Some days relationships are incredibly easy. Everyone is getting along and in a calm state of mind putting out positive energy into the world. But there are days and moments when tension is high, and relationships are hard and messy.
In my household, evenings are a time of high stress and relationships can go sour quickly. Most evenings Joshua leaves after I get home and responsibilities seem never-ending. It’s also the time when my kids are exhausted and are prone to whining and crying about anything and everything. The dogs eating the food that is accidentally dropped on the floor, mommy stepping away to go to the washroom, or tripping over their own feet. Regardless of what it is, my kids are ready to voice their frustrations and cry out their feelings.
Each responsibility feels like another brick is being added to my already heavy backpack.
Finish dinner and feed the kids. One more brick.
Toddler asking to play. Another brick.
Dogs running back and forth from the bedroom window to the front door.
Three more bricks.
I remind myself to breathe in between responsibilities and be patient with my kids. If I stop long enough, I remember to go outdoors (even for five minutes) because being outside has a way of resetting us and deescalating our frustrations. But on nights like last night, my backpack reaches capacity and becomes too heavy for me to carry, and I snap. I am no longer patient when my toddler is telling me NO for the tenth time. The sound of the dog’s paws on the wood floors as they run back and forth from the bedroom to the living room begins to annoy me, and holding the baby becomes a burden.
While I rarely yell at my children, my tone, body gestures, and responses change. While I usually try to reflect what my daughter is feeling when she is whinnying and frustrated, my responses change to something like, “I don’t think so, we’re not going to do this right now.” Requests become demands, and my facial expressions change from warm and inviting to stern and apathetic.
My highly sensitive toddler picks up on the changes in my behaviors immediately and asks me if I’m angry, to which my response is no, we’re just not playing around anymore. She may even go as far as saying she is sorry but again because I have reached capacity rather than accepting her apology, I point out that we go through this often and rather than apologize, I need her to do things correctly the first time.
Which brings me to one of our last evening responsibilities before bedtime. We were in the bathroom brushing her teeth, and I stepped away to get the baby’s sleep sack and return to find my toddler sucking the toothpaste out of the tub. I asked firmly why(?!) she was doing that and proceeded to tell her that it was not acceptable behavior. She began to say that she likes the taste of the toothpaste, but I quickly cut her off and again let her know that it was unacceptable.
Out of frustration she lowers her head and shaking it side to side said—such a mad mommy.
There are countless responses and directions I could have taken after my child’s response. (As is true for all parents and anyone in any relationship when we are confronted with the way others perceive us.) I could have been defensive and retaliated by informed her that her defiance was part of the reason I was “such a mad mommy.” I could have disciplined her for talking back and getting smart with me because that’s not the way we speak to grownups. Or I could put my pride aside and work toward trying to repair our damaged relationship.
At that moment (and many others) my daughter perceived me as being an angry, mad parent almost as if it was part of my very essence. While I know these moments happen and we as parents never have to try to achieve perfection I do believe it is essential to repair rather than dismiss damages in our relationship with our children. I want my children to see me not as a perfect parent but as someone who values them as people and values my relationship with them.
So, after we finished brushing her teeth, we sat on her bed, the three of us. Remi was crawling around smiling at both of us oblivious of the recent incidents. We talked about our evening, I apologized to my daughter for the way I responded to her, we hugged and tickled Remi who had shifted his interest from the dolls on the bed to gnawing on our fingers.
Meanwhile, back in OLH… later that evening after my kids were asleep, rather than wash the dishes and clean up around the house first, I sat in silence and meditated. When I am consistent in my meditation practice I am more present in those difficult moments and can respond more appropriately. My goal isn’t to avoid them altogether (because that would require a whole life’s work and unlikely being I’m human) but to become more aware of my patterns, my triggers, and when I notice them, at that moment choose to respond out of love.