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May 7, 2018
My house is anything but peaceful these days. The toys seem to multiply on the floor, despite my valiant attempts to keep them organized. The trash and recycling bins fill up with diapers and food scraps the moment I empty them. My kids are at high volume and high intensity most of the time. In fact, I would call it chaotic. With a preschooler and a toddler running around, we have our hands full (if you have young kids and could use some guidance, you can find our toddler tantrum guide here, by the way). Sound familiar?
Last night, my husband looked at me with weary eyes as we attempted to wrangle our girls at dinner. Our littlest was trying with all her might to stand on the table, the eldest whining bitterly about her vegetable options. “Why is it always like this with them?” he asked.
There are moments when I’m brought to tears by a question like that. At times I feel just as discouraged and tired of the constant mayhem our young girls bring to our lives as everyone else. I am by no means perfect at being peaceful. Take last week, when, after explaining to my big girl for about 20 minutes that she needed to pay attention to her sister’s signals and emotions, I almost lost it. (“Honey, when you hug her tightly and she screams in terror, she is trying to tell you she needs space.”)
But, I’ve learned a few parenting tips and tricks to stay peaceful and present when things get hectic (read: most days). Tricks that I wish someone had told me before I ever became a mommy in the first place.
Sure, there are zen master mamas out there who can’t imagine being bothered by the sounds of multiple screaming children. Or worst, multiple screaming children screaming in unison. Those ladies are few and far between. That’s definitely not me—if their tendency is toward calm, mine is toward mental overload. So, for all of us who weren’t born relaxed, getting more responsive to our babies or children (versus reactive) takes a whole lotta effort and practice. Why? It’s EASIER to get all riled up. It’s what our bodies do naturally, as part of a fight or flight response to perceived danger.
The only problem is, when our infants wail or our toddlers flop themselves on the ground in protest, even though it’s not usually an emergency or dangerous, our bodies can’t tell we have a false alarm on our hands. Instead, our bodies do what they normally do when we sense danger—our heart rates go up, our blood pressures rise, we get hyper-focused and intense.
It can take awhile to learn how to do that. So, if you’re a new parent (or even a parent-to-be already worked up about the whole kid thing), don’t throw in the towel right away if it takes you weeks, even months or years to get the hang of it. Read about how to get mindful. Practice, practice, practice. And forgive yourself when you mess up (‘cause you’re, inevitably, going to).
There is absolutely no way for a parent—new or experienced—to parent peacefully without taking care of themselves on a regular basis. Our kids notice when we’re stressed—they feel it, their little neurons pick up on it. They also notice when we’re content, balanced, and relaxed.
Yep, there is no faking it when it comes to setting a good example for our children: self-care takes time, commitment, and a realization that, in the end, we’ll have a lot more family joy if we find joy first ourselves.
Motherhood was never meant to be attempted in a box, by ourselves, without the help of, literally, a village. But, we try too often to muscle through it alone, ignoring the input or the assistance of others. Or, we rely on superficial social media connections. The truth is if you’re going to be a peaceful parent, it’s going to take community—friends, family, or a partner (or all three!)—sharing the hardships and the celebrations of raising small children in real, face-to-face interactions.
So many moms and dads I see in clinic seem shocked as each developmental stage comes along. They are surprised by cluster feeding and colic, worried by stranger danger, and perplexed by toddler tantrums. My best advice? Read ahead! Get a baseline understanding of what’s to come for your child developmentally from reputable sources. If you’re still pregnant, invest in information.
Your baby or toddler may not have all the same challenges as her peers, but she’s bound to have at least some of them! The more you know, the more you will feel empowered and ready to face those “Why are they like this all the time?” moments with confidence.
The chaos in my house is not changing any time soon. When someone asks me how my girls are, I tend to say, “Well, it was touch and go there last week but today we’re all hanging in there.” Because it’s true. And real. And, it’s also true that, in the middle of the hot mess I awake to so often, there’s peace—not around me, but inside. Or at least I’m moving in that direction.
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