Some days I am noticing that my ability to handle the torrent of toddler and kid emotions are more manageable for me. Some days I don’t get swallowed up into the melee of their feelings. Some days I am outside of their experience, witnessing. No judgement for them or myself. In that quiet inner world, I am able to remember compassion is waiting for me patiently to take it’s gentle hand. I simply have to reach.
I recently came upon a list of ways to be more patient with kids and one stuck out: under react. So I’ve been trying that on for size. When I’m feeling the tension build, I meet myself there and ask myself, how do I release this feeling without being reactive? So I take a few deep breaths and calmly narrate what I am seeing.
“You sound very frustrated.”
“You both want that toy, don’t you? It can be hard to share.”
“That looks difficult.”
This worked very well for a good 5 or 6 days. Probably a record for me. Being the dramatic human I am, I was pretty much convinced I’d broken the code on the whole Janet Lansbury formula. I would now forever be a centred, calm and collected parent. Unruffled AF. Then on the 6th or 7th day, the relentless bickering, screaming, demanding, extended bedtimes and whining penetrated my ability to go to my breath before trying out my voice. My shoulders bunched up again and I felt like a cornered animal. Returning their screams with orders and barking. Reactions that didn’t even get much of a rise out of my kids, honestly, but sure made me feel like garbage.
Instead of letting that feeling win though, I decided to look at it a different way. I am building a muscle and that can take time. This isn’t failure, it’s part of the journey of growing and practising patience. My body was simply reminding me why I am doing this work. Why it IS work. That I am built to physically react to something that feels like a threat. It’s natural, it’s evolutionary. In my household, the kids shrieking and fighting and demanding my attention at all times can feel very overpowering and all-consuming. I’m guessing it would feel that way to most people. My amygdala is like WTF? It’s coming from all angles! Abort abort! As the only adult in the room most of the time, I am not really supposed to just leave, even when I really really want to. I’m not saying I haven’t locked myself in the bathroom on occasion, but honestly most of the time the kids just follow me anyway.
Funny aside. I started to write this yesterday afternoon and in the evening my kids were having some very intense moments. A polite way of saying they were fighting on top of me when I tried to lie down in a moment of pure exhaustion. Maybe it was writing about locking myself in the bathroom that reminded me I did have some way to secure some space to breath for a minute. So last night was the first time in a while I did just that. They pretty much pounded on the door for the couple minutes I sat on the toilet breathing, but it actually did help me so there you have it.
But I digress. The other side of this innate physical response is wanting to fuck some shit up. The fight side of the equation. Throw or stomp, hit a wall. I can tell you that the other side of that can be satisfying, momentarily. Throwing a Fingerling across the room a while back did release something, not going to lie. The satisfying thunk as it knocked a little notch into the drywall. But it was also scary. No one wins when mummy has a tantrum. No one happened to witness that gem, but I’m not always able to exit before letting my inner child run the show. And that little dent reminds me every time I pass it.
I wanted to share that one anecdote too because I felt so much shame about it. Even without a witness. So much shame. But when I opened up about it with some friends, I learned that other people I knew had very similar experiences. We all just feel so ashamed, we stay silent. And that gives it so much power and is so damn isolating.
Something else really helped me remove some of the shame from it too and that was looking at these responses as pretty natural. That’s kind of what I’m getting at here. Literally it is our body’s natural response to threat and stress. Want to know the science? In stressful situations, your amygdala sends an SOS to the hypothalamus, which communicates to the rest of your nervous system, letting it know whether it needs to gear up to fight or run the fuck away. See? Science. Ok so there’s a little more to it, which you can read about here, if you so choose.
And you can totally channel these moments in an opportunity to learn about yourself instead of just judging and shaming your reactions. I think there are amazing lessons buried in these moments where we get fight or flight reactions to our kids behaviours. Our bodies are responding to sometimes constant stress with zero breaks. Anytime I feel like a cornered animal, if I step back I realize it’s a clue. I probably need to set more clear boundaries with my kids when I can manage it, probably take more time to recharge and learn more about what my body and mind are needing. Also it’s an opportunity to figure out how we all can manage our stress together, both the kids and myself. Even doing all those things, I will lose my temper again. I am hopeful that with practise I can under react when I feel that telltale alarm go off and that I’ll be able to have more compassion for myself when I can’t quite muster it.
Let’s be honest though, even when I do my best to communicate my needs for quiet and space, two and five year olds aren’t always equipped with the tools to follow through. I am so grateful I don’t have to outrun lions like our ancient ancestors who required these physiological responses to survive and that we live in relative safety to a lot of people in the world. Having said that, my body’s responses don’t always align with that reality. That has really helped me look at these moments with more kindness.
I wish that I could just live in a bubble of gratitude for my two healthy kids wanting me so completely that they literally climb all over me and claw at me, but it’s just not always that simple. Gratitude can be really powerful, but it doesn’t always help in the moment of extreme claustrophobia. I’ve been on a long search for ways that I can manage to find calm and clarity in those moments of overwhelm. One thing I do I know I can control? My breath. That is mine, all mine. When I can remember to go inward and slow my breathing. In 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4, out 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4. And repeat. Or whatever breath work helps you. That there is an instant way to let my bod know it’s a false alarm. Convince it that I got this, even if I haven’t totally convinced my mind.
Then I have a better shot of having the clarity to attempt to address what’s happening externally. Is everyone safe? What is the conflict? How can I help? Can the kids figure it out themselves? And that’s when I attempt to way way under react. Go way down low low low to a place of gentle observation.
So there it is. That’s the best I have right now. Understanding my instincts and theirs. Doing my best to go inward when all I want to do is explode.
So yes. Some days I am noticing that my ability to handle the torrent of toddler and kid emotions are more manageable for me. Some days I don’t get swallowed up into the melee of their feelings. Some days I am outside of their experience, witnessing. No judgement for them or myself. In that quiet inner world, I am able to remember compassion is waiting for me patiently to take it’s gentle hand. I simply have to reach.