Start Being the Calm Parent You Want to Be

Deconstructing and attacking the bad habits that hold you back.

Benjamin Manley, Unsplash

I am mid-rant in the kitchen, barely pausing to breathe, and I am just getting started. My mouth is a firehouse of helpful information for my daughter about how she is not complying, not listening, and not respecting me.

And then my husband, the Angie Whisperer, catches my eye and gently says this.

“She can’t handle what you’re saying right now or how you’re saying it.”

She has already left the room, because who wants to listen to a lunatic?

Bravo, kid.

I’m not sure if my husband is being calm to model calmness or because he is afraid to poke the bear. Either way, I am thankful he stopped me.

“You’re right,” I say. “I could feel myself winding up, so frustrated, and I could hear the words coming out and could not stop them.”

Later, I tell my daughter, “I’m sorry I got so mad this morning. That wasn’t the right response.”

“Yah, I know,” she says.

How emotional reactions affect kids.

This is not a proud moment for me, but it used to be my go-to reaction. I used to justify it even. It was a misguided form of discipline. I was in charge, after all. And I accepted a lie that it was impossible for me to change.

Now, I know that giving in to my negative emotions always puts distance in my relationships with my kids. It tells them “I’m not mature enough to handle this situation with you right now.” It disrespects their personhood. It makes them feel insiginificant and confused. And it teaches them to have knee-jerk reactions to their own struggles, instead of managing their feelings appropriately.

And yet overreaction is a struggle for most perfectionists and control freaks. We tend to erupt when things feel out of control.

Seeking a more respectful approach.

I’ve grown tremendously over the years, despite my obvious missteps. I can stop now. I can reboot. I can listen to my husband when he’s making such complete sense and wrecking my pride. I can regroup.

My desire as a mom is to model peace, despite stressful situations and disappointments that will inevitably happen. I want to treat my kids with respect even when they are busy being immature humans. And I want to give my kids the tools to get to a place of peace in their own lives.

How can I do that when it doesn’t come naturally to me? Slowly. I change slowly and steadily until I have a new normal way of being.

Deconstruct your typical responses.

First, let’s identify the process. Because knowing how it works can help us to change it. Here’s how it goes down for me.

Part 1: Kid says or does something I feel they should already know, that I’ve reminded them of 1,000 times, or it’s just a personal pet peeve, like an old container of food shoved behind the bed skirt.

Part 2: Everything in me starts “They know this already.” Either they are pushing my buttons or they despise me, but either way something is really wrong here (this part is always an exaggeration my mind creates).

Part 3: This is where the shame comes in. What have I not done right? This spirals downhill. Bad mom, very bad mom. No one else’s kid would put moldy food behind the bed skirt until it grew hair! (Not true.)

Part 4: This is the knee-jerk reaction. The reaction is highly variable depending on how I’m feeling, my current sleep to coffee ratio, how much this kid has misbehaved recently, etc. It’s a limitless list of possibilities. Maybe I give a stern look, say a litany of words that I do or don’t mean, maybe I would get angry, maybe hand out a punishment I never really intend to follow through on.

Part 5: And this is the brutal letdown. This is the part where I remove myself, sit quietly and just absorb what just went down. That was kind of ugly, I tell myself. That’s not the parent I want to be. I kind of suck. Why do I react so quickly and so much? Why can’t I be the calm captain of the ship as Susan Stiffelman calls it?

This all happens at lightning speed for me, making it difficult to interrupt. Maybe your process is a little different. It helps to take a moment to identify it, name it, so you can increase your awareness and figure out how to deconstruct it. Go ahead, I will wait…..

Got your process? It sucks, right? That good news is tomorrow is a new day. Let’s carry on. (If you struggle with shame, read my short manifesto for moms called The Good Mom .)

Attack the behaviors on multiple fronts.

In order to change these ingrained responses, I have to work at them from multiple angles. Because I have to stop them before they start.

First, I have sticky note reminders that greet me FIRST THING in the morning. The sticky notes vary from season to season. Right now I have one that says “Be +” which is lazy writing for “Be positive.” My husband and I started calling it “Be plus!” because that’s funny when you’re feeling super negative. I start the day with this awareness and then I see the note again later and it gets reinforced.

Second, I function best when I take a breather in the morning. Sometimes this looks like a prayer. Sometimes it looks like stretching on a yoga mat, or a long walk with deep breaths. I take a few minutes to get a grip and center myself. It’s the opposite of jumping out of bed and rushing into my morning feeling scatter-brained and behind the curve. I take control of the day mentally. This peace carries into the day whether I’m aware of it or not.

Third, I function best when I give myself the freedom to pause every thing. When my feelings are spinning out of control, I pause them. I can pause and return to them when I’m in a better frame of mind. When my kid is whining about something and I feel my temperature rise, I can kindly ask them to pause.

But especially when I’m feeling disappointed and angry, the best thing for me to do is pause it. I don’t avoid it or neglect it. But I can’t allow my emotions to run the show. They fail me pretty much every time. When I regroup and revisit the topic I can have the appropriate amount of wisdom and emotion in combination. Putting myself or others on Pause is a beautiful gift that blesses everyone in my orbit.

Finally, I function best on sleep and good food. There’s just no substitute. No amount of coffee will do it. We have to take care of ourselves to take care of others. I will beat this drum until I die because I ignored it for so long. I didn’t want to be disciplined. And I suffered and my kids did too. Modeling a healthy lifestyle has so many positive repercussions for our household.

Think back to when you successfully diffused your own emotional bombs. What worked? What is one thing you can implement today to help you react less and respond with calm and wisdom?

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