Parenting experts tell us how to be a better mom, but few tell us why it's so darn hard to accomplish what sounds like it should come naturally. I mean, just the other day, I was connecting so well with my child and BOOM -- I accidentally melted the plastic base of a small appliance on our stove and our whole day went up in smoke, literally and figuratively.
Why is it that the minute we connect well -- and we feel we've finally figured out how to be a better mom -- something throws us off course? And why is that "something" so often us, ourselves? True, we're not all starting fires in our homes (that's a special talent of mine, apparently). But why is is so hard to get this parenting gig right sometimes? We want our children to like us. We want to like our children. It sounds so easy.
We might know how to be a better mom, but it doesn't always stick "in the moment." We might be perfectly clear intellectually about what we're supposed to do to be a kind and respectful parent. If we're not feeling peaceful on the inside, though, we might say all the right things, but the words escape our mouths through clenched teeth. Our body language gives us away when we're dysregulated. No self-respecting child is going to buy it. They end up with a big ol' case of cognitive dissonance: "Hmmm -- Mom is saying the right words, but she has that wild look in her eye. I'm outta here."
When we're upset, it's okay to show it in front of our children in physically and emotionally safe ways. When we do this, we model emotional authenticity. That's a life skill our kids will benefit from learning.
It's okay to say to a child, "I'm feeling sad / frustrated / itchy (whatever!). I'm going to work through my feelings and then we can discuss the situation." Buy yourself some time to synch up emotionally. You know that unicorn that many call "self-care?" Yep, it fits in riiiight here.
If we happen to show it in a suboptimal way, remember the rupture and repair cycle where we mess up, apologize, and move on from it.
Habits are hard to break, for sure. Maybe our parents yelled or stonewalled or punished, so their way becomes our default when we're having a rough moment. We know better, but we perpetuate whatever unhealthy patterns we've learned. We think about how to be a better mom and then wham-o, we have a knee jerk reaction that happens before we even realize what's happening.
You know all those imaginary discussions we have in our heads -- most notably the unfinished arguments with our children and partners?
Work with your imagination instead of against it. Mentally practice a better way of parenting when your kid isn't around so you can implement it more easily when they are.
How does this work? When you're alone, imagine your child doing whatever behavior triggers you. Decide how you want to respond in that moment. Work through those imaginary skirmishes through closure. Proactively prepare to forgive them.
True, your kids are still going to expect you to react the way you always have. That's okay. Motherhood isn't a sprint; it's a marathon (that runs uphill in the snow both ways).
Parenting. It's all about the never-ending snack cycle! Going to the grocery store! Enforcing bedtime! Staying ahead of our social media addictions! But gosh, when did we forget that life is more fun if we play together? You know the saying about all work and no play (makes Jack a dull boy)? It's easy to get trapped into thinking motherhood is serious business.
We get to enjoy life with our kids. Let the kids plan part of daily routine. Children like to be in charge. Mom and Dad get breaks, too. So what if we eat cereal and chocolate for lunch every once in awhile? (Related: if you sprinkle the chocolate over the cereal, you can call it salad.) When we feel like no one but us carries the burden of managing our days, it's time to recalibrate.
Yes, listen to the advice the experts give about how to be a better mom. Implement what you can. But mostly, be kind to yourself and kind to your kids. It really all comes down to that. When you get it wrong -- and you will because you're human -- just keep trying one breath at a time. You've got this.
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Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She’s currently worldschooling her family. Her glass is half full.