keeping your cool


as you parent

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really didn’t know who I was until I became a parent.  Before kids, I would have described myself as an energetic, confident person who is able to maintain control of my reactions and emotions exceptionally well.  Four kids later and I have no idea where that girl went.  Parenting has a way of exposing every area of our life that we need to work on.  It may be our shortage of patience or creativity or drive.  Sometimes it isn’t even an area of weakness.  It might just be a natural need like sleep or privacy or umm sanity.  The common reaction is to blame the children.  We were not this way before they came into our lives so, clearly, we are only losing our cool because they are pressing our buttons and pushing us past our limit. It’s only natural to react this way, right?  I challenge you to consider the fact that, maybe, the journey through parenting is simply revealing to us the areas of growth in ourselves.  If we take the initiative to work through these obstacles, we can train ourselves to keep our cool as we parent our children, regardless of their behavior. 

The following are some tips that have worked for me in my struggle to keep my cool as I raise my children.  And it’s just that, a struggle.  A continuous struggle.   

 1. be the calm in their storm

As adults, our brains are developed and capable of rational reasoning and emotional control.  Our children’s brains are not there yet.  So even when they seem to be in emotional turmoil caused by something totally mundane, their feelings are very real and overwhelming to them.  They feel like they are standing in the middle of a storm and can’t find a way out.  Imagine what that would be like.  It would produce panic, anxiety, confusion and an inability to think logically.  It’s up to me as the parent to either enter the storm with them, or pull them out to the calm where I am. 

The thing that helps me stay calm in these situations is working very hard to remain above the emotion.  We must not enter the emotion.  We will be pulled, but we must resist.  Keeping ourselves above the emotional reaction the child is having ensures that we remain in control of the pace of the discussion.  Focus on keeping your voice low and your tone unreactive.  By remaining outside of the storm, you can navigate your child through it and bring them out to the calm. 

This is very challenging because sometimes, the child seems to be deliberately trying to bother you.  But take a step back and look at the bigger picture here.  As parents, we stop our kids from doing things they want to do all the time.  We stop them from eating yummy looking garbage.  We make them wear uncomfortable seat belts in the car.  We tell them that they can’t hit their annoying sibling.  Yes, we are keeping them safe and healthy, but in the moment, that doesn’t matter to them.  We are bothering them so they want to let us know they’re not cool with that.  They choose whatever means they have, like disobedience or throwing or running away.  What they need is a gentle navigation to a calm place of safety and love. 

This does not mean that we should not discipline our children.  It also does not mean that we will one day bring our children to a place where they will never disobey or challenge us.  What it does mean is that our responsibility is in navigating our children through big emotions in a way that keeps them safe and healthy.  We also need to equip them with tools that they can use to navigate themselves out.  These tools are given to them by example.  When we are calm through the storm, when our voice is level and unreactive, when our expressions demonstrate compassion and patience, they will gradually learn to model that behaviour when their emotions are riding high.  

 2. take personal breaks

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s impossible sometimes.  Most times.  There’s no time to step away and breathe.  But, mamas, You. Have. to.

Taking a break is not a luxury mamas.  If your car is out of gas, you can be as nice to it as you’d like, but it isn’t going anywhere.  You need to take regular breaks.  Once a day, carve out 10 minutes to sit alone somewhere.  You can put on a video, give the kids some stickers, or wake up 10 minutes early.  Also, once a week, work on getting a night off.  Get a babysitter, ask a grandma or plan it with your husband.  This may sound difficult, but it is necessary.  Work on making it a priority.  This isn’t just for your benefit.  When you take breaks, you press the reset button on any built up frustration and can parent your children with a full cup.  It is absolutely crucial.

There are even times, when taking an immediate two minute break is very helpful.  I remember one day as I was getting my three little ones ready to get out the door – putting on jackets, hats, neck warmers, boots, making sure everyone peed and no one is taking off the things they’ve already put on – it started happening.  You know that rush of frustration and anxiety that just floods you when you’ve just crossed your line of tolerance and you’re about to lose it? I could feel myself entering the territory where I will raise my voice and start reacting at my children.  My 2 year old had unzipped his jacket, my 5 year old had opened the door and a cold wind rushed in, and my 4 year old dropped one of her Barbie’s shoes and was about to throw a fit.  I remember closing the front door, taking a deep breath, straightening up and speaking to my kids in a calm but stern voice.  I said, “guys, I’m starting to get pretty frustrated and I don’t want to yell.  But I’m feeling like you all need to cooperate so that we can actually make it out the door.  I’m going to walk into this bathroom here for a couple of minutes to calm down and when I come out, I’d like you all to be more cooperative.”  I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and took some deep breaths.  I tried to clear my mind and remind myself of their little-ness.  A couple of minutes later, I came out, finished getting everyone ready, and out we went.  Yes, it’ll take a bit longer.  Yes, you might even be a bit late.  It’s okay.  You kept your control of the situation and you taught your children that they can too.  And this all came from a tiny, little break.  It’s worth it. 

 3. quiet the inner critic

We all have that mean, annoying version of ourselves that lives inside our head and doesn’t seem to miss an opportunity to let us know how much we suck at something.  Well, it’s time we told it to take a hike.  Mothering is one of the hardest things you will ever go through.  And it’s a long journey.  If that critical voice is louder and more present than a voice of affirmation, you will struggle.  And who needs an added hurdle in this whole thing?  We need to learn to give ourselves grace.  Practice first quieting that inner critical voice.  When mean thoughts come up, say stop.  Even out loud, say stop.  Move yourself past the thought and don’t listen to it.  Then, when you master that, replace the bad thoughts with positive affirmations.  Remind yourself of how hard you’re working, what you did well today, what others admire about you.  There is so much that you’re rocking at, mama.  And if you don’t believe me then that inner critic is talking to you again… say stop.

 4. practice… a lot

We set out on these grand, noble missions and we motivate ourselves to succeed only to find out that this is hard, and we keep failing.  Failing sucks but we must realize that we will not always do it right mamas.  We will lose our temper and yell and make bad decisions.  We are humans.  But we will also catch those mistakes and work on the areas of growth in our parenting.  It will not come overnight or over a week or month or year.  We will continue working on being good moms forever.  And right when we feel like we have a bit of a grip on this toddler thing, they’ll grow into school-aged kids, then pre-teens, then teens (oh the fear!).  So we practice and practice and practice. 

You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child, I sometimes wonder how that translates into our society today.  My thought is that we are each other’s village.  Keep in mind that you are another mom’s village and she is yours.  Maybe that other mom is the frazzled lady in the checkout line that so desperately needs to hear that she’s doing the right thing by not buying the chocolate bar that her kid is freaking out over.  Maybe that other mom is the quiet mom at the park that seems to be trying to start a conversation with you every once in a while.  Maybe it’s the strong mom at the gym that seems to have it all together.  We need to lift each other up and contribute with words of encouragement.  That, on its own, will create an environment of calm and empowerment and will enable us to better keep our cool as we parent. 

If you like this, or if you found it useful, please share with other moms that might benefit from it as well.  I’d also love to hear some ways you’ve been able to keep your cool so comment below with some tips or thoughts.