Nothing in my prior life experience and education could quite prepare me for the challenge of motherhood. Especially mothering two young boys.
I was totally unprepared for the intensity of the love that I feel for my children, but I have also been taken by surprise by the intensity of negative emotions that can sometimes come with being a mom. For example, I have felt tremendous anger when one of my children hurts the other, or someone else. I have felt maddening frustration when my youngest wakes up two hours early on a night when I really needed the sleep and my husband is out of town.
I still feel anger and frustration on some days (and nights). But I’ve learned through a lot of coaching (both self-coaching and being coached) that how I think, feel, and show up are still within my control. Now that I’ve been practicing this, I’m starting to create more evidence that this is true. Here’s how you can do the same.
They Should Be Doing This
Frustration and anger, like all emotions, come from our thoughts. The number one thought that creates anger and frustration in parenting is the thought that “my kid should not be doing that!” We have a whole rule book of “shoulds” and “should nots” that we want our children to follow.
- Kids should not hurt/hit/bite/push/throw, etc.
- Kids should listen to/obey their parents.
- Kids should not wake up in the middle of the night after __ age.
- Kids should be polite.
These seem like reasonable enough expectations and, in fact, part of our job as parents is to teach children these basic norms.
The problem with believing these thoughts is that, as a parent, you’re going to spend a lot of time feeling incredibly frustrated (and angry) as you go through the process of educating your kids. I’m not suggesting for a second that you don’t teach your kids not to hurt, how to listen, manners, etc.
What I’m suggesting is that you turn those thoughts around in your mind so that you can create more positive feelings for yourself as you parent.
For example, instead of thinking “kids should not hurt each other,” you can choose to think, “of course kids should hurt each other because that is how they learn that it’s not okay to hurt someone else.”
Or you could try “of course kids are going to hurt each other and this is my opportunity as a parent to show them how to stop doing that.” The feeling that these thoughts create is one of acceptance, calm, and motivation to teach, instead of anger or frustration.
Your Feelings Really Matter
The reason to consider cultivating more positive feelings such as acceptance and calm is that you will show up like the mom you want to be when you are coming from that place, instead of frustration or anger.
You will also be able to teach your kids much more effectively when you’re using your rational mind, which goes off-line the moment you’ve flipped your lid in anger and frustration. That’s when your problem-solving abilities and creativity become disabled and your amygdala takes over, which is what causes the waves of intense emotion. Once this has happened, you’re not going to be able to show up as the mom you want to be.
On that night when my son woke up two hours early and my husband was out of town, I was creating all kinds of upset for myself because I was thinking: “He shouldn’t be awake this early! I should be able to sleep longer! This should not be happening!” I was arguing with reality, reality was winning, and I was getting frustrated instead of showing up as the mom I wanted to be.
In retrospect, I can see that arguing with reality in that situation had zero benefit. It did not make my three-year old want to go to sleep. It did not help me get any additional sleep. It only made me feel guilty for getting frustrated with him. Now I understand that he should have woken up two hours early that day because he did. From that place of acceptance, calm, and peace, I’m able to stay in control with my rational mind and avoid having my amygdala take over.
Now when he wakes up early, I accept it from the beginning. I’m not necessarily always happy about it, but I accept that this is what is happening and that it should be happening, because it is happening. I might try to coax my son into getting a little more sleep and snuggling with me, but if he’s not interested, then I take a deep breath, get up, and go make oatmeal for him and tea for me. I choose to spend this time with him. I get to spend this time with him. When he’s a teenager, I’ll look back on these moments and be so glad that I had them. I’ll be so glad that I chose to show up as the mom that I want to be.
Go forth, grow, and bloom.