It’s Summertime. Why Are My Kids Still Driving Me Crazy!?
What will it take? It’s a beautiful day. We’re at the pool. And you three are STILL fighting!
Why can’t you be more like your cousins? They eat dinner without a single meltdown with Aunt Jill and Uncle Robert every night.
I’ve had it! I can’t deal with this anymore! Go to your room right now and don’t come out for a week!
(…Why did I handle it like that? I shouldn’t have handled it like that. I’m a terrible mother.)
Wait. Isn’t it summertime when we are suppose to be feeling mindful, in the moment, and intentional with our kids? Summer, with its long days and warm nights, is the season that allows us to step back from our hurried race of parenting to take a pause and bring consciousness to our relationships. Right? So, why do we feel like we’re nagging more than ever, the kids are finding new and creative ways to provoke each other, and we’re bickering with our spouse over who is stuck with bedtime duty?
While it’s true that summer brings relief from some stressors, in other ways, we are merely trading in a headache for a stomachache. The summer months come with their own set of problems. Devoid of the structure and distraction of school, the increased downtime at home with family members can lead to more quarreling and criticizing. Rather than being “next to godliness”, as some say, togetherness can magnify already existing family tensions that the school day actually offers a break from. And when family conflicts continue despite our best efforts, it’s really hard not to feel depleted, discouraged, and insecure as parents. Self-flagellation and recrimination are a lethal combination that put us at risk for, what I call, the Vortex of Doom (VoD). This downward spiral of thoughts and feelings fueled by self-criticism, negative comparisons, frustrated expectations, and globalizing is as painful as it is unproductive. Nobody makes the best decisions, parenting or otherwise, while feeling this way.
There are ways to avoid falling into a Vortex of Doom this summer.
THINK ABOUT YOUR THINKING
As a parent, you are continuously taking stock of your emotions and reactions. And, when you are more conscious, you are more able to communicate clearly and effectively with your kids, thus avoiding the automatic fall into the VoD. When your family members are upsetting you, try and step back a little. Pause to take a deep breath and clear your head. Think about the situation from a future vantage point – “How upset will I be about this particular event two weeks from now?” In the time it takes you to answer, my guess is you will have readjusted your emotional response and then your actions.
QUIT COMPARING YOUR “INSIDE” TO SOMEONE ELSE’S “OUTSIDE”
One of my favorite quotes is: Comparisons are the thief of joy. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, and sometimes this can be an OK thing, inspiring us to set new goals and walk outside our comfort zone a little. But, all too often, we compare ourselves unfairly to others. A main forum for unfair comparisons is social media. As easy as it is to tell our teens not to define themselves by how many instagram “likes” they get or how many posts they are tagged in, we do the same thing. And wind up feeling just as lousy as our kids. How many times have you looked at your Facebook feed and thought to yourself, “Look at what a beautiful happy family they have” followed by the thoughts, “My family is never this happy. We fight all the time. Look at how many trips they take. We never go anywhere together. We couldn’t. We’d kill each other”. We know intellectually that the second this fantasy family breaks from the photo lens, they are devolving into the ordinary messiness of family life.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO WALK AWAY
Time outs are not just for kids. Somehow we feel it is our job as the parent to get involved and negotiate peace between family members when there is fighting. Next time this happens, remove yourself. Unless somebody is getting physically hurt, it’s not on you to fix it.
MOMENTS OF PEACE
Notice and underline your moments of peace. Whether you are alone or with another family member, notice out loud the moments of sweetness. Express gratitude for them. “I really enjoy sitting out here with you and listening to the wind.” Sounds corny, I know. But, it works. Just the simple act of paying solid attention to these moments helps them happen more often.
STOP “SHOULDING” ON YOURSELF
So many parents are so overwhelmed with the “shoulds” in their lives, they have forgotten what a “want” feels like. Their heads are filled with thoughts like “I should be more patient.” “I should play with my kids more.” “My kids should behave better. If I were a better parent, they would”. When you hear yourself “shoulding on yourself”, begin to talk back to those judgmental, guilt-inducing voices. Make them a little less automatic in nature. Begin to ask yourself questions like: “Is this something I HAVE to do? If not, don’t do it!” We all have obligations and want our kids to understand the importance of being good people. But, it’s tough being a parent. Let’s stop shoulding on ourselves, shall we?