My mum is looking after my two nieces this week as my sister and brother-in-law have gone on a special trip to celebrate his 30th birthday. As I bid them farewell on Sunday I had on a what-were-you-thinking expression and wished her luck. As a mum of little ones it’s easy to get a bit complacent with allowing myself to just drift along thinking every day is a day to ‘get through’. It’s easy to believe lies that tell me I was never really cut out for this and I need to do much better. Lies that also tell me that every day is boring and belongs to my kids, not to me. If you feel like me from time to time, or all the time, here are my twelve top tips for enjoying your days raising little ones. It is not an exhaustive list of course, as I have tried not to be predictable. Some of it is a bit tongue-in-cheek but I hope you find something useful and I hope you do too even if you’re not a mum of little ones (perhaps big ones, or none at all).
1. Figure out what refreshes you and find at least five minutes to do it.
Maybe you need to socialise regularly. Get that diary out and plan, plan, plan. Perhaps toddler groups are your sanctuary. Maybe you need time alone in which case hectic toddler groups are your idea of hell. Perhaps you like to read or sew or run. If you can schedule ‘me time’ in every day then hopefully you’ll avoid regularly getting desperate for it and running on empty. I don’t think just having your evening time is necessarily enough. I do a twelve-hour day with my kids, that is a long time to have to act like Mr Tumble (that’s not really what I do but you know what I mean). Just as someone on a twelve-hour shift would take breaks, take a couple too.
2. Hold plans loosely.
Hey, let’s be flexible, then we’re less likely to turn into our Hyde alter-ego when our child decides they are tired before lunch instead of after, when we were supposed to get some down-time. But you know, it’s not just about their routine – being flexible is about you too. Sometimes we wear ourselves out taking our kids here and there, thinking we can’t just decide to change our minds about something we told them we would do or that has become routine. It’s not a decision I would make lightly or inconsiderately but often, the choice not to is best for our kids in the long run. I won’t take my kids out on their scooters if one of them seems to be in a mood where scooting off toward the horizon without so much as a backward glance is rather likely. It’s potentially risking the safety of the escapee or the one I have to ditch to chase after them. It’s also risking our connection as it will most likely result in shouting and angry words. I might choose to stay indoors because I’m shattered after my two-year-old was up at 2am babbling and saying “mummy, talk to me!” when I turned my back to her. Sometimes you can make the sacrifice but other times it’s actually wise to follow your preference and yes, an emotional outburst may occur (see no. 10) but be that as it may, your needs matter too.
3. Think about labour.
The techniques I mean – don’t got upsetting yourself! I’m starting to believe that there was some wisdom in making the task of bringing a child into the world so damn unpleasant. During labour you potentially can become an expert in the following skills:
- Deep breathing
- visualising your happy place
- constantly moving
- making your body do things it really doesn’t want to do
- trying to relax and go with the flow
- being patient not knowing what lies ahead.
Any of this sound familiar in regards to general child-rearing? I think so. Here are three examples:
Scenario A – your child is upset because you cut their sandwich into four pieces but it turns out, by saying yes when you asked they actually meant no, cut it into two. They repeat over and over that they wanted it in two as they cry with the vigour of a teenager who has just been dumped.
*Deep breaths* -empathise, acknowledge, wait for it to pass… and breathe.
Scenario B – your child is vomiting, everywhere, and you’re cleaning it up.
*Visualise happy place* -engage your senses. You can see sand, waves, smiles – not regurgitated peas. You can smell sea air, fish and chips, suncream – not… You get the idea.
Scenario C – you are crawling around on the floor building a train set/reaching into that small awkward gap they tucked your phone into/waking up at 2am then 4am then 6am/walking down the street carrying three bags, two scooters and a child..
*Body doing things it really doesn’t want to do*
And is probably not equipped to do either.
4. Talk to yourself.
“Today will be a good day.”
“I’ve got this.”
“I’m a good mum.”
“This isn’t an emergency, don’t overreact.”
“They can’t control their impulses, show them how by controlling yours.”
“Stop and listen.”
Some days, it’s as if a giant seagull is coasting above your head the whole time and frequently excreting on you. Everything seems to go wrong and be the most difficult it could be. No amount of positive thinking can change the circumstances of your day but I do think on a bigger scale, if you’re operating in that choice to change this:
“oh crap, it’s morning, I really don’t want to do two swimming lesson faffs today.”
Into this: “today will be a good day, I can handle anything that comes my way (rhyming can help), what can we do to make it special/fun/productive”
You will generally have more good days than bad and might be able to slightly lift the really bad ones. (I might put the above mantras on my fridge, or my forehead)
5. Put on some feel good music and dance/sing your heart out.
It will help get you out of a grumpy funk.
