Are you allowing your to-do list to rule your behaviour? How days of solo parenting and endless chores around the house turned into one of the best parenting lessons.
It’s all I could see.
The mess, the dust, the toys, the pyjamas left just where they were removed with the knickers still inside the legs of the pants. My senses were so highly tuned into the state of the floor that it’s as if I never even looked up.
The mess was consuming me.
I’d been a ‘solo parent’ for about five days – my husband was in the middle of a work-trip to Paris (poor guy) and it was the longest stint I have done on my own. And so in my mind, I needed to be organised. I was up at my usual 5am but rather than spending that time on my morning ritual and writing, I was rushing through my ‘me time’ and getting straight down to business. Lunches, washing, ballet bag ready for the afternoon, dinner defrosting.
It was a military operation, and I was the commander.
But it didn’t seem to be working. We usually have quite a smooth-running household – with a few minor meltdowns along the way. Of course there are mornings when mummy’s blood boils as she has to repeat the request to ‘put your shoes and socks on!’ two hundred and three times, but generally, we leave the house just in time and in a state of semi-cleanliness.
This time, however, all my efforts seemed to be making it worse.
Everyone was moving slower. The house seemed to be more chaotic. And mummy was not coping.
And as I started to raise my voice along with my temper at yet again asking the girls to put something away and hurry up, I realised that I had yelled every morning that week. Every morning. I had justified it to them, telling them that I was on my own this week and I expected more help. Even though I doubt they heard very much of it, I went on and on about the expectations and responsibilities I expect of each of them, and so on and so forth.
Which, of course, did nothing but make them ignore me more, until I would have to yell to be heard.
I was broken. The guilt at my own behaviour was heavy on my chest. And so after school and ‘playschool’ drop-off, I went to a local cafe to calm down. I’d yelled again, and the house was still a mess, and I really didn’t want to walk back into that bomb-site and start another round of cleaning up.
Sitting in that cafe, mindlessly flicking through my inbox, I came across this article on Goop.
Lightbulb. Tears (behind my sunglasses). Remorse. And then a promise to change.
Kindness is at the very heart of all that I teach and share. Kindness and compassion towards ourselves for all that we are trying to juggle in this crazy, busy and noisy world. And, I had thought, kindness was what I wanted to teach my children. I talk to them a lot about self-kindness and kindness towards their school friends (even the ones that play the ‘I don’t want to be your friend anymore’ game). And thanks to the movie Cinderella last year, Be Kind and Have Courage became our family motto.
And there I was, screaming at the mess each day.
I was not being kind. I was not leading by example at all. I’d allowed the pressure of being on top of it all – and the story I was telling myself about needing to be on top of it all because I was ‘on my own’ – let me forget the single most important thing I want to role model to my children.
Now, not very long ago, that would have triggered a huge amount of mummy guilt. I would have beat myself up, felt terrible, gone out of my way to ignore the mess from now on, and smothered them in over-the-top kindness – all of which would have confused the hell out of their little worlds.
But I recently learnt something very important about parenting – and that is how little we have to be getting it ‘right’ to be doing a good job. And when we do mess it up, how to apologise in a way that actually teaches them – and myself – something.
Intuitive Motherhood coach, former midwife and maternal health nurse Maria Golding teaches this in her work. In her podcast with me, she goes into detail how we can take the not-so-perfect parenting moments and actually turn them into gold-star experiences. The more I speak with Maria, the more I understand that it is our vulnerability, our honesty, and our real connections with our little ones is the most important gift we can give our children.
So I forgave myself. I know I’m certainly getting it right most of the time, and I could pour enough compassion onto myself to see that I had been stuck in a negative story in my head that had totally blinded me to what was happening. I’m not a bad mama, I’m just a stressed one that let the ridiculous pressure I had put myself under get the better of me.
And now, it was time to apologise.
The conversation that occurred that night was magical. Without putting too much emphasis on it, I think it’s probably one of the most powerful parenting moments I’ve had. My girls and I sat and talked for about an hour about being kind – with my little man popping in and out as three year olds do. He sat with us for the first ten minutes, and I truly believe he ‘got’ what mummy was talking about when I said I was sorry for yelling.
I said I realise now I was making a clean house more important than being kind.
I said I was very sorry for yelling and not showing kindness.
And I explained what I had been worried about with Daddy being away – but not using it as an ‘excuse’.
Their little eyes were wide with amazement. They really got it. And they instantly said they were sorry for not helping more and that I was a great Mummy. I even got a little hand made note later that night from the girls saying so. ‘Best Mummy in the World’. Better than any clean floor or empty wash basket could ever be.
Five days later, my husband did come home, and the house was clean. Most importantly though, he noticed a difference in our house. Our three year old boy wasn’t screaming anymore, and when Daddy asked him to pick up his playdoh, he said yes. He said yes! Our girls were getting ready in the morning quicker, and Mummy wasn’t yelling. When he told me he could really see a change in the way we all spoke to each other, I burst into tears.
I did it. I turned it around. I found the courage to apologise, and practice what I preach. And in the process, I think I might have just taught my three little ones the most important lesson of all.