It should come naturally with adulting. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t. Having a kid or two only seems to make it worse. Much worse. I’m talking about being in control of our emotions when things aren’t going quite as planned.
When the to-do list is a mile long, the toddler is pounding on the floor like an overzealous percussionist, the baby is screaming like a fangirl at a Justin Bieber concert, and you’re trying to get out the door with a diaper bag, a car seat and what’s left of your sanity, you may find yourself in the throes of a mommy meltdown. It may involve slammed doors, really loud words, ugly crying, and eating your way through a sleeve of Oreos. When the dust settles, it always involves guilt.
Honestly, if the story of my life were a three-line meme, it would read: "I was a Zen person. Then I had kids. The End."
I’m not being facetious. It’s like kids know exactly which buttons to push. They’re like the glassy-eyed scientists in the movies who know the sequence of switches to launch a nuclear missile. Except, in this case, Matt Damon doesn’t swoop in to disengage the warhead just as the world is about to explode.
Momplosions happen, and the only audience is a couple of bewildered kids who wonder why mommy is acting so strange.
We don’t want to set a pattern of uncontrolled emotions for our children. How do we handle those moments that push us over the edge?
While I’m no expert, life experience (my kids are a bit older now) and research have brought to light some practical ideas of the before, during, and after of these mommy meltdowns.
Take some things off your plate
Don’t roll your eyes just yet. Yes, I get it: Your family needs clean undies. Yes, dinner needs to be somewhat edible. Yes, you have to make that Target run when you’re down to the last diaper. But not every single thing needs to get checked off that list. Take a long hard look at your to-do's and give yourself permission to start hacking. I know it sounds distinctly un-American to not have your child play a sport or go to a ballet class. But maybe this season your child misses Peewee Soccer. Give library story time a pass and read books at home in your PJs. You know your schedule. And you know what can be nixed. The world may see you as slacker mom. But there are little eyes who see so much more.
Ask for help
It’s humbling. It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel stupid. But, sometimes, it’s okay to retire the Supermom cape. Ask a friend if she can watch your kids once a week (and do the same for her). Divert your Starbucks fund to hire a house cleaner once in a way. Ask your mom-in-law if she can watch the kids while you treat yourself to a quiet moment. Sure, the kids may be a bit sugared up when you get home, but it’s so worth it.
Accept that you’ll be late
There’s a special edition of Murphy’s law for parents. Just when you’ve strapped the three-year-old into his car seat, he will declare he needs to go potty. Mommies the world over have testified to this strange phenomenon. For someone like me who is paranoid about being on time, accepting that I’ll be late was a huge challenge. But the sooner you realize that it saves your sanity, the better. At first, you’ll wince and smile apologetically while you explain your tardiness. Then you realize there’s a whole tribe of you who chronically late and sleep deprived and that it’s going to be okay.
Even after you’ve done all that you could to avoid potentially explosive situation, it happens. You feel like you’re going to go over the edge any minute. You recognize that you’re at the very point of no return. What do you do?
Give yourself a time out
Time outs aren’t just for little people. Hand the kids over to your spouse or put them in front of a screen – and take yourself out of the situation that’s making you break into hives. Here’s the thing, though: You need to use the time to re-calibrate, and to embrace the emotions of the moment. Just like your toddler in time out is not allowed to play with his toys, stay away from your favorite toy (your phone, perhaps?). Staring at a screen is just going to raise your blood pressure and make you more tired. Give yourself permission to breathe. And, no, you can’t fold the laundry while breathing.
Don’t express it
That’s right. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to vent to get it off your chest. Research shows that expressing anger while we are angry actually makes us more angry. But you didn’t need a study to tell you that. You’ve seen that once the lid is off and the words are being poured out, there’s no stopping the flow. So, wait it out. When you speak to your child later, you’ll be disciplining from a place of controlled emotion, rather than anger.
Despite your best efforts and all the pro tips in the world, there are going to be times when you say things you don’t mean. You feel like an ogre – and not the cute kind from Shrek.
Get down on the floor, look your child in the eye and say you’re sorry. Parents mess up. And parents apologize. We pick up the pieces and try to do better the next day. And the next. Our kids may not know how we tried to stop the yelling. But they will remember that when mom messed up, she always said she was sorry. That’s a precious lesson we can teach our children.
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.