“Patience is a virtue.” I don’t remember which elementary school teacher of mine used to say this, but I remember hearing it a lot as a child. Perhaps it’s the millennial in me, but this is not my strong suit. When I want something, I want it now. When I start eating healthy and working out, I expect to be a size four by the end of the week. When I order something online, I start tracking the shipment immediately. I’m the kind of person who studies checkout lines intently and will send my husband to one while I wait in another in an attempt to limit our line-waiting time as much as possible. Patience is just not in my nature, but I never truly realized how little I possess until I found myself with a toddler.
Calvin started testing the boundaries a little when he was a crawler, but they day he started walking, our lives were never the same. All non-board books had to be either hidden or donated for fear of destruction. Decorative collectibles and souvenir trinkets were quickly broken or packed away. Picture frames became toys, pots and pans became drum sets, and decorative blankets became napkins. Everything suddenly felt like chaos, which did not bring out the best in my anxious, impatient, slightly obsessive self.
As we entered this messy, chaotic, sometimes dangerous stage, we also found ourselves on the cusp of the dreaded tantrum stage. As he continued his mischievous ways, leaving me often feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, he began expressing his feelings of frustration with me as well. He’d ask for a banana, I’d give him a banana. Then he’d throw himself on the ground because he didn’t actually want a banana, he wanted yogurt. Scenes like this were playing out daily, leaving both of us feeling frustrated and out of control. He’d be on the ground crying, I’d be holding back a scream. It was tense. It was unpleasant. Worst of all, it was cyclical. He’d make a mess. I’d get stressed out. He wouldn’t get his way. He’d get frustrated. I’d get overwhelmed. Then we all cry and do it again.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t teach Calvin to effectively manage his emotions if I wasn’t capable of effectively managing my own, so after a little research, I started my mindfulness journey. I hopped on Amazon and ordered a book entitled Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham. Dr. Markham explains, “If, instead, we can stay mindful – meaning we notice our emotions and let them pass without acting on them- we model emotional regulation, and our children learn from watching us….You can count on finding yourself hijacked by fight-or-flight hormones at times, but if you can train yourself to notice when you start to lose it, you have the choice to return yourself back to a state of equilibrium. That peaceful place inside ensures that our actions are wise and loving.” Isn’t this what we all want? Don’t we dream of being peaceful and wise as we parent? She goes on to give practical advice for each stage of parenting, but rewiring how you respond to your feelings of frustration, anger, etc. is NOT. EASY. It’s a battle for me every time.
Since starting my “mindfulness journey,” I’ve experienced times in which I was able to stop, recognize my frustration, analyze its source, take deep breaths, and respond to the situation like a goddess of Zen. For example, yesterday Calvin was angry that I wasn’t playing with him while I was trying to clean house, and I was frustrated that he kept pulling at my shorts and whining. At one point, he made me drop a vacuum attachment, and dust went everywhere. I just wanted to yell and cry and drop our vacation money on a maid service. Instead, I stopped what I was doing, acknowledged how Cal and I were feeling, and talked to him. I said, “I know you’re feeling mad. I know you want Mommy to play with you. I want to play with you too, but I have to get some chores done. Let’s read one book together. Then you can decide if you want to stay in your room and play or go watch a video.” It was a beautiful moment, right out of a parenting how-to, if I do say so myself, and, better yet, it worked! But….there have been other times….times when I didn’t want to freaking breathe or analyze feelings or have rational baby discussions. I just wanted to scream, so I did.
I’m really hard on myself after I lose it. I feel like a failure, like a horrible mother, like an out-of-control she-monster who is undoubtedly scarring her child for life. I’ve come to know this “mom guilt” all too well, but I have to stop, in times of calmness, and acknowledge that I’m doing my best. I’m reading and praying and sharing and listening and doing all I know how to do to be the best mama I can be, but I have to accept that I’m going to fall short sometimes. And, maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’ll teach my son that nobody’s perfect. Maybe because of it, he won’t be so hard on himself when he’s older. Maybe? I don’t actually know, but I can count on one thing: I will get mad again. I’ll try to be better next time and the time after that, but, more importantly, I’ll try to cut myself some slack. I think that will bring me peace as well, and I hope you too can cut yourself some slack. Perhaps, next time we feel angry or frustrated, we take a deep breath, and, before analyzing our feelings, we remind ourselves that we’re doing our best and that our babies will always know love.
May peace be with you…and that tiny human of yours.