Making the Days Smoother: A Tip for Parents that Might Help

Many parents are now living full time with their kids. Here’s a parenting tip that helped me when I first started living with my kids around the clock.

When I was first adjusting to being with my kids around the clock, something I found helpful was this: I leaned into my kids.

When I found myself getting frustrated and ready to be mean to them, I stopped everything else I was doing (even if it meant cold cereal for dinner and leaving half cooked food on the stove) and hung out with them. I kept a mental list of stuff I most enjoyed doing with them- maybe it was watching TV, going for a walk, or snuggling in bed while we looked at books.

It worked every time. Because really, it was never them I was frustrated with. It was always something else. It was just easier to blame them.

The more I did this, the more I started to identify what was really causing me to lose it each day. I could then evaluate it. Why was I trying to control so many things? Was the result of our fight over “screen” time really less damaging than “screen” time? Was the tension and pressure I put on that second cupcake less harmful than (I believed) the second cupcake was? (Through intense personal research I’ve learned the solid and unrefutable answer to both of those is no. Click here for more.)

Where do we go from here? Well, it’s probably best to retire the idea that the amount of time teens spend on social media is a meaningful metric influencing their wellbeing. (Click here for the whole article.)

The Parenting Tip is Not Permissive Parenting

Sometimes people think this means we are permissive parents. I assure you, we are not. What leaning into my kids allowed me to do is figure out what was really upsetting me, learn about it, and make a far healthier and more informed choice- choices that allow my kids to learn so much more than if I had chosen another route.

This isn’t something that can be learned in a month or two. It took me years. (Click here for more.) It’s also harder to do if you are working full time from home. You can’t always drop what you are doing to lean in. Maybe you can more often than you think, though.

What I can say is that this small-but-not-so-simple act set me on a course to improve myself and my relationships with my kids (and them with each other) in ways I never could have dreamed of.

Not everyone can do this. Not everyone wants to. Maybe, though, if you find yourself really struggling with your kids day after day after day you could give it a try and see what happens.

One More Parenting Tip

Remember to look at their faces while you hang out. Listen to what they are saying. Ask questions that you genuinely want to know the answers to. Back off when they are done answering. Don’t be annoying. Don’t make it about you or about insituting some thing you have ready is good for every child. Don’t ask something just because a parenting article says it’s a good question. Don’t follow anything just because a parenting article says you should!

These times aren’t easy and I’m in no way pretending there’s a quick or easy fix to make the days smoother. Maybe it could be just a little bit easier than we think, though, and maybe leaning in is something we can try more easily than we suspect.

If you’d like to hear more about how parents who spend all day every day with their kids are are happy, calm, engagend, and keep things mostly connected and smooth, here are some wonderful thoughts from one of my favorite people in the world, Martha:

 

The Motherhood Groove

I was blindsided by motherhood. I had no idea how much it would change my life.

Before my oldest child was born, I was committed to keeping my life as it was whether children were a part of it or not. I held fast to my commitment to read, work, keep up with the house, maintain my relationships with friends, and my husband.

Then Owen was born. And I was not prepared.

For the connection I would feel for him, the way that life was only right when he was peaceful and touching me, the fact that with the birth of my first child, my eyes would be replaced with new ones.

Motherhood GrooveEvery desire that I had before children became distant in my mind, seldom receiving any consideration.  All that mattered to me was that Owen was comfortable and content.

I am not embarrassed by this. I do not feel ashamed that my priority suddenly became my children. I feel grateful. Now.

But for the first months, and years, I tried to maintain it all. I tried to work, and stay connected with my “self” (the definition of which was my pre-child self) and not let life change.

Of course, life had already changed and I was just pretending.

Twenty six months later my daughter was born and as she began needing attention I became a maniac. I tried desperately to meet the needs of both of my children all of the time.

I was constantly stressed. Even if both kids were sleeping, I was beating myself up over the way I had handled a situation or I was prepping the house for when they woke up.

I was either making lunch, putting away toys, or planning an activity. Anything to free up my energy and time so that it could all be devoted to them when they woke.

Somewhere during this time I stopped working. Entirely. I tried to take my children on outings planned around nap times and snacks and enroll them in music class.

My inability to accept that life had changed created both an inner struggle and tension between my children and I.  My life had no rhythm, and though I tried, I could not find a groove.

Then, without planning or realizing it,  Sydney’s napping became more predictable and Owen spent more time playing on his own. The house began to stay organized more easily as Owen began to consistently pick up after himself, and Sydney.  I became calmer. And several months ago, I realized that things were getting easier.

Owen and Sydney started playing together- frequently and for close to an hour at times. I often just sat and watched them. Amazed.  Mornings could be spent reading books together, watching a movie with popcorn or doing laundry.

Owen and Sydney joined in to help me prepare lunch.

As blocks were turned into structures, I sat on the couch in front of my children.  I read my book, or caught up with friends on Facebook. Music played quietly in the background.

