I’m always yelling at my family
And I don’t want my kids to remember me as this stressed-out mom
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.
I hadn’t considered my self-care as important as any other health and safety need in our family.