It’s 10 am. I’ve been parenting for hours now. There have been wet beds and tantrums, defiance and messes. Breakfast happened with more than the average number of spills, and I’ve found spilled oatmeal more than once with my bare feet. My highly sensitive nervous system is twitching and I’m on the verge of shutting down. At least two of the four children are yelling at all times, and I can’t seem to get us all reeled back in.
Today was supposed to be different. I wanted quiet time, breakfast, and coffee before the kids woke, so I could step into the morning with a calm, glad heart and the hope that my children would follow my example. But a bad night with several kids coming to my side of the bed in the ungodly dark hours followed by a rough morning of bad behavior (not least of all, my own) has set off a cascade of crap. You know how this goes… interrupted sleep is followed by early morning chaos that cruelly precludes coffee. My nerves are frayed and my responses less than gracious. Their behavior escalates along with mine until all five of us are yelling over each other and I basically hate everything.
I’m always surprised by how the little things throw me. I see my expectations dashed over and over, in a million small ways, and I see how I come undone every. single. time.
It’s not the big things that take me down. I can handle the urgent care trips, weeks spent trying to keep a newborn fed while juggling a household and recovering from birth, severe postpartum anxiety, even a heartbreaking miscarriage. I’ve been through all of these, and for whatever reason, coming back from those was straightforward enough. I’ve been able to dig deep and find what I needed to walk forward, in some cases directly to the support of professionals.
However, when life is just the normal chaos, I freeze. My movements and words become slow and deliberate, as if I’m trying to convince myself and the officer that I have not, in fact, had too much to drink. Internally, there’s a storm of shouting and anger: “Why can’t you just handle it? Why can’t they just obey? Of course she spilled her milk. Of course she did. Why are these people so loud??? You’re the one who decided four babies in a handful of years was a good idea!”
At ten in the morning on a regular bad day, I’m hours from the partial respite of naptime for the little two and a LIFETIME away from the promised land of bedtime (or whatever point after bedtime when they’re all blessedly quiet.) I’m struggling and learning (slowly) how to bounce back from this kind of crisis.
On the worst days, it ends with me hiding in the bathroom and scrolling Facebook while the kids destroy everything.
Perhaps you feel this, too? On my best days, I remember the truth that I’ve been specifically chosen and equipped for this horde of noisy people (whom I love), and I remember the tools I’ve accrued. I don’t have a special formula that reliably salvages our bad days, but I have slowly collected the following strategies that sometimes help when I’m desperate:
Get them outside or moving. My big two are old enough to be sent out, so weather permitting, this helps them burn energy and allows them to be as loud as they want without one thousand reminders to “use your INSIDE voice!” When the weather isn’t cooperative, I devise games inside: race up and down the hall. Jump on the trampoline. Do somersaults on the futon. Whatever, as long as it’s silly and high-energy.
Reduce complexity by one. No matter how many kids I have, one fewer feels infinitely easier. Sometimes I can pull one aside (bonus if it’s the instigator of the day) for a “special activity.” This buys me the minutes I need to mitigate the chaos of the larger group and calm everything down.
Give the kids a job. I wish I were better at this, but mine are in a phase where their desire to be helpful is high, but their ability to actually help is quite low. All the same, shifting them toward productive work frequently helps their attitudes, so while it’s a lot of effort for me to set them up with jobs they can and want to do, it’s usually worthwhile for the change of atmosphere in our home. When they wash the dishes, it takes them about five times as long as it would take me to do the job alone and water gets everywhere. But suddenly my fighting, whining children have been replaced with proud, helpful ones. I’ll take the puddles.
Herd them toward read-aloud time. Or, you know, just start reading and see if anybody shows up. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it deteriorates into loud fights and whining about the book choice, but just as often, they all get quiet for at least a few minutes.
Usually, one of these will give us enough of a reset that I can catch my breath, get a glass of water, maybe go to the bathroom. There’s no magic here—the kids still need correction and attitudes require work all around, but a little shift can drastically improve the trajectory of my day.
If not, there’s always Netflix.
Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and homeschooling mama to four babies, ages one to seven. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps holed up in her bathroom with some coffee.
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