Facing My Hardest Parenting Challenges
Parenting is hard. Fortunately, we have trustworthy go-to strategies that help us trudge through the trenches and mantras we repeat to ourselves to help ease our stresses.
Parenting is Hard.
You can cross-stitch it on a pillow, stencil it in swirly letters on a plaque, print it on a yellow t-shirt with a unicorn logo, but the truth still remains: parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever have.
It’s also the most rewarding, beautiful, soul-twisting, hilarious, feel-good job you’ll ever have, and that truth itself makes the hard part so much better. Another way of dealing with the low points in parenting is recognizing what our greatest challenges are and having some stand-by tools for facing those challenges. While there are numerous times in raising my children where I simply feel, “I don’t know how to deal with this,” I also have trustworthy go-to strategies that help me trudge through the trenches and a few mantras I repeat to ease my stresses.
My hardest parenting challenges land in six different areas, and thankfully there’s a community of moms around me from which I’ve gathered inspiration to face these challenges.
Teaching Character: How Do I Raise Good Humans?
I remember after I had just started my parenting journey—contemplating decisions like whether two weeks was too early to introduce a bottle as if it was as important a decision as declaring war—my sister (who had several years of parenting on me) said, “Taking care of babies is the easiest thing you will ever do in parenting.” I realized that far quicker than I had hoped. Parenting might become less sleep-deprived as babies grow into toddlers and toddlers grow into kids, but it becomes more challenging because it requires more thinking. “Am I doing it right?” bears far more weight when we’re transferring lessons of kindness and confidence to our kids than when we’re wondering if we placed the diaper tabs in the right place. Waking up in the night to soothe a crying baby, packing the diaper bag, buckling car seats and booking doctor appointments? I know how to do all that. But raising good humans—kind, strong, conscious, compassionate individuals who will lead fulfilling lives? Holy pressure. The answers to character-building issues are often ambiguous and require some soul-searching, and the gravity of this important task seeps into our parenting actions every single day.
How do I deal? By not focusing on the pressure. The best way to raise a good human is to be a good human. While initiating conversations about character and using our children’s questions and actions as opportunities to teach lessons is important, the greatest lessons we can impart to our children are the ones by which we live. Model kindness, patience, love, growth and responsibility. When you live this way, you have a never-ending syllabus for parenting—a character curriculum rich with opportunities.
The silver lining to the fact that consistency and routine are challenging for me is that I have really good intentions, and I start new initiatives with impressive enthusiasm. I know how much babies and kids thrive on routine, and when you’re little and are just beginning to make sense of the world, sameness and schedule and follow through can provide a comforting foundation for less reliable circumstances in life. Things like organization, consistent bedtimes, meal schedules, homework routines and chore charts are outside of the realm of what comes easily and naturally for me.
How do I deal? Well, recognizing my weakness for consistency is step one. Because I know this is hard for me, I try to set up extra support for myself—a cheerleading team, if you may. I keep my eyes peeled for good tips from other moms, I talk about these issues with mom friends to keep my enthusiasm fresh, I write notes and reminders and keep them in view, I look to my more-likely-to-stick-to-a-schedule husband for some reassurance and I remember the calm security I feel in my own life by maintaining good routines. I want my kids to feel that security too.
I also don’t set myself up for failure. I’m not Chart Mom, and I probably will never be Chart Mom. I’m more Make-an-Inspiration-Board Mom. While we might discover a chart that fits our style in the future, at this point grid boards and check marks and potty charts and job graphs? They don’t work for us. I fizzle out on charts and then feel badly for fizzling out. The truth is, it’s hard enough to find a roll of tape in our house to hang a chart on the wall in the first place, so after making a chart, we never even get to Day One of using it. As my cousin says, “If I had a dollar for every chart I started with my kids and never finished, I could invest that money in a chart company and make millions of dollars.” Before jumping with gung-ho force into a new chart or routine for our family, I have to thoroughly assess if it’s a good fit for us.
This is a hard one for all of us because life, especially when you add kids into the mix, is demanding. Keeping our homes maintained, taking care of the kids, fostering friendships, loving our husbands, exploring our interests and hobbies, working, giving to our communities? There’s a lot on our plates and limited hours in the day to accomplish our dreams.
