How to parent your best when you're at your worst
I don't know about you, but when things are running smoothly I'm a pretty good mom. And when my kids are at school or with a babysitter, I'm a damn near perfect mom. But the minute things start to unravel, my kids start waking at night, schedules get busier or something disturbs the routine... that's when my standards start to slip and I beat myself up for parenting in a way that's not consistent with my goals or ideals. So I started to wonder... How do you parent your best when you're at your worst? Here's what I came up with.
1. Walk Away
If the kids won't stop fighting, the house is chaotic or you're simply overwhelmed, walk away. It's that easy. Remove yourself from the triggering situation until you can calm down. If your kids are super little, or it's unsafe to leave, try taking deep breaths or counting to ten. Whatever you can do to pause and calm yourself down before you react, do it.
2. Take Breaks
Wasting time is a GOOD thing. I've found that I need to slow down at least a few times a day to do something mindless like a crossword puzzle. The more often I let myself breathe, process and relax throughout the day, the better my mood and my parenting. It also gives me the stamina to joyfully go through long overnight shifts and get back into the fray the next day. "How is it possible to give yourself several breaks a day?!" you may be thinking. Easy. Whenever you find a pocket of time where the kids are calm and don't need you, take a break. Instead of being productive in that moment, just stop and spend the time doing something enjoyable. "What if the kids are never calm?" Cartoons. For me, several small breaks a day is an absolute necessity.
3. Decide your reaction ahead of time
How often does chaos in your home cause you to snap? In that moment are you prepared for how you would like to respond? Or do you give into the stress and let the emotion run the show? Telling yourself ahead of time how you will respond will help you to parent your best, even when you're feeling your worst. I try to always respond in love and then process my feelings once the moment has passed.
4. Clear Communication & Boundaries
Boundaries and clear communication are paramount here. When my kids are overtired or just having a difficult time listening, I try to communicate clearly how I'm feeling and what the boundaries are. If I am overwhelmed, I tell my kids that. If they won't stop fighting over a toy, I say "I'm going to hold on to this until you can come up with a solution on how to play with it together." And then I walk away and let them figure it out. If they want the toy bad enough, they will. Setting boundaries and sticking to them, while clearly communicating how you're feeling, helps your children take responsibility without also taking on any unnecessary shame or guilt.
5. Take care of yourself
If I am not taking care of myself (eating well, exercising, etc.), I am much less likely to be able to handle a tough situation in a calm, loving way. When I feel good, however, I am able to do better. This doesn't mean hours of cardio and salads a day. I include some indulging in taking care of myself, as well as self care and whatever else keeps me in a positive place emotionally.
6. Be a bad parent
If you've tried everything to do your best and nothing has worked for you, just let yourself be a bad parent. It's fine. We all need a mental health day once in a while. If you let a bad attitude, stress or anxiety take over for a day, it's not the end of the world. Don't beat yourself up. You're only human. Just make sure to apologize to your child (and/or spouse) and clearly communicate what you were feeling. Make sure to tell them how they could help you in the future, too. Our worst moments actually turn out to be little gifts when we use them to connect with our kids. And bonus - our kids will learn how to navigate their own emotions in a healthy way if we model it for them first.
So these are the things that have helped me recently. What are some of your tips? I'm still learning, definitely not perfect and would love to continue this conversation. Reach out for support! Love you, mama.