Nobody’s perfect. And that goes doubly for parents. Sooner or later, we all feel ourselves getting triggered by our kids or life’s responsibilities or a challenging situation and feel like we’re about to lose it! There are ways to get ourselves under control and learn to stay calm in even the most challenging situations. While we still won’t be perfect, we might be able to feel a little less on edge…
The first step is to take stock in the situation. Before flying “off the handle” as my mother used to refer to it, try to take a step back and assess what’s really going on. If you are really stressed about work issues but find yourself reacting to your three-year-old’s incessant questions, try to identify what’s going on before you just react and say or do something you will likely regret.
The next step is to give yourself a time out, if possible. If it is not possible, try the old trick of breathing and counting to ten. My own kids soon learned that when they heard Mom counting backward, she was “on the brink.” They really knew something was up if I was counting backward from twenty! This was a cue for all of us that I needed a break to get calm before I could face the stressors of the situation. If you can, take a bath or go for a walk or even shut yourself in your room for a few minutes to give yourself a needed time out before jumping back in to the situation. You will likely be able to approach it with renewed calmness and a fresh eye.
In order to be able to function under pressure, you need to be able to let go of feelings of guilt and self-reproach. It doesn’t do you, or the situation, any good for you to be angry at yourself or feel guilty because you see yourself as “less than perfect.” We’re all less-than-perfect, that’s the reality of being a human. Guilt is a very heavy burden for many parents – letting it go will you leave you feeling lighter and more “in the moment.”
If possible, verbalize how you are feeling. It is completely appropriate to verbalize to your children (using appropriate language, of course) that you are upset, angry, frustrated, tired, etc. By using “I” statements and letting your feelings out, they won’t be bubbling and boiling inside. Not only that, but you’ll also be modeling for your children appropriate ways to verbalize feelings: “I’m feeling frustrated because we are running late and I have a lot to accomplish at work today!” While you may think your child is too young and self-absorbed to understand, verbalizing is not necessarily for your child, it is for you. By owning and acknowledging your feelings, you will be able to feel grounded and centered sooner than if you try to suppress them.
Sometimes, it’s just best to avoid situations that are major triggers. Avoidance is not always a bad thing. Knowing your limits and what situations and circumstances are particularly challenging will help you avoid getting into a place where you feel like you’re going to lose control. As a single mom with three kids, I knew that my time and energy were finite. I set a rule when my kids were in elementary school that they each could only do one extracurricular activity at time. It was just a hard and fast rule. It was challenging enough to juggle multiple sports events, parties and activities without making things harder on myself. If I knew we were too busy and I couldn’t handle a sleepover at our house, I had to say so. If I let myself say “yes” when I knew I should say “no” – my exhaustion and resentment would contribute to my getting pretty darn grumpy.
It is also important for parents to get, and keep, a life outside of parenthood! Make sure you have interests, friends, hobbies and get out and create some physical movement in your life. This will help you to de-stress, have people to talk to when things get rough and keep balance and necessary distance between your kids and yourself. There is nothing like being able to shut yourself in your room and call a friend to say you’re losing it. But it’s also great to have built-in activities that get you out and about and keep the non-mom parts of you alive and thriving.
Finally, learn to let things go. The old saying, “this too, shall pass” can be a mantra when things get really crazy. Everything truly is temporary. Many parents find nurturing their spirituality, giving problems over to God, or the universe or holding on to prayer and./or mediation are major saving graces while embracing their role as parents.
If you find yourself losing control often, or feeling overwhelmed, anxious, angry, or you are wrestling with addiction or feel as if you can be violent toward your family or children (or yourself), you should get help immediately. While we all feel a little “on edge” some of the time, feeling perpetually stressed should be addressed by a trained professional.