Being Kind to Ourselves Helps Our Kids Learn to Love
Now that my two daughters are in elementary school, weekdays have become more hectic. Mornings are a whirlwind – wrestling everyone out of bed, searching for missing socks and library books, then rushing out to meet the bus – and afternoons are jam-packed with homework and extracurricular activities. When my kids had an extra day off school last month, I was excited to spend time together without the constraints of our usual schedule. I figured we’d all sleep in (assuming 8 AM qualifies as sleeping in!) and have a peaceful breakfast. Then we’d do some crafts, play a game, or bake something fun.
As you can imagine, the idyllic day I’d planned so carefully inside my head did not go at all like I’d hoped. In fact, it was one of the more frustrating days I can recall since becoming a mom. What went wrong, exactly? I’m not sure. Maybe everyone was tired from slogging through a dreary winter. Maybe there was a full moon. Maybe I needed to lower my expectations just a tad.
The morning got off to a rough start. My kids woke up early, grumpy and already complaining that they were bored. By lunchtime, I’d broken up half a dozen sibling squabbles, and anger was simmering in my throat. By dinnertime, I was snapping at my kids at regular intervals, and all three of us were taking turns having mini meltdowns. Then my husband had car trouble on the way home from work. I shoved some cereal and pasta in my kids’ general direction as I counted down the minutes until their bedtime.
Later, when the house was finally quiet, I stomped downstairs to sulk. As my anger fizzled, I felt guilt creeping in to take its place. Wasn’t this extra day with my kids supposed to be a gift? I felt ashamed that I’d lost my cool so many times. Why couldn’t I keep it together and fly solo with my two fairly self-sufficient kids without crumbling into a frustrated heap?
I hopped onto Facebook and poured out my angst in a post to my trusted moms’ group, admitting that I wasn’t sure I was cut out for this motherhood thing. Within seconds, there was a comment on my post, then another, and another. My wonderful mom tribe shared simple words of encouragement that made my eyes fill with tears. You don’t have to be a perfect mom, one wrote. You are not alone, commented another. You are NOT a failure, wrote another.
I know I’d do the same for them. Most of us are quick to offer support and encouragement to others. Why, then, is it so difficult to do the same for ourselves? Raising kids is likely the biggest challenge of our lives, yet so many of us feel pressure to remain calm, composed, and in control, even when our little angels push all of our buttons. We don’t give ourselves permission to have bad days.
While it’s understandable to feel bummed about a rough day in the trenches of parenthood, I’ve realized that the way I cope in the aftermath is critical, both for me and my children. Instead of berating myself or labeling myself a failure because I struggled, I can talk with my kids honestly about how I am feeling, and how we can work together to make the next time better. As Susan wisely noted, we’re all a work in progress [https://184.108.40.206/2018/01/31/it-goes-without-saying/]. Kids need to understand that no one is immune to unpleasant feelings like frustration, anger, and disappointment. If we treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, and view those bad days as opportunities for growth, our children will learn to do the same for themselves.
The next morning, I pulled my kids aside and we had a quick chat about how the previous day had gone. I pointed out that their bickering had fueled a lot of my frustration, and that I really needed them to cooperate more with each other in the future. I also shared how upset I felt when the day didn’t go as planned, and apologized for losing my temper.
At first, my kids seemed surprised that I was apologizing. “But grown-ups are perfect,” insisted my oldest daughter. “They never make mistakes.”
“They certainly do,” I responded. “We all do. That’s how we learn.”
Extending kindness and grace to ourselves is a powerful way to teach our kids to love themselves and others unconditionally.