the world doesn’t seem quite so against you (or your children plotting to single-handedly destroy you). I mean, sure your day probably still sucked, you probably still yelled and lost your cool, and there were most likely tears (from the kids and you), but that one little piece, that one glimmering, positive thought, is like a beacon.
You’re doing what you can.
You are doing something in the direction you want, the kind of parent you want to be, in the way you want to be connected with your children. It’s not a whole lot, but that little glimmer is hope. And sometimes all we need is hope to keep from falling down into those dark pits of sadness and loneliness. (Hope and a few good, nonjudgmental friends who are willing listen while you pour your heart and failures out to them. These friends are essential, I’m telling you.)
Our “job” as parents, this role we’ve chosen, it’s 24 hours, 7 days.
You may have no breaks. You may have no family around to lean on. You may not have money to pay for a babysitter or a mother’s helper to give yourself a small ounce of a break or the essential connecting time with your spouse or loved one (without having to referee a knock-down, drag-out fight between kids or getting the toddler and his chocolate/sticky hands before he runs wild touching everything in your house). You may also, like me, have children who fall outside the normal, who walk to their own beat, who don’t care about society and their stupid boxes and decided to create one of their own (or hell, to just sit on top of the damn box).
This parenting role is hard.
This parenting role is also, incredibly so, joyful.
I am constantly reminding myself of this. When the day is upside down and all I want to do is crawl away and cry (you know, those kind of days), I still, somehow, try and remind myself… to find the hope, to find one little joyful moment. Even when I’m upset, when I’m at my rock-bottom lowest, I have this little voice in the back of my head reminding me: if you connect with them, you’ll feel better.
Sometimes, I’m in a position to do this. Sometimes, I still want to have a tantrum myself.
All that is good and easy to say, I know. ‘Hey! Just think happy thoughts and magically your mood will turn around you.’
Yeah. Parenting life don’t work that way, but there are a few things I’ve found that work.
Call a friend. Or text. Or whatever.
Just someone, a compassionate adult who you feel safe with to reveal the awfulness of the parenting moment you’ve just survived (or are trying to survive). Connect with an actual adult, a human being who can wipe their own butt, and let out those feelings to them. All of them.
You need to be heard. You need to be felt.
When I call Sean at work he almost always picks up (if he’s not in a meeting) because he knows I’m hitting the panic button and I need support. And often times, that little bit is all I need.
Journaling is good for this too, and so is actually writing out what your grateful for about your kids (I try to actually list what’s so frustrating, but in a positive light, a way that their temperament or actions is actually good for them). I’ll be honest, I don’t get to this nearly enough. I usually reserve journaling for those really hard times, when I can’t let go or when I’m so disappointed (in myself) or so worried/afraid. I write out what happened, throwing in every judgmental thought about myself (and my kids) that I can think of. Then, I state in facts, as if I were an observer without judgments what happened and why. I try to list what my feelings were in that moment, and the needs I had that weren’t being met (I do this the same with the kids). I then try and list what I could do differently next time. This isn’t to say next time will be perfect, but this exercise is really helpful in deconstructing the situation, helping me ‘get under the hood’ of why I reacted the way I did. It also gives me a plan for the future. Plans, though, especially with parenting (and especially when the tactic you’re taking hasn’t been hard-wired into from your own childhood) often fall apart. It’s called practice. The simple act of reflecting and thinking forward will give me the barest hint of a roadmap, but one that means if I keep on going, keep on trying, I will find success.
I’d journal more, if I could, but finding the quiet time in this house, with my little Eric getting into everything, isn’t working. I’ve decided to reserve the quiet moments for my own writing or my publishing business unless again, I’ve hit a really hard bump and I need that time for reflection.
