Know this: all of what I am about to share has evolved out of numerous MOMMY FAILS. God must know I need to learn things the hard way. That I have to hit my head against the wall again and again before finally saying: Oh, maybe something needs to change!
My hope is that these little tidbits may help someone else who feels like they are stuck in a downward parenting spiral that is leading to more and more angry outbursts, feelings of helplessness and being out of control or a tendency to just check out, avoid and numb the surrounding chaos. Trust me. I’ve been there. I’m still there. You CAN do this. God does not give us more than we can handle. Nothing is impossible with God!
Okay, now for the practical:
Strive to keep both your bucket and your child’s bucket filled (realistically speaking, maybe aim for 75%).
Ways I fill my own bucket:
- take a long walk/run/hike
- spend time reading God’s word and praying
- enjoying a glass of wine
- going out with close girlfriends
- reading a good book
- taking a hot bath
- getting enough sleep – when I start getting angry/irritable, this is the first thing that I try to adjust!!!
- eating well
Note: The worst thing you can do is try to parent out of an empty bucket. I learned this the hard way. Trust me. Before you can pour into your family, you have to be mentally, spiritually and physically healthy yourself.
Here’s some ways I do this:
Limit weeknights out. Bedtime is a sweet time of connection between me and my kids. When I schedule multiple activities on weekday evenings back to back, not only do I pay for it (stay up too late + drink too much wine + eat a bunch of sugary desserts = bad night sleep + grumpy mommy the next day), but my children pay for it.
That’s not to say I don’t have those fun girls’ night outs. I just have to plan them wisely. I’ve learned not to schedule them anytime I am going to be with the kids for long chunks of time. It has taken discipline because I am an ‘in the moment’ type, but in order to maintain my health and a positive relationship with my children, I’ve had to set boundaries for myself.
Ways to fill your child’s bucket:
- If your child is acting ‘amped up,’ overstimulated, intensely angry, aggressive, etc. that’s the cue for a RESET. Don’t try to logic your way through their behavior and talk about how bad they are acting. They are in fight or flight mode. Trying to talk some sense into them is like trying to talk to a heroine junkie. Don’t engage. Do a reset. Before I explain what a reset looks like for us, here’s when my children usually need them:
- Morning rush/getting out the door
- Getting home from school
- After a birthday party
- After church or any kind of group childcare
- After soccer/dance/sporting activities in groups they are involved in
- Note: your child may show their need for a reset differently (i.e., my high energy child often ramps UP in energy and intensity when he is overstimulated, while my daughter gets quiet and sulky and argumentative)
- RESET means CHANGE THE ENVIRONMENT. If I am at home, I take them to their room. If they fight, I no longer try to drag them. It just makes me angrier. I will either excuse myself and say “mommy needs some space” and go into my bedroom and lock my door or if I have the energy to do so, I do the “love cage” with them, where I hold them firmly, but gently in my arms and whisper to them or just “shhhhhh” in their ears and quietly say “it’s okay, buddy” until their body physically calms down. This can take up to 20 minutes and it may mean that you get smacked in the face.
- If they don’t struggle, send them to their room to reset. For an extroverted child who doesn’t like to be alone, this can be difficult. Some tips: put on an audiobook: Boxcar Chidren, Chronicles of Narnia and Story of the World are some of my son’s favorites. Legos, blocks, and trains are good things for boys. Picture books, etc.
- Note: I often have to SIT WITH HIM AND HELP HIM GET STARTED with INDEPENDENT PLAY. Initially, I got really frustrated that he wouldn’t just play in his room by himself. I didn’t realize that he needed direction and perhaps some assurance that this was temporary separation. So I often sit on the floor with him and say, what if I help you get started with building something with your Legos? Then I set the expectation: Mommy is going to work with you for a little while, then I am going to have some quiet time in my room so I can recharge my energy too. Model the behavior you want.
- Some kids are better at self-play than others. My daughter can just go to her room and independently create a fantasy world with her dolls, her tea sets and her dress up clothes. If you find that your child does not like staying in his/her room, try giving him something to do. But remember, baby steps. In the beginning, he may only stay for a few minutes. But don’t give up. A lot of parenting is habit-building, not one-time victories.
- THEY DO NOT NEED A DEVICE TO RELAX. This used to be a major crutch for me. I thought, if he won’t stay in his room, I’ll just give him the iPad. I knew in my gut that wasn’t truly ‘restful’ but I just needed a break. I get that. I’ve been there. Don’t try this on a day when your bucket is low. Try it on a day when you are ready to stand firm. Kids do NOT need an iPad to spend time alone. Period. It is a HABIT that must be trained. Gosh, I sound preachy. I promise I have had to learn this the hard way. Here’s how: I noticed after shoving them in front of the TV or a device for an hour or so, it would only make them more amped up and bratty afterwards. It was no longer worth it to me. The fight to turn it off was awful. Once you decide to say no to devices during rest time, be prepared for pushback. But know this: it wasn’t as difficult as I expected!!! After a week or so, they stopped asking for them. Now, they just assume they only get them on road trips or special occasions. BUT, this commitment requires a lot of energy on your part. That leads me to the next point:
- Filling their bucket means you have to spend QUALITY TIME with them. While I am a naturally playful mom who likes get on the trampoline and play Gaga ball with them, because I homeschool two days a week, I have little desire or energy to play with them during our breaks. Teaching them drains a lot of my energy. I’m sure it’s the same for working moms. When you get home from work, the last thing you probably want to do is go play with them. So it may require some intentionality and planning on your part.i schedule a ‘me time’ break and then a ‘play with them’ break. They love to build forts out of bedsheets, play ‘doggie’ on the trampoline (mommy is usually the doggy that runs around and barks and chases them), build magnet tile towers and have tea parties.
