I recently lost it with my kids. And by lost it, I mean tears, lots of them, streaming into the pancake batter I was stirring — yum.
At 6 a.m., my 4-year-old came into the bedroom, “Mama, we’re ready to get up!” he said. After I hauled my 32-week-pregnant belly out of bed, I found him on the top bunk with a piece of paper. “It’s a list, just like in Frog and Toad!” he said, his eyes bright. My boy had crossed off “wake up” and “get mama.” Next on the list was, “get dressed.” Across the room, in his crib, my 2-year-old was lifting his butt up in the air in a down dog position and then collapsing and giggling.
But within 15 minutes, everything turned, like a storm cloud unleashing hail in my kitchen. “Mama, I want breakfast!” my 2-year-old yelled. “What would you like?” I asked. I’m pretty sure he said pancakes, but when I repeated pancakes, he said, “NO!” and started to cry. He cried for 20 minutes, stopping occasionally to scream about his milk cup, “GET IT FOR ME!”
Then my 4-year-old lost his list. “Mama,” he said, his lower lip trembling. “I can’t find my list, will you help me?” I tried to help him, but then my 2-year-old, still crying and following me, wanted me to hold him. Then the 4-year-old wanted milk. And then, I’m pretty sure I heard my in-utero boy crying too.
You know what I wanted? I wanted to eat. And man did pancakes sound good. I was trying to add ingredients to the bowl when I couldn’t take it anymore. My husband got out of the shower and saw me — mussed up hair, red eyes. “Are you OK?” he asked, wrapped in a towel. I shook my head. “You aren’t going to quit the team, are you?” Our little joke always makes us laugh, but that morning, I bowed my head and the tears flowed.
Mornings like these are rare and they sap every ounce of my soul — and all I can do is cry. But over the past four years, I’ve discovered a few skills to help me be a better mom to my nonsensical toddlers.
1. Focus on the positive – and cultivate my own interests
I used to be a journalist, but then we relocated to the California desert for my husband’s job when my first child was 11 months old. It was hard to leave a job that I loved, and even harder to leave friends. And now I was a (gulp!) stay-at-home mom, something I never expected (and soon loved). But I knew that I would have to find something that fulfilled beyond motherhood.
I practiced photography and won an amateur photo contest for capturing a hummingbird hovering at a feeder. I learned how to crochet and made a blanket I now snuggle under. I took every pottery class I could find — and am close to opening an Etsy shop. If I do one thing a day for me, it helps me relax and not resent having left a career to be at home.
2.. Let go of the little annoyances
I have learned to let go of the small things that drive me crazy — well, mostly. One recent annoyance: My 4-year-old loves to do projects with Scotch tape, and before I know it, he has used the whole role in one sitting, taping together construction paper in all different shapes. “Look mom, it’s a dinosaur!”
It used to irritate me, because Scotch tape isn’t cheap, and because when I need it, I can never find it. But I decided to change my mindset: Scotch tape is better than any toy I can buy for him. And why would I discourage creativity, independence, and an activity that’s good for his development? I realized that I needed to buy more Scotch tape, put some away for me and then let him be his little awesome self.
3. Think about how I nourish myself, and my kids
With more than two cups of caffeine, my patience goes down the drain with the egg shells. It's the same with too much sugar – once it wears off, my energy dwindles and I'm less capable of handling whining or meltdowns. My 4-year-old probably thinks I’m the sugar police, even though he always gets a treat after dinner (and yes, we do sometimes go to Starbucks for chocolate milk in the morning).
But I often find myself saying things like, “I’m not buying that for you, it has too much sugar.” And, “No, you may not have the leftover orange juice our guests left here — it’s full of sugar.” Maybe it will come back and bite me someday, and my son will binge on sugar as a teenager. But for now, full tummies of mostly healthy foods keep all of us as calm as can be — until we’re tired.
4. Read something positive and supportive about parenting every day
On Facebook, I follow Janet Lansbury, who wrote No Bad Kids among others, because her method resonates with me. And that means I read a blog post about parenting every single day. (Yes, sometimes I’m that mom looking at her phone and ignoring her kids so I can find out how to be a better mom – oh the irony!)
The posts are usually about slowing down, cultivating patience, and remembering this time spent raising children is short. Sometimes the post serves to remind me that I’m the adult, and my kids are just that -- little kids. Reading these daily posts helps to keep me sane.
5. Ignore the kids and see what happens
Often I’ll disappear into the other room — a little, "Now you see me, now you don’t!” — and see what happens. I’ll stand in a doorway, spying on them, suppressing any cough or sneeze, or even holding my breath.
More often than not, the kids surprise me. My 4-year-old will get out the play dough and help his little brother. Or they’ll quietly play trains together. Or I’ll hear, “I WANT IT!” from my 2-year-old, and a negotiation will ensue, followed by giggles. Being a little bit hands-off can yield great results — and those few minutes of stolen time help me feel normal again.
6. Get outside
It’s true that I think fresh air is important for the kids, and I put a premium on it. But the truth is, it’s good for me, too. And what’s good for me, is good for them.
I spend time getting dirty in the garden, or taking them on hikes in the foothills. I'll find any excuse to be outside, with the kids in tow. Generally, we’re all the happier for it.
7. Always, always, always remember they’re just little kids
Like the ticker on CNN, I have a banner that runs through my mind. They’re the same words and I see them all day long, “They’re just kids!”
So when they ram one of those tiny shopping carts into my heel at the grocery store, and I want to pummel them like I would have an opponent on the soccer field 20 years ago, I stare at that ticker in my mind, “They’re just kids!”
Instead of following my initial reaction and being aggressive, I calm down and respond reasonably, reminding them to be careful. But I try not to yell, or go on about just how much it hurt, or the inevitable bruise I'll have on my heel. They're just kids, and they didn’t mean to run me over.
Or did they?