Tuesday 8 March 2016

How I dug myself out of a parenting pit (and how you can too)

Last week wasn’t a good week. Do you ever have those days where everything feels to be going wrong? Where you can’t seem to do anything right? And where you end every night knowing you’ve been a crap parent? Well, that was me all last week. It wasn’t fun. I seemed to spend the whole week arguing with Ebony. She wanted to do one thing and I wanted to do another, and by the end of the week, we were engaged in World War 2 million. It was exhausting and completely draining. I wasn’t having any fun and I’m sure Ebony wasn’t either.

It culminated on Friday with a failed trip to the ballet where we ended up coming straight back home, both feeling angry and miserable. It was definitely the lowest point I’ve reached as a parent. Ebony was furious at me on the way home and I can’t say I was overly keen on her either. When we got home, we each went our separate ways to calm down. She stayed downstairs for a bit and I sat upstairs trying to work out what had gone wrong and what I could do about it.

I honestly felt like a complete failure. I felt like I was letting Ebony down, letting myself down and simply not being the parent I so want to be. And, at the same time, I felt so annoyed with her for ‘being difficult’ that I didn’t know where to begin in turning things around. I was mad at us both. I felt completely and utterly helpless. It’s not often I feel lost as a parent, but on Friday I could feel the panic of failure rising inside me and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.

And, now, I feel completely different. I feel like I’m back on top form, my relationship with Ebony has improved and things feel beautiful again. It’s crazy the difference just a few days can make. I honestly felt on Friday that things would never go back to being good, that I was a terrible mother and always would be, and that Ebony and I would live as enemies forever more. When you’re stuck in a parenting pit like that, it’s not always easy to pull yourself out of it. But, I have, and I thought I would share with you how I did it because we all have days or weeks like that and they’re really awful. I knew that I needed to completely reset and start over, and I’m so glad I did. Here are some things to try when you’re stuck in a parenting pit:

1. Reach out for support
This was the very first thing I did when I got home on Friday afternoon. I sat on my bed feeling out of control and, through tears, I sent a message to a friend. I feel incredibly lucky to have some amazing mothers as friends, women who will support me and pick me up when I’m down. One friend, in particular, is always the person I go to for advice. She is an amazing mother, she’s completely honest with me when I ask her for advice and she does her research so I trust what she says.

I sent her a message explaining how I felt, what had happened and how I was feeling a little lost. Within the hour, I had a reply that felt like a lifeline. In it, she reminded me that a strong-minded, opinionated daughter willing to fight or her beliefs are exactly what I want. I know this, of course, but it’s easy to forget when you’re stuck in a power battle over something stupid with a four year old. Gah, why can’t she just do what I say, I think, forgetting that the answer is because I don’t want her to. I want her to be strong enough to question authority, to stand up for causes she believes in and to refuse to follow blindly. Even just that simple reminder was a friend was enough for me to reframe the afternoon’s drama in my mind.

My friend also gave a few examples from her own life of her own parenting struggles and how she works to overcome them. There is nothing I find more helpful than real life examples when it comes to parenting. It’s all very well giving vague advice, but what I really want and need is examples of how to do things. It’s also so good to be reminded that other people have struggles, too. It’s not just me who has moments like that, everyone does, even the friends I consider to be the most wonderful and amazing mothers. Just a couple of messages were exchanged, but by the end of the conversation, I felt a million times better. I was starting to see a way out of the parenting pit I’d been stuck in.

2. Do some research
After speaking to my friend, I decided to do a little bit more research into how I could turn things around. It was pretty obvious that things were going wrong, I just needed figure out why. I decided to have a read of How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk, it’s a book I have dipped into before but have never read to cover to cover. It’s a really good book and I would definitely recommend it to any parent who is having difficulties communicating with their child. The book has really forced me to question how I speak to Ebony, how I respond to her and how I can improve this.

3. Take some time for yourself
That evening, after Ebony was eventually tucked up in bed (bedtime battle? Oh yes), I decided to take a little time for myself. Instead of spending the evening lounging in front of Netflix, I ran a bath. I spent an hour by myself, reading the book I mentioned above and just contemplating how my week had gone so wrong. What were the points of friction between Ebony and myself? What behaviours were triggering me to respond angrily instead of taking the time to speak to her calmly like I usually would? What could I change to try and prevent this? While in the bath, I decided that what I really needed was some quality family time to really refocus my feelings.

4. Be honest
It’s not easy to sit down with someone and say ‘I feel like a shit mum’, they’re not really words I ever want to hear myself think nevermind say aloud. Ever since Ebony was first born, I’ve felt like I knew what I was doing. I have always felt like I was made for motherhood, I didn’t think it before I became a mother, but as soon as Ebony was born, I knew I’d found my calling. I think that’s partly why last week felt so terrible. Of course, I’ve had moments or days where I’ve felt less than perfect before, but never a whole week. And never so far from perfect. When Laurie and I got into bed on Friday, I started to cry. I told him that I felt I’d let Ebony down, that I needed to do something drastic to get back to where I like to be as a parent and that I wanted us to take some quality time as a family. Laurie works in the week and I often end up working weekends, so we don’t really spend that much time as a family of three.

5. Focus on your child
We decided to leave our phones at home and head out for the day on Saturday. It’s too easy to get distracted by technology, and I don’t really think we have any understanding of how our children feel when they are competing with technology for our attention. Even taking a photo on my phone can quickly turn into checking Facebook, replying to an email and sending a WhatsApp. So we left them at home. We decided we would be the best parents we could be and that we would try to escape the day without a fallout. In all honestly, I didn’t think it would work. I felt that Ebony had been so difficult lately that we wouldn’t even get in the car before one of us was in tears. I was so wrong. We had a perfect day. We went sledging at Lyme Park, we built a snowman and had a snowball fight. We had a picnic in the snow and spent some time on the adventure playground. There were no fallouts, no angry words and no tears. It was just perfect. Ebony was obviously enjoying having the undivided attention of both parents for a change and I was enjoying not being an angry dick.

6. Talk to your child
I think communication is really important. As parents, we hold our kids to pretty high standards so I feel it’s only fair to hold ourselves to the same. If I mess up, I want that to be something we can talk about. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes all the time, and I think it’s important to show Ebony that. If I shout at her in a moment of frustration, I want to be able to later tell her that I crossed a line and it’s not ok to shout. After our perfect family day on Saturday, Ebony and I had a chat about the week. I talked about the mistakes I’d made and how I wanted us to get on better, and together we thought of ways we could make that happen. I said that instead of getting angry, I would take deep breaths when I could feel myself getting annoyed. She agreed that she would do the same, and we’ve been using this technique the past couple of days and I’m pleased to say it has worked.

7. Forgive yourself
This is probably the hardest thing to do. I think as parents we hold onto a lot of guilt, I know I do and usually over stupid things. When Ebony was a baby, I had (completely unimportant, inconsequential) things that went round and round in my head at night. That can still happen now and it’s exhausting. I felt so stressed and drained after last week that I couldn’t sleep, I just kept thinking about all the ways I’d let her down that week. This probably sounds dramatic, but pregnancy insomnia is a powerful thing. Over the past few days, I’ve been able to focus on the positives of turning things around rather than the negatives of last week. I’m not perfect and I never will be, but if I can try my hardest to do my best, then that’s something.

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