This is my chant: There is no such thing as doing it all at the same time. I can click my heels and say it three times in a row: There is no such thing as doing it all at the same time, there is no such thing as doing it all at the same time, there is no such thing as doing it all at the same time. I don’t walk outside worried a dinosaur is going to eat me because dinosaurs don’t exist. So why should I worry about being everything at once if it’s not even possible?
I do know that I can take time for friends one day and time to clean up my home on another day and time to walk alone on the beach at sunset another day. And while doing all of these things at different times, I am still a good, loving, nurturing mom through all of it. Because that’s who I am innately. We don’t take off “Mom” hat to wear “Friend” hat, we don’t trade “Family” hat for “Work” hat—we just wear one huge sombrero that represents all of these things that we are. It might feel heavy and ill-fitting at times, but inside, where it matters—we are balanced because what we love is who we are–not how clean our house is, how many times we got our kid to school on time or whether or not we’re taking a pottery class. I give myself wiggle room and forgiveness and know that naturally—even if it takes a little shifting after feeling uncomfortable with some choices—I will make sure I’m taking time for the things that matter most.
Whether it’s a control thing, a sentimental mom thing or a little bit of both, letting go is hard for me. I like my kids in view, I like knowing I’m there to help them if they fall, I like the feeling of their hand in mine. My daughter’s first day of kindergarten gave such a good punch to my heart, the bruise is still visible a year-and-a-half later.
I dig deep into my heart for dealing with this. I go to my reserve of truth nuggets—the things I know to be true and good and rewarding even when they oppose what I want to do. I often want to swoop and protect and hold on. But I know that allowing our children opportunities to rely on their own strengths and start building a repertoire of their own life experiences is one of the greatest gifts I can give my kids. It fosters emotional independence and happiness. You can be there for your child without gripping too tightly. And because I love my children, I am learning to let them fly—to stay in the nest, pretty it up, keep it soft so that when they do fly back for refreshment and encouragement, I’m ready for them.
Besides, I have a very loud tweet. I have no doubt my little birds can hear me singing from the nest while they’re out soaring.
I inherited my grandma’s worry genes. I think about what would happen if one of us got sick, I worry about who will take care of my children, I tame anxieties about school and broken hearts and possible diseases and future failures and mean kids in sixth grade when we’re only in preschool.
“What If?” is my very own personal nemesis.
I also know that fear and anxiety are the most debilitating human emotions. They exhaust my energy supply and pull from areas that need me—like the people I love most. I am a better mom when I focus on present over future. I know what tools work for me in settling my worries—reading positive books, looking for beauty, spending time with friends, playing with my children, listening to good music, taking pictures, writing about what inspires me, talking to my husband, dreaming about the future, prettying my home, walking the beach—and I rely on those tools every day to keep anxieties in check—enjoying the small things. I also try and lean in to the idea of challenges instead of avoiding or pretending they won’t exist. As M. Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, “Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
The truth is that loving children is excruciatingly beautiful and painful. Our children will have their hearts broken and in doing so, we’ll break twice as much. But today? What is there to be happy about? What loveliness surrounds me to absorb my focus? I can ask myself that question every single day. That makes me a better, calmer, more focused parent.
Getting Worn Out
Tired of the whining? Feel like you can never keep up? Visualize yourself giving Queen Elsa a swift kick to the shins if you have to listen to “Let it Go” one more time? Raising kids is exhausting and continually tests our breaking point, but stating that is like saying that the hardest part of running a marathon is getting worn out. Well, duh.
I like to take my advice on this one from Finding Nemo’s Dory: Just Keep Swimming.
I know that for every rip tide that tries to drown me, there’s an easy current around the bend where sun-kissed, tropical blue waters will remind me that I love swimming, I love water, and I love being a mom. I went into this parenting gig knowing it wouldn’t always be pretty, and I’m not above shouting for some lifeguard help when I feel like I might drown. I get out of the water when I can to take time for myself, but the ocean’s where it all happens. It’s tumultuous and breathtakingly beautiful at the same time, and feeling worn out only makes the rewards of this amazing privilege of raising children seem sweeter.
I like swimming.
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