I’ve also found that removing ourselves from the house, getting outside for some fresh air, is huge. To be honest, the house is generally the battleground that all these big emotions take place in. Which, makes sense. We all feel safest there. It’s also the place with a whole lot of rules (no, you can’t stand on the entertainment table, no we’re not having four bananas [or chocolate] for breakfast). By leaving the house, getting outside, getting movement… it satisfies a lot of our individual needs, even ones we may not be aware of. Eric might be needing more movement. Kate might be needing space from her Godzilla brother. I just need to be left alone god-damn it!
When we go on walks we automatically invite connection between us. The running ahead of me, glancing back and smiling. Or jumping in place and then looking at me to show me how darn cool that was. All of those moments, eye-blinks, really, are chances to reconnect as a family, to get us back to center after a particularly bumpy moment.
And with all seriousness, I’m the one who’s usually most resistant to reconnecting.
The kids, I swear, it’s like magic. The second the door opens and they go running down the hall barefoot, all is forgotten. All is forgiven. I’m the one still carrying the baggage. But by going on a walk, or going to the pool, it’s giving me enough space, enough time to mentally calm down. It’s enough to finally bring me back from that angry/frustrated place. And when I do, my kids, including Eric who is currently the source of much frustration, they’re waiting for me. With a smile. With complete joy and love in their face.
They’ve already forgiven me.
They’ve already moved on.
Now I just need act like a grown-up (or truthfully, like a child) and follow their lead.
Yes, I know, easier said than done. If you follow this blog you know my son is hitting right in the middle of the two’s, gets incredibly frustrated and physical (with me) when he doesn’t instantly get what he wants. He also doesn’t talk yet and that adds to his frustration. Sometimes it takes all of my control to not lose control (and some days/moments I’m way more successful than others).
But I keep trying.
I keep listening to that little voice: find the joy.
At least, I eventually do. I’m no miracle-worker over here. I’m generally overtired and overworked… and also so incredibly grateful to be home with my kids, to be helping them on their journey, one that is as different and unique as they are. Sometimes all I need is a 30 minute break of someone else stepping in and managing the toddler. Often, I don’t get that.
Those days are about surviving and doing the best I can with the resources I have.
I try to be honest with myself, and kind. Kindness because I’m not perfect, because I am tired and I am overwhelmed. And after I take those deep breaths or go outside and get some much needed movement in…
I see the absolute joy in Eric’s face. His complete love for me and his love of swimming and he wants to share that.
And I get to see his growth, his expanding awareness of the world, how he’ll jump on the couch and look at each adult in turn to make sure they saw just how awesome what he did was. Or his growing understanding (or maybe even just willingness) when we ask him to do something. Or how he’s finally got this potty training thing down.
Or Kate, who’s making leaps and bounds with language. How she’s answering simple questions now and how she will go to Eric when he’s upset, kneel down and rub his back saying, “It’s okay, Eric. It’s okay.”
Little moments of joy… little moments of success… even when we’re in the middle of some seriously hard times. Because, and I know it’s hard to remember in the moment, the times won’t always be bad. In fact, the very next moment can be an amazing one!
Parenting is all about the fluctuations, the movement. It’s a straight-up rollercoaster and it’s hard, especially when there’s only two adults doing everything… bringing home the bacon, actually cooking the bacon, the required house-cleaning, laundry, and never-ending dishes. And, let’s not forget the actual act of parenting. You know, teaching and guiding our young ones to be kind, caring individuals. Talk about a tall order here!
And as is often reminded to me, it’s when we make mistakes that we have the opportunity to learn the most. A mistake today, an unkind word or reaction today, means tomorrow you can do better. You can learn, about your kids, yourself, and then find a new way, a new path, for tomorrow.
Give yourself a bit of grace, my dear parent.
We are doing our best, every day, every moment.
Often times, all we need are those little moments, a little bit of space and quiet, to calm down and meet our children in that place of love, and forgiveness. Because really, they’re already there waiting for us. All we have to do is let go of our own feelings, all that frustration, anger, worry, and meet them with loving, open arms.
They always come running because they love us, for exactly who we are, as imperfect as we are.
Talk about a true gift.