Maybe you’ve experienced a scenario like this before:
After knocking yourself out to plan a special event for you and your children to enjoy in a fun and meaningful way, they’re not responding quite as you had hoped. Instead of cooperating, expressing gratitude and looking on with wide-eyed interest as you guide them through this much anticipated experience, they are either whiny and uninterested or hyper and fighting about who gets to go first, stand next to mommy, use the blue spatula, sit by the window, etc. Finally, after what feels like an eternity of holding your breath, you lose it, and the whole thing deflates like a balloon.
It’s 7 p.m. and you are the only adult in the house. No one has had dinner yet, and all you can think about is crawling into bed with a good book and a relaxing cup of tea. One child is in front of a screen when they should be doing their homework, another child is begging for food but doesn’t want anything you’re offering, and another child just told you they need to make a poster TONIGHT for their special report TOMORROW — and there’s no poster board in the house. You’ve been keeping it together for the last 13 hours, but now everything is unraveling, and you lose it. Again.
What is the common thread in both of these examples? (Besides aggravating children.) Mom is trying so hard to be happy, calm and patient for such a long period of time and under such stressful circumstances that she ultimately snaps under the weight of her own inability to bend to reality. (Reality being that she is not infinitely patient.)
I’m assuming you can relate. Why does this happen to so many of us over and over again, and what can we do about it? Maybe nothing more than a little bit of self-awareness and giving ourselves the permission to be human. Of course, modeling self-control and good behavior for our children is important, but it may be equally helpful for them to see that Mom has strong feelings too and see how to deal with them when they come along.
- Give yourself permission to be human. Situations like the two above remind me of how big earthquakes occur in areas where there are very few smaller ones. Without an occasional release of tension, pressure builds up over time until — wham! — the “big one” hits. We operate in much the same way. If we don’t release tension in small ways throughout the day, we may be setting ourselves up for a massive “earthquake” later. I think it’s important to realize that as much as we would like to have infinite patience, we don’t. We definitely have our limits. Letting off a little steam here and there and respecting our limits will make everyone much happier.
- Find healthy ways to let off steam. The tried-and-true preventative solutions you would expect to hear (and rightly so) are getting enough sleep, exercising, having social outlets, etc., but what if you’re already doing those things and still find yourself losing control? I would love to hear your ideas, but the most basic things that have worked for me in the past are excusing myself from the room (perhaps storming out of the room with a look of wild rage in my eyes is a more apt description) to go beat a countertop or scream into a pillow somewhere. Sometimes it’s just got to be done, and it’s better than beating your kids or screaming at your husband. (Or vice versa!) In less extreme situations I like to ask myself questions such as, “Is this going to matter in a year?” and then make light of the situation whenever possible.
- Keep the blame person-neutral. Knowing your children are acting in an age-appropriate way can save your mental health. Getting mad at them because they are tired/hungry/overstimulated is frustrating for both of you, and blaming them for their “bad” behavior when you’ve inadvertently set them up to fail doesn’t make sense either. It takes the pressure off both you and your child when you can simply chalk up the craziness to fatigue, hunger, miscommunication, procrastination or whatever else may be setting everyone off. Go ahead and label the culprit (to learn from the experience), but remember that it’s rarely a person.
- Apologize after flipping out. Remember: To flip out is human; to apologize, divine. (I took a few liberties with that quote.) After giving yourself a time-out, tell your kids that sometimes mommies throw tantrums too, and you’re sorry for your behavior. Obviously the phrases “time-out” and “mommy had a tantrum” don’t go over well with older kids and teenagers, but I’m sure you can figure out a dialogue that works for them. A simple, ”I’m sorry I acted like a crazy person back there” is more than enough. After apologizing, it’s time to forgive yourself and move on.
- Rebound with as little fuss as possible. Take a page from your child’s book and get over “it” as quickly as possible. We’ve all seen the tear-stained face of a young child plastered with a big, happy grin. They are so anxious to move beyond the negative and get back to feeling happy that they can do so quickly and easily. Dwelling on negative feelings or beating yourself up for perceived weaknesses does nothing to help you or your children. Endlessly dwelling on negative experiences gives them more meaning and control over you; don’t go there. Remember: You’re human, and humans fall apart sometimes. Who cares? Now it’s time to get back up and continue being your usually fabulous self.
Don’t these ideas just make you feel so much lighter than trying to force yourself to be more patient than emotionally possible? Give yourself permission to be human, find healthy ways to blow off steam when needed, keep the blame person-neutral, apologize for your bad behavior, and then get back to being your usually fabulous self. Sounds good to me!
QUESTION: Don’t you find that the harder you try to be perfectly patient, the more likely you are to lose it? When was the last time you experienced a big “earthquake” in your life? What caused it? What strategies have you used to stave off those experiences?
CHALLENGE: By all means, try to avoid having frequent meltdowns in front of your children, but when you do, remember that it’s normal, apologize, and then get back up in the saddle as quickly as possible.