Sometimes it takes an innocent comment from a child to make us recognize our own behavior. As parents, we’re juggling so much that it’s easy to get stressed out and lose perspective. This happened recently during what I call the Crazy Period -- the time between when school gets out and bedtime. There’s a mad rush of things to do as soon as my first grader gets home. Some days are better than others depending on after school activities, homework cooperation and fussiness of the baby.
On one particular day the Crazy Period was making me feel extra frazzled. After school my two daughters and I rushed straight to my eldest’s Tae Kwon Do class at 4 PM. Upon arriving, she needed to change into her uniform. With class starting in five minutes, I urged her to hurry up. In the meantime, the baby’s witching hour had kicked in, therefore she started to fuss.
We finally got into the building, and during class I tried to keep the baby occupied with snacks and drinks. “Ahhhhggggg!” she cried out, throwing puffs and turning red. “How about Cheerios?” I offered. “Nahhhhhhh!” she’d scream as the cereal scattered on the floor. I cleaned up the snacks, and we went outside into the winter chill to avoid disturbing class. The baby calmed down, but it was too cold to stay out for long. In and out of the building we went with fussiness peaking and plunging like a roller coaster.
After class ended, I felt on edge and frustrated. I instructed my eldest to quickly put on her socks, shoes and coat. “I can’t zipper my coat!” she blurted. I let out an exasperated sigh and clasped the zipper while trying to verbally soothe the baby who was now whimpering for my attention.
We got home at 5 PM, and my mind swirled with everything I still needed to do: help with homework, pack my daughter’s lunch and snack bags, cook and eat dinner, feed the baby, bathe the kids and do it all before baby’s inevitable meltdown should she miss her 7 PM bedtime.
I directed my eldest to start homework which is part of her daily routine: homework, dinner, bath, quiet time then bedtime. But on this day she didn’t want to do homework, and reinstated her position with defiance and loud whining. The baby joined in the chorus with wails, and I developed a headache. “Just do your homework!” I ordered while giving a stern look.
I finally threatened to take away the My Little Pony dolls, and it was then that she started her homework. Through it all, she protested while I was trying to multitask and failing miserably in the process. The dinner on the stove was burning, the baby wouldn’t eat her food, and my daughter refused to fix mistakes on her homework. I was tense, agitated and raising my voice.
“Mama?” peeped my eldest.
“What?!” I huffed.
“Just be happy.”
She looked at me imploringly, and I stopped.
I took a deep breath. I stopped the To-Do list whirling in my mind like a tornado. I stopped tensing my shoulders. I stopped raising my voice. I just stopped.
The simplicity and honesty of my daughter’s words echoed in my mind. I realized that through my actions and words I was inadvertently teaching my kids a bad way to handle stress. I needed to keep my frustrations in check.
“Yes, you’re right,” I said to my daughter. “Just be happy.”
From that day on, I made small changes to alleviate the after school Crazy Period. I started using a slow cooker to prepare meals in the morning that would be cooked by the end of the day. If my eldest refused to fix homework mistakes, instead of battling head to head, I would say, “If you don’t believe mommy is right then let’s just leave the mistake, and your teacher will correct you tomorrow.” That was enough incentive for her to correct her mistakes immediately.
Later on that particularly frazzling day, I apologized to my daughter and thanked her for the good life advice. I tucked her into bed, we said “I love you,” and I smiled. Because I was happy.
Parenting is full of both joyous and messy moments. There's no perfect way to parent, which is why we've teamed up with Clorox to celebrate all of life's little messes. Do you have a personal story about your kids that impacted your approach to parenting or helped you stop stressing the little things? Let us know your perfectly imperfect parenting tale at firstname.lastname@example.org.