- Pray for the time and energy! As I write this, I think geesh, this isn’t even practical, is it? This takes so much time and energy. Who actually wants to do this (including me!) But you know what? I believe that when we approach the Almighty upon His glorious and ask for His help, He answers. He will provide a way, He can give you the energy and time your kids need from you. Ask and you will receive!
- Set the bar high. This is my most recent learning lesson. I tend to set a low bar for my kids. They are capable of SO much more. We’ve been watching the Little House on the Prairie series and oh my gosh, those girls do all the chores EVERYDAY and walk miles to school and read their Bibles, etc. Yes, that is a TV show, not reality. But that was how the old days were to some extent. Children took an active part in housework. I have learned to expect my children to put away their clothes, put away their dishes, sweep the floors, use the outdoor blower, etc. It takes a lot of prompting and training. But if you put a carrot in front of something you want them to do, they are usually motivated to do it. So I say something like, “I’m happy to take you to basketball practice as soon as you put away your clothes.” And then, well, you have to stand your ground. One consequence like that and you probably won’t have another issue with it.
- Boundaries. This is my weakest area. I am a pleaser by nature. I hate to set boundaries. I get angry very easily because I let my kids run over me and nag and beg and convince me to change my mind, until I finally blow up. What I’m learning to do now: talk about my expectations beforehand. For example, today is a homeschool day. We have x, y and z to get done. If we work hard, we can do x. That’s helpful for ME and them – something to look forward to after doing the hard work.
- Laughter and Adventure – You don’t have to rely on expensive excursions to have a bonding experience. Just be together. In the outdoors, especially, I find it life-giving. Even things like doing yardwork on the weekends together can end up being a fun experience!
- Trash In, Trash Out – this applies to both me and my kids. I remember my mom saying this every time I read a Danielle Steele novel. As much as I rolled my eyes then, she was right. What you put into your mind is going to come out. This may sound odd, but I rarely watch TV anymore. The initial reason was because I went through a time of incredible anxiety and noise sensitivity that made watching most TV shows incredibly unenjoyable and often heightened my anxiety. During that time, I learned how to relax at night with a book instead of a show. Now, it’s become a habit. My hubby gets to watch his guy show with car races and explosions while I read my book. And I make sure it is soul-nourishing, not trash. I read a lot of Charles Spurgeon and Sally Clarkson and C.S. Lewis. They make me long for heaven and I think that must be a pretty good thing.
- When it comes to kids, the ‘trash in, trash out’ sentiment is also important. At the classical school my kids attend, there is a phrase used to describe books/movies with low-quality content: “twaddle.” Some twaddle is not bad. We don’t have to be legalistic or keep our kids in a bubble. But I recognize that what I’m putting into my kids minds and hearts matters. Watching a lot of Transformers and Pokemon is very different from watching Mary Poppins and Sound of Music and Little House on the Prairie. Reading Disney princess books (which usually cast an unrealistic and selfish view of life, friendship, and marriage) is going to be very different than reading books like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Little House on the Prairie where values like outdoor play, solitude, adventure, patience, self-control and selflessness are encouraged.
- Start small. My hubby always tells me this when I start feeling overwhelmed with housework duties. A little at a time. Don’t expect to do it all at once. Same with instilling beautiful parenting habits. If I would recommend anything, I would say: introduce beautiful, high quality books into your DAILY routine with your kids. Skip the show before bed and go straight to reading time. Cuddle up together and maybe enjoy a little snack or treat. Make it special. Make it fun. The power of tapping into a child’s imagination with a good story does amazing things. My kids will often talk about a book long after reading it, remembering a scene or a character and wondering how they would have acted in x situation. It’s amazing to watch. And often, it sparks conversation about their own fears, struggles, hopes, dreams which provides a wonderful opportunity for connection.
- Pray. Of course I must end on this one. I can speak from experience. On the days I am on my knees before the Lord asking for His help in parenting my children and creating a life-giving home, I am filled with a peace that transcends human understanding. If you don’t know where to start, do a yearly Bible reading plan. On the days when the Word just doesn’t seem to ‘speak to me,’ I supplement my reading with a classic spiritual book such as Pilgrim’s Progress or Charles Spurgeon’s sermons (collected works in a book) or Sally Clarkson’s Life-giving Home. Or I journal and pour out my heart to the Lord about how inadequate I feel to be in this role, shaping these little hearts and minds to influence the next generation. But then I remember, “My God shall supply all my needs in Christ Jesus” and I press on.
Press on with me! Blessings.