Have you ever not recognized yourself? Not physically I mean, but your actions, attitudes?
On Tuesday night, one of our foster twins woke up crying in the middle of the night. We think maybe they have worse-than-average nightmares, because it is a rare night when one of them doesn’t wake up crying in the middle of the night. They fall asleep like champs most nights, but have a hard time staying asleep. Then, whoever is awake will often wake up at least one of the other three kids with the crying, and we all have a grand time. We’re really praying for this to work itself out. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right?
She actually fell asleep fairly quickly this night, but the crying woke up our son. He proceeded, several minutes after I had climbed back into bed, to come into our room to see if we were awake too. Sooo, I had to go get him back to bed, which took a little bit.
When I finally crawled back between the warm covers in the cool bedroom, my brain was running full circuit. Don’t you hate that feeling? The one where your body is so tired, but your mind just won’t shut down, no matter what you do? I laid awake for almost two hours (trying not to look at the clock).
Anyway, without any more whining, suffice it to say that I was Tired with a capital T the next day. We had some errands to do, and the morning started off all right, but then we had some meltdowns at the grocery store. It wasn’t about whining for things they wanted, it was just tiredness (and probably boredom) coming out. A shoe falls off and it’s The End Of The World. A sibling inadvertently brushes their skin and it’s like they were stabbed. You might know the drill.
We made it home and ate lunch, but then naptime was rough. One twin was having none of this nap concept. She SCREAMED in her bed for a good forty-five minutes. She wanted the blanket, she didn’t want the blanket, she wanted her Minnie Mouse, she didn’t want her Minnie Mouse. When she finally fell asleep, the other must have decided it was her turn to make fun noises because she who had been lying quietly in her bed cried for twenty more minutes.
I was so ready for a nap.
I was not my most gracious self that day. I could completely tell that my tiredness was preventing any patient, understanding response I could have mustered. I was snappy and brusque with my words. I was quick to correct and admonish.
Fast forward 24-hours.
Being so tired that day, I fell asleep early and had a splendid night wherein, wonder of wonders, nobody woke up crying! Breakfast (for me) was a delicious egg white and Canadian bacon sandwich and fruit, with water (staying hydrated!) and a cup of tea. We played Mr. Potato Head, read some books, watched an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, took a walk up and down the block pushing strollers of baby dolls and riding scooters. Everyone played beautifully together and the naptime routine was a thing of beauty.
What was a huge factor in the change from one day to the next? Me.
I pondered this repeatedly today, and although I cannot claim complete responsibility for either the meltdown of Wednesday or the idyllic atmosphere of Thursday, I know I was a contributing force to both.
I had a professor who showed up every day for our 8:00 am class chipper and brimming with excitement over what the lesson held for us that day. When we asked her how she could have such energy, she told us something I never will forget: “I as the teacher set the tone in this room. If I’m having a bad day, you will have a bad day. And vice versa.”
What a lesson for us as parents. Our kids can sense our moods and emotions, whether we’re calm or whether we’re anxious. Our families are an interdependent organism, not isolated parts. When something is affecting one part of your body, your whole self feels out of sorts, right? For better or for worse, we as parents steer the direction of our family’s moods.
When the morning starts out rushed and frantic, the kids feel it. Whether they go to school or daycare or stay home with a parent, that negative energy stays with them. And it’s not just the kids. When your morning doesn’t start off right, it takes a lot to correct the trajectory and get back on course.
When the kids have to deal with an impatient, barking parent who has no time for understanding or showing compassion for their little ways, they deal with it as they are capable. Whether it means acting out behaviorally or having emotional meltdowns, it will show itself somehow.
Believe me, loving on four children under the age of five serves out many moments of stress. Someone is always needing something. They’re all still learning how to clean up after themselves. Only one can dress herself completely. It’s a lot to handle most days. (So rewarding, but a lot to handle.)
I refuse to be the harried mother. My kids deserve better.
This will be my new quote, to repeat to myself when those life stressors start kicking in. The proverbial buck needs to stop here.
As we grow, we learn more how to control our actions. ACTIONS, not moods. We can’t control our moods, or the events that transpire to put us into those moods, but we can control how we react. Children have yet to learn that. As the adult, I need to remember this: I’m the one who can redirect the environment, who can stop my bad mood in its tracks if I try, but they aren’t capable of this yet.
I refuse to be the harried mother.
I will give my best moments to whomever I am with. Whether it be my husband, my kids, my friends, the person passing me down the aisle of the grocery store, they deserve my being present and being pleasant.
I will give my best moments at all times of day. Whether I’m fresh as a daisy or run-over-by-a-truck exhausted, whether it’s morning, afternoon, or bedtime, I will actively show the love that I know I have for my kids.
And when I don’t? I will ask for forgiveness. Not beat myself up. And start over.
Because not only are my kids watching and affected by my actions and moods, they are also learning from them. My behavior models what their “normal” will become. How I treat them will be how they will treat their children. How I treat others is how they will treat others. If I have kind answers, they will learn to be compassionate. If I have sarcastic, griping jests, they will learn that as well.
I want them to learn to put others before themselves, as imperfectly as we all accomplish this day to day. My parents always told me, “A mark of a mature person is that, no matter what their mood, they never use it as an excuse to treat anyone poorly.”
Because I will not be the harried mother. My family deserves better.