A few years ago, I was in a local grocery store, standing in line waiting for the cashier. We were in the early years of raising our twin grandsons with special needs, and I was incredibly frazzled all the time. Like most moms (caregiver, in my case), grocery shopping without kids is an escape. On this particular day, the boys were either home with my husband or with their parents. Either way, I was alone and enjoying every moment of it.
I noticed a young pregnant mother in line with at least four or five children surrounding her. All of them looked to be under the age of 5. What stood out to me the most as I watched her is that none of her kids ran off, screamed, wailed or demanded attention. And most of all, she looked calm — serene, even.
I remember looking at her, marveling at her ability to handle all of those kids while pregnant. And then I was amazed at how well-behaved the children were. Granted, they could have all melted down the minute they were in the car, but at that moment, everything was fine.
I will never forget that scene because I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t handle the noise, the overwhelm, the demands and meltdowns?” I’ve thought that many times, at parks, school functions, family gatherings and at the grocery store. You can probably relate if you have children, especially children with special needs or behavior and conduct disorders.
She knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out. I desperately wanted to ask her, but the introvert in me kept my mouth shut. So I did the next best thing. I searched the internet looking for clues about how to be a calmer parent.
You see, all of us have particular challenges that prevent us at times from being the people we want to be. In my case, I have a neurological and hormonal condition called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). It never occurred to me as a first-time mom those issues were significant contributing factors to being an “angry mom.”
I’m not proud of it, but yes, I yelled. I screamed. I demanded. I controlled. My kids grew up with a mother who lost it regularly. I was overwhelmed, emotionally dysregulated, and unable to cope with the stress of raising kids, working anywhere from one to three jobs sometimes, and managing the household. It was too much for me to handle.
So I was in constant reaction mode, flying off the handle over everything. I made my kids feel belittled, not good enough, and desperate to leave as soon as they were old enough. I lived with guilt and shame for years.
It’s not easy admitting my mistakes. I’ve learned to forgive myself. I didn’t know what I didn’t know back then. We’re all growing and learning from the moment our children are born.
Mistakes are what help us grow, learn and change.
And sharing them with you helps me heal every time I talk about my experience. If it helps another parent recognize their own mistakes and seek to change them, I’m fulfilling my mission to encourage parents to create peaceful, happy homes.
It wasn’t until my kids were out of the house, grown-up, estranged from me, and living their own lives that I discovered what was wrong with me and how to manage the conditions. (We’re all now on good terms.)
Having PMDD is like PMS on steroids. It’s unimaginable and challenging. Only another person with PMDD can even begin to understand. As for ADHD, well, that leads me to be highly scattered, distracted, and mentally exhausted at the end of each day. It’s not an excellent combination for calm parenting.
After several years of not raising kids, I didn’t think I’d have to deal with the emotional rollercoaster and daily stresses of mom life anymore.
I was emotionally in a good place, so I thought. That’s because I didn’t have the triggers and overwhelm of motherhood weighing me down every day. But then I had to help raise my grandsons, who tested my patience and emotions daily for months. It wasn’t long before I began to crack and “angry mom” returned.
This time, my husband and I prepared for this situation. We talked about it and what I would do if my emotions got out of control. And when it did happen, I searched for answers, tried different holistic therapies, and discovered collaborative parenting and stress-reducing techniques through trial and error. I also welcomed back an old friend – the antidepressant.
I began to put everything I was learning about collaborative, conscious and connected parenting and stress-reduction into practice. A dramatic shift happened in me and my home. These practices aren’t anything you probably haven’t already heard before. Breathe when you find yourself triggered, walk away from the stressor, take care of yourself with better eating, exercise, and the like. It’s easier said than done in the heat of the moment.
But what inspired this month’s column was something I heard in an audiobook I’m currently listening to as of this writing. It’s called Atomic Habits by James Clear. (I highly recommend it.) He tells the story of a friend he knew who lost 100 pounds by constantly asking herself, “What would a healthy person do?” And that resonated with me, primarily because I’m a bit fluffier than I’d like to be like most of us. I realized you could use that question for nearly anything.
For parents, especially those of us who tend to be angrier and overwhelmed, or dealing with conditions that make it hard to stay emotionally regulated, let’s ask ourselves each time, “What would a calm parent do?” And as the author advises about habits, be consistent in whichever technique works for you. Good habits breed familiarity. Start small, so you’re more likely to stick with it.
If all you can manage is one deep breath in a triggered moment, then it’s better than none and yelling at the kids. If you can only step outside for a minute to get some quiet, then it’s better than constant noise all day, every day. That leads to overstimulation and, you guessed it, yelling in frustration.
And if grocery shopping and errand running is the only alone time you get, then make it the best experience you can. Stroll down the aisles, blast your favorite music in the car, and treat yourself to something you haven’t had in a while. Because if you don’t get enough alone time, you begin to resent your kids and your partner, leading to (drumroll, please) more yelling.
If we want to be the calm parent we wish to be, then we need to do what calm parents do, even if it’s one minute or one experience at a time.
— Dawn-Renée Rice is a writer, speaker, Conscious Connection Parenting coach, wife, mother and grandmother who has lived in the East Texas area since 1998. he works with special needs parents and caregivers. Visit her online at www.consciousconnectedfamily.com to book an introductory session.