This started as a letter to a dear friend who is struggling with this same issue. I decided to share my thoughts with you all here as well, because I’m sure moms everywhere can use this encouragement. ❤
I am not the mom I thought I would be pre-kids and that has wrecked me for the past few years. I am just FINALLY beginning to unpack that and process it… and I’ve been a mess.
I’ve also been successful at some things! So that’s what I want to encourage you with today: there is HOPE, dear Mama Friend! In Jesus, ultimately; and through His mercy, there is hope in the daily, mundane, repetitive, exasperating, asinine, beautiful, fulfilling, indescribable journey of motherhood.
HOPE that eventually the tiny humans will turn into big humans who love each other and love Jesus.
HOPE that I – and all of the other struggling mamas out there – will get our crap together and be more successful than not at loving our kiddos well!
There are days like that already, where it feels like everything is operating as it should; I’m sure you have them, too. It’s just so easy to focus on the negative that we feel like that’s all that there is, right? Yes. I’m preaching to myself too, y’all!
But on those many, many, days when I definitely do NOT have “it” all together and… I yell… multiple times… I’m learning to decipher what that truly means about me, not just as a mom, but as a person. It’s been enlightening, in good and bad ways. I’ll tell you what it does not mean: yelling at my kids does NOT mean I am a BAD mother. Do you know how I know this? Because I am aware enough to know that they yell at each other because I yell at them. Monkey see, monkey do! And because I love them and I do not want to see this habit continue…in any of us.
Here is what I have realized about myself when it comes to yelling:
I yell because I feel out of control.
Feeling out of control makes me fear the unknown.
Fearing the unknown causes me to become severely anxious.
Cue legit panic attack.
And I yell.
This has been my process, always, but especially since becoming a mother. I’m FINALLY realizing the connections between my inherent weaknesses and the ways I react to my surroundings, to the point that I sometimes see clearly enough before I start to yell. I definitely still yell, but progress is also being made! Hallelujah!
Throughout this process, I have identified some workable solutions that are nudging me toward progress in this goal. I say it this way because I certainly haven’t “arrived” as a parent, and I never will this side of heaven; however, I can do my best with these 5 practices:
I have said it before and I will say it again (such a “mom” phrase): just taking 10-15 minutes daily for guided meditation has legitimately changed my life. I strongly recommend this! On a related note, when I catch myself about to yell, or even after I’ve yelled, I give *myself* a time-out. If I can’t leave the room, I just close my eyes and breathe for a minute. Say a quick prayer, regroup, and try again. If I have yelled, I apologize to my kids. This is SUPER hard, but I want them to get the message that even if they’re doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, it was not ok for Mommy to address them in that way.
I initially titled this section “lowering expectations,” but that isn’t entirely accurate. I am not, ultimately, requiring less of my children. Moreover, I am realizing what is actually realistic for them at different ages, stages, and ability levels…and this can be really freeing. It can also be frustrating, but for me it’s been mostly freeing. I realize, for example, “It’s not realistic to expect my 3 year old to be 100% independent in the bathroom;” however, “it IS realistic (for my particular 3 year old) to expect her to at least wipe #1 and flush without any help.” Sometimes we have a stand-off in the bathroom because she doesn’t *feel* like wiping. I have – NO JOKE – stood in there for upwards of half an hour, because she wouldn’t do it and I was standing my ground. And in those couple of long bathroom bouts that we’ve recently had, I was trying so hard not to yell or lecture, just simply not back down on what I said. When I am certain that my expectations are realistic, I feel less “mean” about enforcing them, thus the unnecessary guilt/anxiety over enforcing the rules/discipline disappears, I am calmer, and more able to parent the way my kids need me to parent. And that brings me to my next point…
Whether it’s something good I promised them or something I threatened, I am determined lately to follow through on my word, because I don’t want them to think I’m lying or misleading them or that I’m not serious. So yes, this does result in half-hour standoffs in the bathroom, leaving play dates or fun outings early (or cancelling altogether), or other necessary consequences. On the flip side, I’m also trying to follow through on the good. For example, when I say “I’ll be there in 100 seconds” (because I say “a second” and my sweet firstborn takes me literally) I actually count to 100 in my head as I quickly finish up whatever my previous task was so that I can go meet her needs (usually cuddles or some other form of my attention). And for everything, I set timers like it’s my job: “Mommy will play this game for 10 minutes, then I have to finish my chores.” OR “When the timer dings, we will go outside” (and then set a timer for outside time!). Timers keep everyone accountable and provide a great visual, when you’re attempting to stick to a plan.
I’ve heard it said that you should praise children 10 times more than you correct them. This means I should be praising my kids… probably eleventy-billion times more than I do. This revelation made me sad, so I decided to do something about it. Recently I made each of my girls a behavior chart. They earn stickers for pretty much ANY positive thing I catch them doing. Anytime they are being loving or kind in some way, or making progress on a task that is uniquely difficult for them (such as following social cues, finishing a meal in a timely fashion, or staying in bed at bedtime) they get a sticker on their chart. I’ve been passing out stickers like they’re going out of style! In just 5 days they are about ¾ of the way toward their big reward: a trip to Build-A-Bear Workshop. 🙂 But, I digress. The point is, I am trying to give ample attention to the GOOD that happens in our house, not only for their benefit, but for mine. It has been a significant encouragement to me to see my girls responding with love and kindness toward each other and toward the other humans with whom they interact…on an increasingly regular basis.
This is one of the very few things that I can say I have consistently done pretty much since I became a parent, but it has become increasingly more vital the older my children become. I constantly reassure them that it is absolutely acceptable, normal, and good to feel emotion; the part that is not permissible is hurting others in the process of experiencing negative emotion. And boy do I need this reminder as well! Example: “It’s ok that you’re angry because your sister is ignoring you. It makes me feel angry and hurt when people ignore me, too. However, we should not throw toys/hit people/scream when we’re mad.” And then I always offer them a healthy alternative to express that strong emotion. If needed, I deal out consequences, but try not to do this until they have calmed down… because, do you know anyone who processes life well when they’re worked up? I certainly don’t. Validating their emotions does not evade consequences, in the same way that forgiveness does not entirely excuse the offender. Validation gives them a safe place to learn how to handle those emotions appropriately so that, someday… maybe… they won’t be moms who yell… as often. 😉