Life’s Little Catastrophes and the Resilient Mom

By Jennifer A. Williams

When my son was only two, he and I had just picked up a vanilla sponge cake from the bakery, a special order for a friend’s surprise birthday party. I carefully tucked the square white box on the floor between the two front seats of our family mini van. Parking in our driveway, I unhooked the quick-release on my son’s carseat so he could climb down, and I got out of the van to help him out.

Opening the sliding door, I was horrified to find him sitting proudly on the cake box with a big grin on his face. With his adorable toddler sweetness, he squealed, “It’s a perfect size seat for me, Mom!” It did look an awful lot like a booster seat. But—

Every family has stories like these—the bathroom flood caused by the stray toy that went for a swim in the toilet, the entire case of toilet paper unrolled to count the squares, a prized flowerbed stripped bare by a gleeful child making a bouquet for mommy. Recently I heard a story of a nine-year-old girl who put on her mom’s red lipstick and decorated the living room walls with kisses as a Valentine’s Day surprise for her parents!

A month later we laugh, and it becomes a fun story to tell our relatives and friends. But at the moment, what do we do? Well, that depends.

Imagine you have two “best friends” who handle things very differently.

Scenario #1: You meet your best friend at your favorite restaurant for lunch. You are just digging in to your salads when she says, “Can I tell you the cutest story?” She then relates the whole saga of ordering a cake for her friend’s birthday, going to pick it up with her two-year-old, tucking it in between the front seats, parking the car, getting out—and finding the highlight of the birthday celebration getting hopelessly smashed by said two-year-old’s posterior. You both laugh till you cry. Then you move on to talking about the books you’re reading, figuring out the next outing with your girlfriends, and showing off your new manicure or swaping your latest discoveries in permaculture.

No problem here. That’s one resilient mom!

Scenario #2: Your best friend calls you in tears. (She never has time to get together, and her phone calls are usually desperate.) She has just blown up at her two-year-old—after promising herself for the umpteenth time that she would never, ever, do that again. But he sat on the cake she had just bought for her friend’s birthday and totally destroyed it. She can’t possibly replace it because it’s too late to get another cake, even if she had the money to buy one—and besides, the whole celebration is ruined because her two-year-old is crying, and she is ready to call 911 for herself!

Uh-oh.

It’s pretty obvious even to the casual observer that friend #2 is on a very, very short fuse. As usual, she is not taking care of herself. You could just listen quietly and make an occasional empathetic comment, or you could make a mental note to gently invite her later to look at her pattern of stress and upset. At a calmer moment, you might remind her that she does have some control over her life, and she can make better choices:

“It sounds like you’re really stressed out. Have you been getting enough sleep?”

“Are you working this morning again? What about taking a break for yourself while your son’s at daycare?”

“Have you done anything recently that’s really relaxing—like taking a bubble bath by candlelight or getting a massage?”

“You were going to sign up for a Pilates class. Did you? I know exercise really helps you stay balanced.”

“What about doing some watercolors or playing the piano? You used to love art and music.”

Likely your friend will respond with a series of “no’s” and a laundry list of excuses: “I don’t have time.” “I’m always in a hurry.” “My child needs me every minute.” “We don’t have the money.” And then, “I just want to be able to be patient with my child. What’s wrong with me?”

So give your friend a little tough love: “Of course you’re exhausted and stressed. You hardly ever take a break. You need to start with yourself, taking care of yourself first.”

It can be an easy buy-in that a woman doesn’t have time for herself. After all, there’s a never-ending list of to-do’s and a flood of demands coming from every direction. Women are natural givers, and even when we’re exhausted, we’ll say “yes” one more time. And once we get into mommy mode, we may think that not having a life comes with the territory. The friend in scenario #1 may even strike us as unrealistic or selfish.

But not taking care of yourself produces scenario #2. This “all for my child, nothing for me” approach may work for a little while. But long-term, it’s a recipe for resentment that builds and then explodes when you least expect it. Then, of course, you feel guilty—and stress and chaos steal precious moments that could have been enjoyable family time. And besides, what are we modeling for our children when we put ourselves last?

It’s possible that your fuse may get a bit short from time to time. If this happens, you may need a friend to challenge you to put your needs first and to take care of yourself. Or you can be your own best friend. But how?

First, set aside a half hour (or even 15 minutes)—yes, you can do this! Grab a pen and some paper, and begin:

STEP 1    Brainstorm. Imagine your ideal life. Write down your big and little dreams. Jot down your hobbies, your favorite foods, things that are fun and make you feel really good about yourself. No censoring. Don’t say, “That will never happen.” Just let your mind explore all the possibilities.

STEP 2    Fine-tune. Review your list. Make sure it includes all the basic things you know you need to do to stay balanced, healthy, and happy, and to keep your sense of humor (enough sleep, regular and healthy meals, etc.).

STEP 3    Organize. Divide a clean sheet of paper into four squares: “Daily,” “Weekly,” “Monthly,” and “Yearly.” Plop the items from your list into the appropriate square. (Yes, include the spa vacation in the Bahamas! You may not be able to do that this year, but you can dream and make it a long-term goal.)

STEP 4    Plan.If you use a planner or a calendar, start scheduling some of these things in. Post your organized list as a reminder to take care of yourself. The bathroom mirror is a good place—read it while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning. It will be a good source of ideas you can use when you feel your fuse getting short.
STEP 5    Do it!—not because you have to but because you deserve it! Do it for the fun of it. Turn it into a game you play with yourself. You’ll feel better—and you just might feel great!

It’s OK to start small, but start! If you make taking care of yourself a priority, you may find yourself enjoying your child a lot more too.

P.S. My two-year-old cake squasher is grown now, and I really can’t remember what I had been doing in the days leading up to the Cake Box Catastrophe. But I must have been taking pretty good care of myself, because my sense of humor won out. I picked up my son and gave him a kiss, and I laughed. My friend and our children gathered on schedule for her birthday party and gobbled up the smashed cake with our fingers. It was a unique (and messy) event that turned into a cherished memory for all of us.

Copyright © 2012 Heartmanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

About the Author:

Jennifer Williams’ passion lies in helping parents and couples create loving and harmonious homes and communities where everyone can thrive. Jennifer’s life mission is to give children and families the support and skills they need to flourish and to help build a society in which all children are loved unconditionally.
She is the founder of the Heartmanity Center and is a highly sought-after relationship expert and behavioral consultant with a proven road map to heal relationships from the inside out. Yet, Jennifer still prides herself most in being the mother of three grown children and in a happy marriage of 32 years.

For more tips and articles on emotional intelligence, parenting or relationships, or a schedule for upcoming classes, visit Heartmanity.com.

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Comments

  1. Thank you Jennifer for sharing this story with us. Your cake incident is so classic! I think all moms can relate and have experienced something similar to that. The advice you give is really what being a scrumptious mom is all about — understanding the importance of taking care of ourselves so we can better serve our families and relish every day!

  2. Jennifer – Especially with the new year upon us, I appreciate all your suggestions. I think it’s really important to remember that we mothers need a little TLC. Thanks for your list. It’s a great way to get started!

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