I Lost My Balance
when I needed it most
This blurry photograph is proof—
Of what I’m not sure
but it feels like truth
Last month our realtor invited us to a “family fun at the zoo” evening as a client appreciation type thing. It was after the regular hours of operation and for some reason I envisioned it being a quiet night during which one could enjoy the zoo without crowds.
In fact, the lineup of cars started a kilometer out from the parking lot and one felt like herded cattle until well past the gates. It’s not what I expected.
I’m a new enough mom that still my intention while at a zoo is to see as many animals as possible. But an hour and a half in, we’d only seen sheep. Adam spotted the little train and that was it— a crippling wait in the longer-than-usual lineup felt like time wasted to me, but still he was enjoying the experience.
After a point, I knew I’d have to salvage this night for myself. The difference between having a nice evening or spending the entire time feeling annoyed all came down to a change of my expectations and goals. Once I changed the objective from show Adam every creature living in this facility to mosey aimlessly at a snail’s pace and enjoy a beautiful summer night, I was much happier.
I feel frustration a lot these days. Handling Adam’s boundary-testing episodes while also mothering a baby is proving… difficult. But it’s not exhaustion I’m feeling, or even anger or resentment. It’s frustration. Why would I feel this way so often unless my expectations are not realistic?
After some honest soul-searching I had to admit that, in my heart of hearts, I was tightly gripping a lot of unattainable, irrational expectations. Such as:
- I expect Adam to think and behave like an adult. It looks ridiculous and when I write it out but why else would I feel frustration and disbelief when he throws toys at people, tosses his food, cries about bedtime— acts like a toddler. I have to constantly remind myself that he’s still learning and largely it’s up to me to teach him.
- I expect myself to be able to make my kids feel content at all times. Of course this is an impossible standard on multiple levels— no one is content at all times, so why would my children be an exception? And anyways, I can’t make them feel anything. Accepting that they will be sad, uncomfortable, restless, angry, etc. sometimes is difficult for me, but necessary.
- I expect my life to be easy and peaceful. Where this comes from, I have no idea, because life is chaos with young kids. I find it hard to stay calm when two (or three or five) events converge that require my immediate interference. But my stress increases when I take on too many things, so maybe I just need to dial back.
- I expect the future to be more easy and peaceful than right now, or today, or this phase of life. And you know, this one might actually have some truth to it. Things get hectic; I’m struggling with the terrible twos, but if my pre-motherhood days in childcare were any indication, I’ll hit my stride again sometime around kindergarten. Still, every phase will have its own challenges and problems. I already know that one day I’ll lament the fact that I was ever stressed over him fighting bedtime when he’s sixteen and asking for the car keys on an icy-roads day. Thoughts like this help me keep some perspective sometimes.
But on the positive side, I also deeply believe that Adam is trying to be good.
For the first time in my life, logic is useless. And I mean absolutely useless. I can’t win a battle of mental stamina against a toddler, and we both fervently believe we’re right in any given clash. This arena is the hardest thing I’ve encountered as a parent so far because my toolbox for communicating without the use of “reason” is sparse.
Having children really holds up the mirror, so to speak. You don’t realize how heavily you lean on your go-to coping methods until they repeatedly fail you utterly. This is an ongoing period of learning and growth for me, but I’m trying. It’s breaking me down and rebuilding me, but I’m trying.
Already I have had to shift my perspective on certain toys and it has helped me relax. Being such a “type 1” makes me feel like there is a “right” and “wrong” way to play with things — like, dig and make castles in the sand table, not drown it with water and slosh the resulting goop onto the patio. But ultimately, is he having fun outside? Is he amusing himself without a screen? Then, good— the overall purpose of the toy is being achieved even if it’s not how I’d do it.
All in all, I’m trying to step back and “big picture” this thing with new expectations and goals:
- Are the kids safe even if they’re crying?
- How long can I stay calm?
- How is this morning/afternoon/event realistically going to go with a toddler?
- What can be put on hold until later?
- How else can I encourage/teach him to behave properly?
So we’ll see how that goes. Part three coming soon.