Many of us have been told that we should be enjoying this time while we are raising young children. You may remember this when you had a newborn and some older relative sighed blissfully at the memory of her own newborn.
You may have been told, again by some older person who is no longer raising young children, “the days crawl but the years fly.” Again with a sigh.
Parent, if this sentiment makes you feel guilty, you are not alone.
And those Pinterest-perfect lunches for toddlers (who scarcely remember to eat, except for that one meal a week where – without warning – they are bottomless pits)? Another opportunity for guilt.
And the Facebook posts and the commercials on TV and the photos on Instagram… so many opportunities.
But the truth is, allowing yourself to feel anxious, burned out or anger sometimes will actually help you enjoy your children more. Let yourself off the hook, please. It's okay to not enjoy it all or even most of the time.
Do you know that book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting? It's not supposed to be fun all the time. It's drudgery a lot of the time. Rewarding drudgery, to be sure, but sometimes the reward doesn't come until much later.
The more we try to force ourselves into feeling a certain emotion, the more we resist. We think, “I shouldi feel grateful, happy, excited” and our inner teenager barks back a single, “NO.”
Or it works for a moment and then we fall, exhausted, again. By one more source of pressure.
Or it just creates guilt.
Resisting an emotion takes a great deal of energy. Allowing an emotion and even welcoming it takes a lot less energy and, to my surprise, actually allows that negative emotion to pass much more quickly.
So let’s say you discover that – true story – your toddler has poured an entire bottle of laundry detergent on the floor of the laundry room.
You want to blame yourself, and remember that she’s only a toddler, and laugh it off.
But the truth is, you are pissed. At yourself as well as at her. Realizing the amount of extra work that was just created for you. And you were already exhausted from a long day of adulting.
But trying to push down your annoyance will only make it stronger.
Instead, try putting your hands on your chest for a moment. Close your eyes. Breathe for a moment. Tell yourself, in your most loving voice, “Of course you are frustrated. Anyone thinking about this would be frustrated.”
Try to find the feeling of frustrated in your body. Maybe it’s a flat white bumpy cold rock in your stomach. Or a burning hot ember of lava in your chest.
If this sounds a little woo-woo, that’s okay. Try it anyway. It’s weirdly effective.
Just lean into it. Stay focused on the physical sensation, not the story of what went wrong.
The idea of “being the Watcher” comes from the Buddhist tradition. I am not a follower of Buddhism, but this surprisingly simple practice has changes my life, even in just the past few weeks (before, I used to be the Watcher but with an agenda of “this emotion better hurry up and finish).
The crazy thing – for me – is that when I do this, without an agenda, the emotion does lessen in intensity. Sometimes it passes altogether. It doesn’t mean I enjoy cleaning up the laundry detergent, but it does make it less infuriating.
It also makes you more emotionally available to connect with your guilty three-year-old. You might even be able to invite you to join you in cleaning the pantry, without inwardly seething.
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Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.