Before I had kids I thought of myself as someone calm, patient and free-spirited. But when I became a mother 6 years ago, I was surprised to discover I wasn’t as laid back and ‘happy go lucky’ as I thought.
I became more irritable and controlling: I wanted my son to stop crying as soon as I asked him, I wanted him to get ready on my first request, I wanted him to eat his vegetables without fighting me. And when he didn’t, I had a “Parent Tantrum” — well, that is the name I now call my behavior after this super insightful Motherhood edition of Dinner Confidential.
The night began with us sharing our proudest moments as parents — when our kids are sweet to their siblings, learn how to ride a bike or demonstrate kindness to others. We then became more vulnerable and shared our darkest, most shameful moments — when we felt an urge to hit our child, fought with our partners in front of the kids, or contemplated running away from it all.
We are wonderful, loving, and generous moms, yet we all experience anger, frustration and guilt — so how can we be at peace with all these conflicting emotions?
Here are the key takeaways:
- Managing our Parent Tantrums: Most of us feel embarrassed, guilty and ashamed because we fight with our kids — yet we all do it. It would be impossible for a 5 year old to think exactly like a 40 year old, right? So conflict between the two is bound to happen. We all strive to find that sweet spot where firmness and calmness meet. And to do that, we must learn how to manage our own temper outbursts — how can we expect our kids to do it if we don’t do it ourselves? We need to create tactics that can help us cool down “before losing it.” Some moms choose to leave the room and hide for a second in the bathroom, others create “home rules” that everyone needs to follow i.e.: NO ONE screams in the house, everyone communicates with respect, etc.
- Reclaiming our Identity: Many new moms lose themselves in motherhood (I am with my baby 24/7, we co-sleep, my boobs are theirs, etc.), leaving them feeling lost and even insecure. How can we reclaim our status as independent women? Which takes me to the next point…
- First you, then your children: Because there is so much guilt around being a “good parent,” many women put their kids’ priorities first. But giving too much leads to burnout (even if we are giving to the beings we love the most in the whole world). Imagine how we would be as mothers if were fueled/inspired/energized? We should start a new discourse around how being selfish makes more generous, giving and loving parents.
- Flexible Consistency: While we know that kids thrive with consistency (i.e.: not changing the rules when WE feel like it) and routine (bath, dinner, sleep), are we sheltering them too much? How can we give them the consistency they need while helping them prepare for the inevitable curve balls that life presents? How can we help them become more resilient? This piece on Psych Central has some interesting tips.
- Stop Controlling, Embrace the Messiness: Of course we don’t want our kids to have a crying outburst in the middle of a restaurant, but why do we get so angry when they do and can’t stop? Author Katherine Reynolds Lewis said to the NYTimes that “anger, tears and other outbursts are a natural part of any child’s development…. But parents who are unable or unwilling to confront that messiness may view their child’s outbursts as a problem that urgently needs to be solved.” How can we be present with these “difficult” emotions instead of trying to find quick fixes?
Being a parent is hard, beautiful, scary, overwhelming, powerful, difficult, joyous — all our feelings together. It has allowed me to experience a wider range of emotions and I want to embrace them all with grace, compassion and most importantly, without guilt. Let’s all become #guiltfreemoms.
There was an unexpected twist towards the end of the evening. The conversation shifted to talking about our partners*.
While we can get frustrated with our kids, most of the “angry” feelings are connected to our partners. Mainly because we don’t feel supported enough or can’t trust they will take care of our kids in a way that we think is right (they’ll forget to put on sunblock or won’t feed them vegetables).
Personally, I went through a rough patch with my husband, James, right after having kids. We lost “the fun” and the relationship became transactional (you look after the child, I order Fresh Direct). I would snap and get annoyed more easily. During that time I came across this article from Modern Love by the NYTimes. I followed the author’s strategy — ignoring the unwanted behavior from her husband and praising the good one — and that became the catalyst of how I engage (or in this case disengage!) with James — maybe it can inspire you too :)
*Caveat: this was a group of all married women. I would have loved to gain the perspective from single mothers, hopefully next time.
Things to experiment with
1) Do something this week that will really, truly fuel you (meeting good friends for dinner, going out for lunch and reading a book, taking a drawing lesson).
2) Notice when a “Parent Tantrum” is coming and find your center. Choose how you want to respond, instead of reacting by default.
Written by Veronica Marquez, www.veronicamarquez.me
Dinner Confidential is a monthly event that brings together a small group of women to talk — with vulnerability and openness — about key sensitive topics in our lives (i.e.: self-confidence, dealing with fear, etc).Check out www.dinnerconfidential.org to learn more or attend a dinner!