We have this idea that life with small children is supposed to be relaxing, blissful, even.
I would argue that very little in life with little ones is relaxing, never mind blissful.
This does not mean something has gone wrong with you. This does not mean there is something wrong with your children. This is a normal part of parenting youngsters.
Have you heard of the parenting book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood? I've heard it's great and certainly the title beautifully sums up the reality of parenting.
Parenting is hard work. It's beautiful, messy, hard, sometimes tedious and even excruciating, hard work.
Our culture has high standards about what parenting is supposed to look like. Think of Pinterest images of carefully curated lunches for children.
If creating works of art for your toddler's lunch -- art which she will forget in one miute -- is your jam, rock on. But if it's not, know that your child's life as a functioning adult will not be altered one iota by this "lack" of yours.
In fact, creating unreasonably high standards for ourselves make our children's lives less happy... not to mention our own.
A recent study on child attachment published in the journal Child Development of low socioeconomic status mothers in 83 mother-child pairs (only mothers and children were enrolled) who responded appropriately just 50% of the time had children who were securely attached.
In other words, your child can be securely attached even if you are far from perfect. Hallelujah.
The premise of "attachment parenting" (which has borrowed the word "attachment" but is not based on the actual study of attachment) has unfortunately taught many parents that they need to be literally tied to their babies for months at a time. This can actually promote an insecure attachment if the parent becomes so exhausted and depleted that they are no longer able to be fully present for their child.
Setting boundaries and limits can actually promote, not harm, a secure attachment between adult and child.
Another example of this is sleep training. So often, I see parents who are afraid to sleep train because they think their children will be damaged by a few nights of crying. They fear that not being 100% available will leave their child feel abandoned or even traumatized.
Past clients will all attest that the opposite is true. Their children became much happier when their sleep needs were being met adequately.
Let's talk about how to cut ourselves some slack. So often, we have a script running in our heads of how a "good" parent would think, speak, and behave.
I am learning -- and only recently absorbing -- from my own coaching work that allowing negative thoughts and feelings actually allows them to pass more quickly. I always thought that allowing "ugly" thoughts and feelings was condoning them.
But the truth is allowing those ugly thoughts and feelings and noticing that they are just thoughts and feelings is key to becoming the people we strive to be.
My own coach has taught me to lay my two hands upon my chest and breathe and say, "Ah, I am feeling angry. This is anger. It makes so much sense that I am angry. Of course the thoughts I am thinking are making me feel angry."
I am not agreeing with my story. I am just noticing it, and agreeing that that story creates a certain feeling.
I try to focus on the feeling and not on the story, because it's all too easy for me to slip into the story and get embroiled in a court room drama in my head. If I see myself doing this, I gently bring myself back to just noticing the feeling and stay with it. As many times as is necessary.
Let me be clear: this is not a fun exercise.
But it's powerful. In most cases, after 5-10 minutes, I feel a sudden release and shift of energy. My negative emotions are much less intense. I feel ready to move on. I feel better. Not 100% better, but somehow liberated.
So the next time your toddler dumps an entire bottle of intensely concentrated laundry detergent on the floor of the pantry -- this happened to a friend recently -- take a breath and don't tell yourself to calm down. Tell yourself, "it's okay to be angry." Keep your hands on your chest and allow the anger. Welcome it. Breathe it in. I promise it will pass. So much faster than if you think, "how could you let the child have access to laundry detergent? How dare you be angry?"
This will no doubt be a lifelong work in progress for me, but I am happy to say that just a few weeks of regular practice has made a huge difference already.
So trust me, exhausted, burned out, depleted parent. Take care of yourself. It will pay huge dividends. And in the meantime, the kids are all right.
Would you like coaching on sleep or on how to be happier in parenting? I promise there is nothing wrong with you. You just need a little help managing your brain, as we all do.
Schedule a free consult to get free sleep tips or to get in on an amazing introductory life coaching package.
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.