I thought I was a very patient person… until I had kids.
Somehow the complex cocktail of less sleep, limited alone time, insistent demands and incessant chatter can lead to a version of yourself that is less than awesome. Shocking, right?
This version of myself can creep up on me too – after what feels like hours of trying to ignore frustrating behaviour and holding in cross retorts, suddenly a seemingly minor infraction triggers the explosion.
‘Not so nice Emma’ also tends to make an appearance whenever I try to make unrealistic plans for accomplishments during the day. The added pressure of ‘all the things’ leads to a feeling of slowly going under and any little deviation from the perfect behaviour I unrealistically expected from the kids can cause a mini-meltdown. (From me).
Last week I found myself there again. I woke up filled with zeal and task lists. I would fill the baked goods drawer in the freezer, we would visit the library to (finally) return that overdue book, the floor that was slowly disappearing under the collection of crumbs would be joyously exposed once again. The music went on, I vaguely heard Hudson and Ivy playing nicely in their toy kitchen, and I went about putting Harvey to bed. Hudson came up to me and said something about making a mess in the kitchen, but I didn’t think much of it and went to get dressed, poking my head into the room along the way.
It was a disaster zone. Water trailed across every surface – cups tipped over, cupboards dripping. My ire began to boil and then I went into my bathroom. There was a mini-flood leading to the door. A soggy cardboard container lay forlornly on the ground, having been filled and then abandoned as an inferior carriage device. In literally five minutes it seemed as if the place had been destroyed.
I lost it.
Hudson was ordered to come and fix it, needing two bath towels to soak up the amount of water everywhere. I roughly pushed toys out of the way, ranting at him, delivering grumpy lectures about me being expected to clean up after everyone. When I stepped back and surveyed the room it was still a disaster zone. Refusing to acknowledge my own part in the process, I angrily demanded he clean up the toys I had shoved aside as well. It wasn’t a proud moment.
The shame of my overreaction followed me into the morning. I was a balloon, deflated. Frustrated at myself, the sudden and barely controllable anger that came upon me and my inability to recover. I didn’t want to do any of the tasks that went onto the list that morning, instead feeling paralysed by self-loathing and guilt.
I’m getting a little better at not descending to these depths that often any more. Knowledge about the Enneagram and understanding that these moments are ‘me under stress’ rather than an unveiling of the ‘true me’ have helped me put everything in perspective and try to get past the mistakes a lot more quickly.
If you too have moments of overwhelm and frustration, perhaps these strategies can help you to overcome the descent… I’ve included links to some of the podcasts and books that have helped me to figure this stuff out.
1. Reach Out
The worst thing is the voice of shame insistently berating you, telling you that you are the only one who is stupid enough to make these mistakes. That you are an awful mother, that you are destroying your kids and that they will grow up to be angry and poorly adjusted because of your bad example. I’ve found that the best way to mute this voice is to reach out to a trusted person or group of friends. People who love you unconditionally and who are honest with themselves and you about their own failings. Tell them you are having a hard day, be real about it, don’t hover in the shame zone unnecessarily. Hopefully, they will respond with perspective, with ‘me too’, or with humour to help you see the situation in a different light. Try not to vent over and over, however, as doing this will just reinforce the negative narrative and be a barrier to getting back on track (Dr Srini Pillay, The Power of the Unfocused Mind).
2. Observe Yourself
Try and draw back a little from the heady emotions that are ruling your reactions and figure out what you are feeling. Talk about the feelings in a detached way ‘I note that I am feeling anger right now‘ or ‘I see that I am feeling overwhelmed‘. Your feelings aren’t you, they are taking you for a ride and you have the choice whether you want to go there or not. (Dr. Susan David, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life). Try and see the behavioural pattern ‘Oh, there I go doing that again’ (Dr Beatrice Chestnut, ‘I Know My Type…Now What?‘).
3. Forgive Yourself
I’ve found that by punishing myself for failing, I end up punishing everyone around me as well. As Dr Chestnut says, if you step into self-criticism and self-loathing instead of just observing your patterns of behaviour, you have actually taken two steps backwards. You made a mistake. We all do. Forgive yourself and move on.
Don’t do this too early while the feelings are still hovering just under the surface because you might end up finding that a less than favourable response for your apology leads you right back into the red zone. (How do I know this, you ask? Ahem. Just take it from me that this is quite possible). When you are back in a safe emotional place, ask if you can talk to the kids about what happened and explain why you got so frustrated. Ask for their forgiveness. A well-handled outburst and mistake can actually lead to an invaluable learning opportunity to display to your kids how to manage emotions and recover from being frustrated.
5. Find something fun to do
If the tasks that you had in mind for the day are overwhelming you, set them aside. The vacuuming will always keep until tomorrow. Do you love listening to music, baking, going for a walk? Whatever will bring you joy, try and focus on that together for a bit. You probably all need a little recharge time after the turmoil of the recent events. Or put on a show for them and make yourself a cup of tea. Give yourself some grace.
Do you have any other tips about how to recover from a meltdown? I would love to hear them! I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts and reading material that can help with emotional management, so feel free to send links my way.