I had one of those parenting moments last week. One of those moments where the poop literally hit the floor a mere six inches from the potty training toilet, and I was trying to keep my hysterical three-year-old from stepping in it while my ill five-year-old kept pointing it out to me in between coughing spells. Five minutes later my sick child spilled her first two doses of liquid antibiotic on the floor and my patience escaped me – to my immediate regret.
What do you do when your life feels like a scene from a low-grade comedy film that’s all about bathroom humor and things hitting the floor that shouldn’t be on the floor? Hopefully you’re laughing about it, but if you’re not, here are 10 tips to push through those parenting days where you are struggling to keep it together.
1. Keep perspective
There are days when you get your son ready for picture day at his pre-school but it’s actually your daughter’s picture day at her elementary school instead, and then there are days you spend the night in a hospital with a child who can’t breathe.
Mistakes and inconveniences are frustrating, yes. But if our kids are healthy, we can handle the rest.
2. Focus on the whole season, not one game
If your child’s soccer team won nine out of ten games, but the coach only ever recognized the one game they lost, you’d say that coach was focusing on the wrong thing.
In a parenting season, you have 18 years (minimum), 365 days a year, and millions of moments to play the game of parenting. No one moment or one day defines your parenting or your child. If you are winning more moments than you are losing, then you are winning.
Focus on what you are doing right. Did you get your daughter up today? Hug her? Brush her teeth? Pack her lunch? Get her to school (even if it wasn’t quite on time)?
Then you are winning the season, even if you "lose it" in the moment.
3. Change things up
Are you in the middle of one of those days? Are you impatient? Annoyed? Crying while you hide in the kitchen eating your kids’ fruit snacks?
Something isn’t working. Let go of your agenda, let go of whatever ideas you had about what you wanted to get done today or how you imagined things would go, or what a "good" parent would do, and do something different right now.
Put on Paw Patrol for your toddler and flip through a magazine. Call a neighbor to come over for fifteen minutes and hold the baby so you can shower. Or, change course with your child. As one of my friends puts it, "focused attention cures many problems." Blast your ‘90s dance mix and "drag" your street with the windows down and your kids in the back seat. Sing, dance, nap, jump on the trampoline.
If the path you’re on today isn’t working, change course.
4. Reset at anytime
Night and sleep are great resets to our energy at the end of a day, but you can start fresh at any moment. Several of my friends have reset codes they practice in their family that can be initiated by parents or kids.
Whether your family has a magic "begin again" button, or "do-over hugs," or you just say, "Hey, let’s start this exchange over, because I am royally screwing it up," you have a chance to reset the mood anytime, anywhere.
5. Plan a break
Make use of the vacation effect. If you know you’re going to be in Hawaii next week, it makes it easier to get through a winter storm on the East coast this week. If you need a break right now, and you can’t get it, plan it.
Let your partner know that you’ll be retreating to the bedroom with a glass of wine at 8 PM sharp. Decide what you’re going to order for dinner tonight so that you don’t have to cook. Plan a night out with your friends. Hire a babysitter for Friday night. Get a break in the books so that you have it to look forward to.
6. Channel a supportive adult
So you’re having one of those mornings where your toddler is yanking your hair and screaming in your face as you sit on the floor attempting to breastfeed a cranky baby and you are wondering what the hell you were thinking having two kids so close in age. Who among your circle of friends and family will listen to your story with empathy and humor and great perspective?
Reach out to that person.
7. Look for the pattern (or not)
One thing that has thrown me for a loop with parenting is that sometimes there are no patterns. There are random fits and starts and phases that come and go for no apparent reason, and it’s good to recognize that there are going to be off days that you shouldn’t over analyze or dwell on.
But…sometimes a series of unfortunate events follow a predictable pattern. Crazy cranky kid who argues with you all day today equals sick kid tomorrow. No sleep last night equals dad who literally cries over spilled milk in the morning. Distracted mom (desperately trying to finish this article so she can get to her once-a-week exercise class on time) equals one child who needs a constant refill on his water gun and another child who needs every item in the garage but only thinks to ask for one item at a time.
In moments like this, I find it helpful to adopt an internal mantra like, "Patience is a choice," or "It’s not your kid’s fault that you want to go to hip-hop class."
8. Blame your kid
Look, not many parents are going to talk openly on Facebook about how annoying their toddler is, or how sometimes they just want some personal space and their kids keep hugging them, but every parent feels it sometimes. Let go of the guilt you feel because you don’t like your kid every second of every day. You’re going to get frustrated and annoyed with your kids. They are going to get frustrated and annoyed with you. That’s what family is.
9. Apologize and be honest
A friend of mine, who is a mom of three, said that she has finally accepted her mistakes as teachable moments. When you’re not at your best, be honest about it to your child. Sincerely admit your mistakes and regrets, apologize to your kids and then do better. By doing so, you are showing your kids how to take ownership of actions, communicate in a healthy relationship, and recover from mistakes.
10. Treat yourself the way you would like others to be treated
Imagine if the story of what went wrong today belonged to a friend and she was sharing it with you. Would you greet the story with compassion and support? Would you reassure your friend that she’s doing a great job?
Do that for yourself.
Show yourself the same forgiveness and humor that you would show a friend.
If you find that you are having more bad days than good, it’s time for help. Talk to your doctor about whether your extended feelings of inadequacy or feeling overwhelmed are normal or if you might be depressed. Talk to a counselor. Talk to your partner. Have a really honest heart to heart with yourself about where you are and what is or isn’t working for you.
And if you are having one of those random days where the s**t hits the floor, remember that it’s temporary and you’ll laugh about it one day.