Instead of cries of frustration and prayers of desperation, giggles and conversation became regular. Suddenly, it seemed that not only did I love my children, but I loved Motherhood.

As I reflect now on life since Owen was born, I realize there was nothing magical about this transformation. I gave up lots of preconceived notions about how things “should be”, and started doing what felt right to me, and made my children happy.  Expectations were altered or eliminated all together.  This removed unnecessary resistance and chaos from our lives and changed our dynamic.

We were no longer trying to force an outcome, we were going with what was in front of us. This is not who I am at my core.  Or, not who I was.  I am learning.

Every day is not perfect and neither am I.  I cop to my weaknesses and shortcomings regularly. But mostly now, I enjoy each day. Grateful for this amazing life-for spending most of my moments with my children. By choice.

And when Sydney turned two just a few weeks ago, instead of being filled with a feeling of bittersweet that she was getting older, I was filled only with joy, that my baby is so happy.

Because now I know that I am not fighting motherhood, that I am comfortable, gratefully sinking into it. That I appreciate nearly every moment and am giving my children the best part of myself.

The regret that I so frequently felt when Owen was two is now replaced with confidence. An assurance that comes from knowing  my children are more calmly loved and appreciated.

Instead of ending each day thinking of how I will do better tomorrow, I end it smiling with the knowledge that I have finally found my Motherhood Groove.

 

Adjusting to Two Children: I Cried

It was 7:00 on Friday and both kids were asleep.  I came downstairs, sat down and I cried.  I cried like my high school boyfriend had just dumped me.  I knew that it was going to happen.  As soon as I felt my son drift off to sleep, emotion overtook me.

My husband had been away all week.  He left on Monday to return late Friday night.  Kris travels regularly, so I’m used to it.  But, this was a long week.  The weather was unlikely in July and unheard of in September.

The rain and humidity were intense, and at my request the air conditioners had been taken out the weekend before.  Given that we bed share and nurse, the heat made it too uncomfortable for either of my two children or me to sleep.  The morning after Kris left I got a cold that quickly turned into a sinus infection.

All in all I had done relatively well while being the only parent at home, particularly with these additional challenges.  However, my “relative” is not one that I like to use for comparison.

adjusting to life with two children I criedJust after Sydney was born the adjustment to having two children was difficult for me.  There was a slight return of my postpartum depression, but mostly the hard transition was due to my total lack of ability and unpreparedness to nurture two children.

My precious, wonderful, beautiful first born whom I had given everything to before Sydney came, must have been heart broken during these months. I know with certainty that the guilt from how I handled that time will never subside.  My patience had evaporated, and my praise and adoration must have felt like a distant dream for Owen.

For the first time in his life he had been yelled at, ignored, and repeatedly ordered to be quiet.  My precious, innocent, vulnerable, trusting little boy who gave nothing but love, and trusted me fully and completely with his life, emotional health and general well-being.

I was Owen’s world and his world was ruined.

My behavior this week with Kris away reminded me of what my first baby had to go through after his sister was born.  I’ve heard that every child has difficulty adjusting to family expansion.  For my family, my child adjusted just fine, it was me who couldn’t adjust, and it was my beloved first born, who suffered the consequences.

Those who had been through it before me could pseudo counsel me that my son was “just adjusting, he would get better, things would get better.”  He was my innocent, unsuspecting, undeserving scapegoat.  But this is what they had to tell me. What else was there to say?

And so, tonight I cried.  I cried because I couldn’t be the mother my son deserved and because I miss the uninterrupted bond that we used to have.  I cried because I would have life no other way than to have my daughter in it, and because I feel like I am missing so much of Owen’s development, as well as Sydney’s.

I cried because I can already see the love between my son and my daughter and it is the most beautiful thing I could never have imagined.  Mostly though, I cried because these gifts that I have been given, these wondrous lives that have been entrusted to me, deserve so much more than I can give them.  More patience, more nurturing, more explanation, more play time, more knowledge, more of everything wonderful, positive and beautiful in life.Things could be so easy if we had only had one child.  The bond between Owen and I would be so strong, and I can imagine the person he would be.  Still, I can’t imagine the person he would be without his sister.  And that is what allows me to eventually fall asleep at night.

After a long time, the crying subsided and I vowed that I would not let this emotion be lost.  I would store it away and draw from it the next time I was faced with the perfect storm of challenging behavior from my son, and my diminished patience.  I would remember that Owen only wanted my attention, my love, for our relationship to be what it was before.

Eventually, I did stop sobbing.  I thought about the wonderful moments of pure enjoyment Owen and I had shared earlier that day.  That while the babysitter was here I chose to take Owen with me instead of getting some desperately needed alone time and that our time was brilliant while we were together.

Somehow this dimmed the awfulness that my son endured from me over the week.  My tears, as they always do, ran out, and though my eyes remained red, I got myself together. I filed my feelings from the week away, a reserve of fuel during the next storm.

Then I opened the wine.