I’m al­ways yelling at my fam­ily

And I don’t want my kids to re­mem­ber me as this stressed-out mom

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - SARAH COT­TRELL

I slammed a glass plate down on the wooden din­ing room ta­ble, where it shat­tered into tiny pieces that flew around the room.

My hus­band and chil­dren stared at me, slack-jawed and wide-eyed.

No one, not even I, could be­lieve that I had just smashed a salad plate. But there I was with tears stream­ing down my face, my cheeks burn­ing with hu­mil­i­a­tion and shame in a mo­ment of stress-in­duced frus­tra­tion.

Sev­eral years have passed since that mo­ment, but it still haunts me. Not be­cause of what I did, but be­cause of what I hadn’t done.

Un­til that mo­ment, I hadn’t con­sid­ered my self-care as im­por­tant as any other health and safety need in our fam­ily. My stress over pay­ing bills, bal­anc­ing work with fam­ily obli­ga­tions, and that nag­ging guilt that I am never present enough for my kids was con­stantly shift­ing be­tween man­age­able and over­whelm­ing.

As the kids got older and life got busier, I started yelling more, and heav­ing deep sighs at ev­ery­thing. I crossed my arms a lot, and mut­tered in­ap­pro­pri­ate words of frus­tra­tion un­der my breath when the kids got too crazy or my hus­band too cranky.

One ques­tion floated across the sur­face of all that life noise: will my chil­dren re­mem­ber me as a stressed-out mom when they grow up? Ter­ri­fied of the truth, I sought ways to change how I han­dled the stress, and how I con­nected with my chil­dren.

An­gel­ica Shiels, a Mary­land-based li­censed clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­iz­ing in fam­i­lies, sug­gested that I start by prac­tis­ing mind­ful­ness.

“You prac­tise ob­serv­ing your dis­tract­ing thoughts and emo­tions — with­out get­ting caught up in them or adding to them — and then go­ing back to your ‘an­chor’ ac­tiv­ity such as fo­cus­ing on breath­ing,” Shiels says.

This sounded easy enough, un­til I tried it, and felt like an im­me­di­ate fail­ure for not get­ting Zen with my kids while they were bick­er­ing over the TV re­mote — again.

“Prac­tise notic­ing the in­tru­sive thoughts and emo­tions so that they be­come more un­der­stood as sim­ply thoughts and not cred­i­ble re­al­i­ties, wor­thy of suck­ing the life out of your im­por­tant mo­ments,” Shiels says.

I prac­tised my an­chor breath­ing, and tried to no­tice (but not re­act to) my in­tru­sive, stress­ful thoughts while I was with my kids.

I be­gan to see pat­terns of guilt. My stress tends to pile up when I don’t deal with it, then the guilt comes af­ter me, with sneer­ing lit­tle taunts like, “You’re not han­dling this well.” This cy­cle of anx­i­ety and guilt can feel never-end­ing.

“Es­tab­lish­ing un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, and then feel­ing guilty when those goals aren’t reached, is an emo­tional trap all-toocom­mon for par­ents,” Shiels says. “Some­times guilt, or the feel­ing that your be­hav­iour was re­gret­table, is war­ranted and even help­ful for im­prov­ing be­hav­iours. But shame, or the feel­ing that you are bad or worth­less, is never war­ranted and is of­ten the source of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.”

If my guilt and shame over not be­ing able to process stress is mak­ing me anx­ious or de­pressed, then how do I han­dle that?

“Cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy can help,” says Shiels, “along with a hefty dose of stay­ing off the buf­fet-of -in­ad­e­quacy-that is so­cial me­dia.”

She has a point about so­cial me­dia. The on­slaught of sup­pos­edly per­fect par­ent­ing in my news feed only ex­ac­er­bates my stress and anx­i­ety. Shut­ting off my screens and con­nect­ing with my kids more through talk­ing and play­ing will lower my stress and show my kids that I am not too busy to tune into them and tune out the noise that can feel like it is dic­tat­ing my life.

Fi­nally, Shiels em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of ex­er­cise, nutri­tion and sleep, and cau­tions par­ents against overex­tend­ing them­selves. Par­ents need to reg­u­late them­selves, pay at­ten­tion to their phys­i­cal needs and set lim­its, she says. She sug­gests that learn­ing to say no can be a bless­ing.

“A par­ent’s big­gest sur­vival skill is es­tab­lish­ing your own rea­son­able lim­its and know­ing how to say no — to the PTA, to friends, and even to your kids — and tol­er­ate any back­lash with­out re­gret.”

I’m no ex­pert at mind­ful­ness, but since I started prac­tis­ing th­ese sug­ges­tions, the yelling is gone and the screens are dimmed. My kids and I spend more time now con­nect­ing, and pro­tect­ing our pre­cious free time.

I may not ever get this to­tally right, but who does? The goal is not to be a per­fect mother, but to be a more present and re­laxed one. That way, my kids will feel safe and loved now, and when they grow up, they hope­fully will re­mem­ber me as their solid rock.

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I hadn’t con­sid­ered my self-care as im­por­tant as any other health and safety need in our fam­ily.

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