While I was working Alyssa (my oldest daughter) text me from school saying that she was hungry. “OK?” I thought. I respond “I’m working”. She then proceeds to whine *yes, I could hear the whine through the text* about how she had been up since 6:00am, forgot her lunch, it was now 4:00pm and she wouldn’t be done with practice until 7:30pm and she was *starving*.
I cherish the notes I receive from my children—whether they are scribbled with a Sharpie on a yellow sticky note or written in perfect penmanship on lined paper.
But the Mother’s Day poem I recently received from my 9-year-old daughter was especially meaningful. In fact, the first line of the poem caused my breath to catch as warm tears slid down my face.
“The important thing about my mom is … she’s always there for me, even when I get in trouble.”
You see, it hasn’t always been this way.
In the midst of my highly distracted life, I started a new practice that was quite different from the way I behaved up until that point. I became a yeller. It wasn’t often, but it was extreme—like an overloaded balloon that suddenly pops and makes everyone in earshot startle with fear.
So what was it about my then 3-year-old and 6-year-old children that caused me to lose it? Was it how she insisted on running off to get three more beaded necklaces and her favorite pink sunglasses when we were already late? Was it that she tried to pour her own cereal and dumped the entire box on the kitchen counter? Was it that she dropped and shattered my special glass angel on the hardwood floor after being told not to touch it? Was it that she fought sleep like a prizefighter when I needed peace and quiet the most? Was it that the two of them fought over ridiculous things like who would be first out of the car or who got the biggest dip of ice cream?
Yes, it was those things—normal mishaps and typical kid issues and attitudes that irritated me to the point of losing control.
That is not an easy sentence to write. Nor is this an easy time in my life to relive because truth be told, I hated myself in those moments. What had become of me that I needed to scream at two precious little people who I loved more than life?
Let me tell you what had become of me.
Excessive phone use, commitment overload, multiple page to-do lists, and the pursuit of perfection consumed me. And yelling at the people I loved was a direct result of the loss of control I was feeling in my life.
Inevitably, I had to fall apart somewhere. So I fell apart behind closed doors in the company of the people who meant the most to me.
Until one fateful day.
My oldest daughter had gotten on a stool and was reaching for something in the pantry when she accidently dumped an entire bag of rice on the floor. As a million tiny grains pelleted the floor like rain, my child’s eyes welled up with tears. And that’s when I saw it—the fear in her eyes as she braced herself for her mother’s tirade.
She’s scared of me, I thought with the most painful realization imaginable. My six-year-old child is scared of my reaction to her innocent mistake.
With deep sorrow, I realized that was not the mother I wanted my children to grow up with, nor was it how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
Within a few weeks of that episode, I had my Breakdown-Breakthrough—my moment of painful awareness that propelled me on a Hands Free journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really mattered. That was two and a half years ago—two and half years of scaling back slowly on the excess and electronic distraction in my life … two and half years of releasing myself from the unachievable standard of perfection and societal pressure to “do it all.” As I let go of my internal and external distractions, the anger and stress pent up inside me slowly dissipated. With a lighten load, I was able to react to my children’s mistakes and wrongdoings in a more calm, compassionate, and reasonable manner.
I said things like, “It’s just chocolate syrup. You can wipe it up, and the counter will be as good as new.”
(Instead of expelling an exasperated sigh and an eye roll for good measure.)
I offered to hold the broom while she swept up a sea of Cheerios that covered the floor.
(Instead of standing over her with a look of disapproval and utter annoyance.)
I helped her think through where she might have set down her glasses.
(Instead of shaming her for being so irresponsible.)
And in the moments when sheer exhaustion and incessant whining were about to get the best of me, I walked into the bathroom, shut the door, and gave myself a moment to exhale and remind myself they are children, and children make mistakes. Just like me.
And over time, the fear that once flared in my children’s eyes when they were in trouble disappeared. And thank goodness, I became a haven in their times of trouble—instead of the enemy from which to run and hide.
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As parents, we only want what is best for our children.