We’ve all had those days as a parent – the ones where we wish we could go into our bedroom and hide. Or drive to the nearest airport and catch a plane to… hell, anywhere! Just so long as it’s not here where the children are.
Some of us have those days more often than others. They’re the kinds of days that make us feel lousy. We feel like we’re failing as parents – and as people – and we end up feeling even more ‘parent guilt’ than normal. I had one of those days recently, and it got me thinking:
“What are we supposed to do when being a parent sucks?”
Here are five strategies for changing a parenting day that sucks into one that’s at least manageable, and may potentially turn into one that is absolutely awesome.
1. Use time-out
I’m not talking about the kids here. I’m talking about us – the grown-ups! Sometimes the best thing we can do for everyone’s sanity is go into our bedroom and hide.
Is it practical or realistic? Sometimes it’s not.
We can’t leave an infant screaming in the bath while we cower under the covers in our rooms. But if we can leave, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to get out. Go for a walk, take a bath, ring a friend – just clear your head. A few minutes alone may be all it takes to restore sanity. Plus, it might also send a clear message to the kids that you’re losing control, and that may be enough to prompt them to change what they’re doing for the better.
2. Down tools
You’re not failing if, every so often, you put off doing the laundry for another day. Buy dinner, let the kids go to bed without a bath, cancel school for the day and go to the beach or park. Cancel the piano lesson (unless you’re relying on it for a moment of peace and quiet).
Let go of your agenda. Sometimes a night off is what everyone needs – even if it’s a bit expensive or it adds to tomorrow’s workload. Maybe tomorrow will be easier because you let go a little today.
3. Get into the moment
This one can be hard to do when nothing’s working, but sometimes it’s precisely what is needed. The kids may be screaming, not eating, drawing on the couch, and everything else! If we can somehow stop ourselves from going nuts, and become involved (in a positive way) with our kids, sometimes things can calm down.
In fact, often things are going badly because we’re so distracted! So turn off the devices (if they’re on), put away the chores, and concentrate, wholly, on the kids. That little bit of extra emotional availability may be all it takes to change the climate of your family instantly.
4. Be the bigger person
Yes, I know you’re already one of the biggest people in the house, but that’s not what I am talking about here – and we both knew that didn’t we? This means that we have to accept that it may be our behaviour that is prolonging the issues we’re up against. Sure, our kids may have started it. And yes, they probably aren’t helping things. But we are almost certainly exacerbating things by being cranky, or yelling, or threatening, or…
Being the bigger person means we take ownership of our emotions, our reactions, and our behaviour. It means if we want today to stop sucking, we need to make it stop. And we do that by changing our responses, softening our tone, calming ourselves down, and being responsible adults!
5. See the world through their eyes
Recently my 11 year-old daughter was creating chaos. Her sisters were crying. She was shouting. Doors were slamming. And all this while I tried to soothe my exhausted toddler off to sleep. After repeated warnings and demands I was furious when fighting broke out again. But rather than screaming that her fighting was destroying our night, I paused for just a moment and tried to see what was going on for Miss 11.
I said to her, “You’re not coping with things very well tonight.” (What I wanted to say was, “You are driving me insane!”)
Her response: “I’ve had a really hard day today Dad. I’m tired. I feel sick. I had a fight with my friend at school. And I haven’t finished my school project.”
Seeing my 11 year-old’s challenge changed how I saw her. She was no longer an obstacle, a pain, a ‘thing’ interrupting my plans for the night. Instead, she was a real person, with real feelings, real wishes, and real difficulties. And she needed me. We cuddled and talked briefly, and then I explained that I would be all hers as soon as her little sister was asleep. Things calmed down, I was able to put her sister to sleep, and then we worked on her issues.
Some days parenting really sucks. It’s true. But we determine how much, and how long it sucks.
When we manage the hard parts of parenting well, they can often become our most enriching and rewarding experiences. And managing the tough days well makes our families happy. And when it doesn’t, perhaps hiding under the covers is the best option.