Okay, I admit it. I lost my, uh, “composure” with my kids today. We’ll just call it composure because I truly only have curse words to describe the scene at my house a few hours ago. My toddler is doing exactly what she’s designed to do right now…resist! Today each activity we did to get ready to go out was met with tears, resistance and anger. Just to give you a sense of what that means:
She screamed in the bath when it came time to wash her hair and threw the toys out of the tub. This was followed by her feeling very upset with me that I washed her hair. She then wanted to be held and comforted after this ordeal, but this was complicated by her little brother crying. As I went to hold him, she then began crying loudly again about…what?…abandonment? I fed her brother half of his bottle, then went to hold her again. She began to calm down, but the topic of getting her dressed, and brushing hair/teeth was mentioned and she fell apart. Her brother then decided he was ready for the rest of his bottle, which meant I would need to abandon her again. This cycle of her almost calming down and then escalating went on for an hour and a half. Fast forward to me getting her in the car for an outing. (It is important to note that my daughter is overly sensitive to sensory input, so doing things like washing hair or brushing hair can be very upsetting for her.) Usually, I can remind myself about how sensitive she is and I can adjust my approach when she becomes upset. Today was not usual for either of us though. I was too tired to want to parent from a mindful place. Today was a day, where I followed her lead into dysregulation and I began to raise my voice. She sat shocked for a moment and then said, “Mommy that was rude.” Well shit, she’s right. That was rude.
Yes, my daugther was tough today, but I am the parent. I set the tone for how connection, disconnection and repair go. So this exchange gave me a lot of material to sift through as we ran our errands today. As a sleep-deprived or self-care deprived parent, how do we find time for our own needs? Also, how do we keep our cool when we really want our kids to behave in a manner that does not reflect their age? In this instance, I would have loved for my daugther to wash/brush her hair, brush teeth and get dressed without the tantruming or whining. Did I take time to consider that she did not fall asleep until late last night? Uh, no. Did I take into account that I know she gets upset when getting ready? Not really. What I did was hope that this routine would magically fall into place today. That’s the truth. I just wanted it to work because I’m tired. In an unconscious way, I wanted her to take care of my needs by being compliant with my requests. I wanted her to take my perspective into account. As I write this I’m all too aware that I am child and family therapist and I should know better. Here’s the kicker though, I do know better. I know she is three and is not capable of meeting my needs. If I go through this exchange again (and I know I will), I hope to take some much needed time for myself before or after the exchange. I can only teach my children how to regulate their emotions by doing it myself. I know that for me, that means taking time away from them to do simple things like writing, exercising or girl’s night out etc. I wrote about this today because I know I am not alone. Many of us “know better,” but we can all to often be too tired or overwhelmed to be thoughtful about how we treat the little souls in our lives.
I will leave you today with this quote from Dan Siegel:
“Connection is about walking through the hard times with our children and being there for them when they’re emotionally suffering, just like we would if they scraped their knee and were physically suffering.”