Parenting can be exhausting and frustrating, even when nobody is doing anything specifically “wrong.” Just the general chaos and noise of parenting can start to drain you. If you’re like me, that draining feeling can turn to anger pretty easily.
I don’t want to parent angry. I work pretty hard to avoid it. That means making room for self-care and taking breaks as needed.
I worry that as mothers we feel like we can’t take a break. Like, we literally CAN’T or something terrible will happen. If we aren’t looking directly at our children 100% of the time, they won’t survive. No wonder we’re feeling exhausted and angry. I just don’t think it has to be that way.
I wanted to share with you a little sanity saving practice I utilize to keep my head above water when I feel like I’m drowning in the needs of children. First, let me paint a picture for you:
It’s 5:15 and dinner is still 45 minutes away. You’ve been dealing with kid drama most of the day and you’ve about had it with the whining and irrational tears. One kid decided to skip their nap and is now irritable about everything. One came home from school grumpy and with too much homework. Two kids have been bickering off and on for an hour. One kid is practicing trumpet (WHY DID WE GIVE THE LOUDEST KID THE LOUDEST INSTRUMENT??). You are making dinner, refereeing the conflicts, passing out snacks, figuring out whose turn it is to pick a cartoon, and also trying to respond to a work email. Oh, and there are also some neighbor kids coming in and out. You are pretty close to some kind of nervous breakdown.
This is my life most late afternoons/early evenings. If that’s not your reality, congratulations. You are living the dream. I know for many of us, there comes some moment in the day when it just gets to be too much. Maybe it’s during dinner prep, maybe it’s late evenings, maybe it’s right before lunch. Whenever it is, you can feel your internal temperature start to rise and you know you just might snap at the next kid to ask you to untangle their yo-yo string.
So here’s what I do:
I walk out of my house.
I know, crazy right? I walk out of my house and sit on my front porch until I feel ready to go back in, or until a kid comes out and finds me. I usually take a reheated cup of coffee with me and just sip and breath a little. This gives me just enough of a moment to regroup. I can hear the muffled chaos still happening inside the house and it will even strike me as funny—the tears, the trumpet, the sound of someone playing Angry Birds. . . it’s kind of humorous how ridiculous my life is.
I’ll take that moment and think about something else. I’ll notice the birds overhead or the leaves on the ground. I like to look at the sky because I spend so much of my day looking down—down at small children, down at dirty dishes, down at the laundry I’m folding. Looking up pulls me out of my self-focus and reminds me there’s a big world out here. It feels reorienting.
I stop and think about what’s happening in the house. Do I need to intervene with those squabbling siblings or can they work it out? Does that crying child need a snuggle moment on the couch before I get back to putting vegetables on the stove? Is it maybe time to put the trumpet away until later? I can reenter the house with a sense of intentionality and purpose instead of feeling out of control.
All of this generally takes less than five minutes. That’s how long it takes me to feel calm again. I time it by how long it takes for either me to get cold (in the fall and winter) or how long it takes before a kid comes out and finds me (in the spring and summer, although there are often more of my kids outside than inside the house, in which case I may spend my break in the bathroom). In that short time, I have never had a major catastrophe occur. Nobody has been injured, the stove hasn’t exploded, conflicts haven’t escalated unreasonably, the kids haven’t felt abandoned.
Sometimes we overestimate our children’s need for direct supervision. What if we took a little breather? What if we just walked out to the porch and shut the door behind us until we were calmer, better mothers? What if we didn’t allow our kids in the bathroom with us? What if we created moments of space for our own thoughts?
Here’s my confession: I had to learn this lesson early with my children. I have had moments where a baby had been screaming for longer than my spirit could handle. I have set that baby in the crib and walked out for a minute. Then I came back and we were both better for it. It kills me when I see moms parenting with the belief that they can’t take that minute to walk away. They are worried they will cause their children brain damage or some such nonsense if they aren’t constantly present. I think walking away at times allows us to avoid doing things we’d regret that might actually be damaging. That moment I’m gone can allow me to take a breath, remind myself this is a child communicating the only way they know how, I can pep talk myself back into being the great mom I know how to be. If I don’t feel the freedom to take that minute, I’m much more likely to parent out of frustration and anger in ways that will be much more damaging than my temporary absence.
I believe taking that little time-out allows me to reengage with my kids from a position of health. I am not yelling. I’m not angry. I’m better able to discern what are problems that need solving and what’s just kid chaos that I can leave alone.
I can easily buy into the idea that I need a vacation to feel refreshed. I need date nights and massages and pedicures. Those are all lovely ideas, but I don’t have money for those things and I don’t have time as often as I’d like. When we set those as the standards for how we accomplish self-care or how we can get recharged, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment with unreasonable expectations that are always just out of reach. But could you take a five minute break today? Could you do it during the height of the chaos and frustration? Could you just walk out, shut the door, and look at the sky for a minute?
I think you can.