We all want to do our best for our kids, that’s a given. But even with the best of intentions we aren’t blessed with an infinite supply of patience or energy, so it won’t be a rarity when the mask of perfection begins to slip, and it all gets a bit overwhelming.
Life in general is an inevitable bearer of a regular supply of curve-balls, that come hurtling our way usually when we least expect them. To plan for everything would be utterly impractical, and quite frankly it’d breed a biblical level of neurosis and a downward spiral of paranoia.
If you can manage it, and I seriously urge you to try, simply accept right now that it’s OK to feel like a crap parent every now and then. It’s OK to get angry. It’s OK to be fearful, sad, whatever. The point is that if you’re honestly giving it your all on a daily basis, then your child has received the very best that you were capable of giving on any given day. This is a good thing, and a lot to be proud of.
As much as we try to shield our kids from our less than wonderful moments, and we ought to strive very hard to do so, we’re only human. Bottling up harmful emotions is no solution either. Therefore I wholeheartedly recommend learning a set of coping strategies that help you get through the hard times, and prevent the negative emotions from becoming toxic.
Even though we may think we’re doing a great job of hiding our emotions from our kids, they are very perceptive. Just as we’re highly tuned to them and their changing moods, so they are similarly equipped to read us. We have to be mindful of this.
Coping strategies do two things. Firstly, they help you deal with, or at least diffuse negative feelings and emotions before they become overwhelming. Secondly they give your child a chance to see that emotions can come and go, feelings can surface and dissipate without them erupting.
They get an insight that their parent obviously has responsibilities other than them to deal with, but always find a way to maintain their equilibrium. Obviously the age of your child will affect how aware they are, and how much of this they understand. I can’t stress how important it is for your kids to see that life isn’t all unicorns and fairies, but equally that everything can be overcome.
I’d love to be able to bestow a nugget of pure unadulterated wisdom at this point. A panacea to turn to whenever things go sideways. But I can’t. We all process information in very different ways, and what worked for me and my personality, may not work for you. I can tell you what did work for me, and you’re welcome to give it a try, but ultimately it’s going to be down to you to figure this out.
As I said before, I held myself as a parent, to a very high standard. I cared deeply about having Ryan’s respect, and it hurt deeply when I couldn’t set him the very best example. Yes I know I was being unduly harsh on myself; I hadn’t figured all this stuff out back then. So if I got impatient, moody, stressed, tired, or whatever; I’d speak to him in a matter-of-fact way and apologise.
Now your kids never need to know exactly what you’re dealing with as this would be inappropriate; they are not their to counsel you. But it’s honest to say that you’re tired for example, or have a lot going on, without going into detail.
So I’d simply say that if I was being __________ (insert emotion) then I was sorry, and that it was nothing to do with him. I’d ask that he bear with me for a short while, and everything would be back to normal real soon. It was my way of acknowledging how I was feeling, and calling myself out on it. By having to choose my words very carefully for Ryan, it made the issue seem less important, and his smile and simple reply of “OK Dad” would see off the rest.
That was great for simple emotions, but when there were deep underlying issues such as financial worries, or problems at work, I had to find an alternative. For me this involved going ballistic on my punch-bag, followed by meditation. If nothing else, it was a release. A way to reduce the level of adrenaline in my system which can be harmful to the central nervous system if not released.
Whatever your coping strategy turns out to be, don’t be afraid to use it. It could be a physical outlet like mine, or simply speaking to a family member or close friend. In any case keep it healthy and please don’t turn to alcohol or other substances.
If I’m going to be completely honest then I’ll admit that there were times I used alcohol to deaden the pain and dull the senses. I’m not the type to get dependent on a substance, so thankfully that never became an issue. But it can be a slippery slope, and it’s far better to develop adequate coping strategies that don’t involve substances.
Check out Why True Happiness Is An Illusion