Sometimes I feel like the worst mother in the world. If I look at my kids through the logical lense of reason, I can see four loving, somewhat well-behaved children. Unfortunately, I am usually looking at them from the sharp precipice of harried frustration. If you take a mom who is worn out and expect her to care for a handful of active children (can they please share some of that energy?), the result is generally an unhappy conglomeration of yelling, crying, and...did I mention yelling?
It is not just that I feel guilty for all of the yelling, which I do, but I also feel like a failure for not being able to parent in a calm, reasonable fashion. I guess in a way I am coveting the way some people are able to keep their kids under control. And by some people I mean those really annoying women whose voices never leave the decibel of sugary-sweetness, but whose kids always behave. I sometimes wonder if I should be hanging around women like that, as if maybe their calm parenting style will rub off on me through osmosis. Is that the same thing as wishing that money grew on trees? AKA...impossible?
One thing that I have learned about parenting, thanks in part to some very painful advice from my mom: if my kids are acting crazy, I probably am doing something wrong. It is so easy to get caught up in the craziness and to simply increase my volume when I want to be heard, but it is not very effective, so I may as well expend my energy in a more useful way, such as figuring out why the kids are acting like they just escaped from Bellevue (the insane asylum, not the Nebraska community).
It is amazing how simple the solution can sometimes be, if only we are willing to take the time out to discover the root problem. I remember one instance recently when my son, who is normally happy to perform his chores (it's true, I swear) was being particularly difficult and rebellious. When I finally pulled him aside and asked him what was wrong I discovered that he was upset about a friend of his who was moving to a different town. How sad that I normally would have just kept raising my voice level, and along with it my frustration, until one of us finally broke down. Similarly, with my girls I often find that an episode of disrespect is prompted by the simple need for affection. As busy as I am, I do not always take enough time to just hold my kids and let them know that I love them. This is especially a problem with my older daughter. I forget that even though she is no longer at the cute and cuddly toddler stage, she still needs those moments of physical affection to make her feel secure.
I believe this lesson is a fairly universal one that can be translated into many other relationships. If my husband is being very grumpy, I should ask myself whether I am adding to his already mountainous pile of stress by complaining about things too much, or failing to share in the family workload. If my sister is acting distant, maybe I need to take a few minutes to call her and let her talk about whatever is bothering her. The key component here is taking the time out of this chaotic whirlwind we call life to truly focus on the unspoken needs of the people we love. And maybe the next time we are dangling from that precipice of harried frustration, we will calmly decide to turn around and climb down, rather than jumping headlong into the abyss of insanity.