6. Get just one household chore done, even on the bad days.
I don’t know about you but it makes me cranky when I’m forced to spend my days in a pig sty. Several feelings turn me into a miserable mother in this scenario: a sense of failure, the stress of the chaos, and I feel overwhelmed and demobilised by the scale of the task. Chipping away daily helps keep things ticking along but also, getting a job done each day can give you a satisfying boost, just as ticking off a to-do in the office does. If you do more than one, well high fives all round.
7. Try to think differently about food.
Bad food is not the answer to a bad day. Good food may even help the initial problem (mood swings, hyperactivity, energy slumps – and that’s not just in the kids!) Still working on this one myself. My son had a biscuit the other day and then within a minute of eating it started charging around the room and announced, “biscuits give me biscuit power!! I have to go really really fast!” Biscuit power spells trouble for mum rather than a world-changing superpower, if experience is anything to go by.
8. If you hang out with other mum’s take the time to say something encouraging to one or all of them.
Yesterday at a toddler group, a mum told me that her and another mum were admiring my calm response to a tussle over a toy plane. This mum has told me on several occasions how she has witnessed good parenting from me and I can see she is genuinely inspired by what she has seen. It means SO much to me. When I spend 70% of my day berating myself for my failures or comparing myself to the latest articles telling me I should be doing this or that, her encouragements are a soothing balm telling me I must be doing alright.
9. Don’t stay up really late reading a novel.
If Hyde also appears when you’re tired, perhaps it’s wise to call it a night early. But then if you’re going to ignore your kids the next day because you just can’t put your book down until you know what happens in the end, probably stay up to finish it. It’s a catch 22.
10. Accept and permit emotional outbursts.
It’s so easy as parents to make it our main goal to not have to deal with a tantrum or major crying episode. We can either appease too easily, offer food as a solution, give in to the demand, or just get really irritated when they make us feel oh-so-guilty and don’t just say “thanks mum, I never saw it like that” akin to Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch. Kids need to express emotion to be able to handle their emotions now and in the future. How many times have you heard it said to a wailing child, or said yourself, “you don’t need to cry”? I’ve found myself saying it out of frustration even though I don’t believe I should. It communicates a few things that I don’t think are helpful:
- Other people can/should dictate how and why you express negative emotion, if you don’t feel “permitted” to you ought to repress it.
- Crying is generally not a good thing to do and must be avoided unless there is a definite need for it, i.e. a really really bad situation.
- It expresses the sentiment that your pain isn’t real or valid.
Repressed emotion can lead to a lot of problems. Crying was created to be a positive release. It’s a healthy expression of pain, disappointment and grief. You don’t necessarily need to fix it and often we get so exasperated because our logical answers to the problem get rebuffed. They just need a cry, it’s not really about how the sandwich was cut, or the power saw they absolutely must hold.
11. Laugh – at everything.
Your kids, the situations you end up in, and most importantly – yourself. The amount of times in one day I’ll say something and then immediately think: “what the hell? Do I even understand what I just said?”
Today I said these words to a nearly-four-year-old: “maybe you should reflect on the choice you just made.”
Apparently I was talking to him but visualising a teenager. The amount of incoherent things I say, usually when trying to deal with some bad behaviour, could be collected together and made into a 300-page book. You’re ridiculous and funny sometimes, so laugh – it will do you good.
In the last five minutes my son said something completely barmy and hilarious and in the same moment my two-year-old was trying to put a foot stool in my trouser pocket. I could spend most of my day smiling and laughing if I let things go quicker and didn’t get in a mood. There have been plenty of days in the past nine months where I have not had the capacity to do this, but that’s ok. Some days and seasons are like that.
How many times have you been with another mum and they’ve suddenly exclaimed:
“Oh, I must tell you about what happened the other day, I couldn’t believe it, it was a complete disaster…”
Friends of mine recently got stranded in a nearby town because the trains weren’t running properly. They had two toddlers and two babies between them, it was pouring down rain and it was tea-time. The kids were hungry, they were all tired, places were closing and any train they got on was going to be rammed. They had to leave the heaving train station and thankfully were permitted to camp out in a cinema complex until their husbands could come and collect them. Disaster. But as my friend told me about it, she wasn’t cross, she was smiling. It was a good story and something to laugh about… But not at the time, of course.
Last, but by no means least..
This may not be your bag but it is pretty essential for me. Ask for patience, grace, kindness and all those important attributes. Or just that someone will rock up with a croissant and a latte. Being patient for an entire day seems like the bigger miracle.
Have a good day mummy’s – you’ve got this!
*For my mum and mother-in-law (who is looking after our kids this weekend) – you’re super Nana’s.*