It recently came to my attention that people are under the impression that since I practice gentle parenting techniques with my son that I always remain calm. When I told my husband that I suspected people were thinking this he laughed and said “I wish they were here last Saturday, that was a real stomp-fest,” referring to the way I stomped around the house annoyed at Jack’s incessant whining. No, my friend, I do not remain calm all the time. I don’t even know if I remain calm most of the time. My buttons are pushed about 75 times a day (as any mother) and I feel on the edge of losing my shit about 67 of those times. I believe strongly in being as gentle a mama as I can, but I am a human being not a robot. So, let me clear the air.
Being an attached mom is hard. Being a mom, any kind of mom, no matter how you slice it, is hard. Becoming a mother has pushed me to my limits in ways that I have never experienced. I used to think being a waitress was the hardest job ever. Then I thought working the floor at the residential facility with aggressive teenagers was the hardest job ever. Now I am quite sure that being a mother is the hardest job ever. I know my mind will never change on this. This is the ultimate. Even harder than a job where you have no idea when a punch to face or a chair to head is going to happen. For example, Jack has a difficult time falling asleep which requires me to put him in the sling, breastfeed, sing and dance around the house for about an hour before each nap and bedtime. Sometimes I can get a good song going or daydream about getting drunk or writing a blog post, but there are times when it takes all of my energy not to scream. And a few times I have screamed. Bouncing and dancing and singing and dancing and bouncing. No bathroom break, no dinner, no back up, no training, no sitting, no shot of Tequila at the end of the shift. Being a mother has you “on” in a way that is indescribable to anyone not a mother. It’s a constant battle to remain calm and put Jack’s needs first.
The path toward losing my temper begins when I allow my thoughts to go down the route of “why does this have to happen to me?” “Why can’t I get this baby to sleep?” “I must be a horrible mother.” “I must be doing something wrong.” “Why did I have to get the difficult baby?” “How come no one else goes through this?” If you know a bit about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy you’ll know that we believe that our thoughts affect our feelings which in turn affect our behavior. The above thoughts open the door for feelings of frustration, overwhelm, anger, self-pity, anxiety, and so on. These feelings can then lead to choosing negative behaviors. Everyone has a unique set of behaviors that they exhibit when they “go too far.” This is all going to vary from person to person and situation to situation, but for me as a mother dealing with Jack I struggle with managing my urge to yell, stomp and slam things. For many people this can include physical abuse, verbal abuse or neglect. The way you were raised and saw your parent’s behave is a strong base for what you might struggle with as the parent.
Our thoughts have an astounding influence on how we live our lives, how we treat people, how we feel about ourselves and ultimately how we deal with our children. I guarantee you that any situation you are in where you feel negative feelings you can trace them back to negative thoughts. Learning to recognize negative thoughts can be difficult at first, but it becomes second nature quickly if you practice. Learning how to challenge those thoughts is the most effective way to change the way we feel. When we can change the way we think and feel it is reflected in the more positive and productive behaviors we choose.
In the example above where I am trying to get Jack to sleep my first mistake is to allow these negative thoughts to exist without challenge. I, like any therapist worth their salt, have been through therapy. I have explored my patterns of negative thinking (or thinking errors) and how to challenge these thoughts to help me feel better and choose behaviors that will help me reach my goals. It is key to recognize these thoughts as they begin to happen so that I can challenge them right away. Negative thought: “I am a horrible mother.” Challenge: “There is no evidence that I am a horrible mother. I am just struggling right now and I can get through this.” Negative thought: “I must be doing something wrong.” Challenge: “I am trying my best and that is all Jack needs. My love and nurturing is what Jack needs.” Often I let the negative thoughts go on too long and I become frustrated. I can feel my heart pound. I begin to blame Jack for being difficult. I think about how I just want to punch a wall or kick a door. A couple of times I have yelled “Oh my god!” or “I don’t know what you want!” or “Go to sleep Jack!” I think about putting Jack in another room to cry alone. This is where it stops for me. The very thought of that makes me sick to my stomach. I can usually bring myself back to reality from here. At this point I spend a bit of time shaming myself for thinking/doing these things. “You are not gentle. You are a liar, an imposter. You don’t deserve to call yourself gentle.” Of course, the only thing we can do to move on is let ourselves off the hook and promise to do better next time.
Some of my favorite things to think at this point are “Jack is not giving me a hard time, Jack is having a hard time.” “I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.” “It’s not about me, get your shit together, stop being the baby, woman up and be the mother.” “He is scared, confused and helpless. He needs me.” “Someday I will regret treating these moments like a burden.” “On my death bed I will wish I could hold Jack again so I should try to enjoy this moment.” “I am a good mother meeting Jack’s needs.” “I believe in meeting all of Jack’s needs and I can do it.” “At least I am not at that horrible old job I had.” I might count to ten, try deep breathing, change the scenery, go outside, ask for help, cry or stop all together and start again awhile later.
I hope this clears the air. I do lose my temper. I do find it difficult to remain calm. It’s OK as long as I am trying, learning and wanting to be better. My parenting philosophy is gentle. I believe in allowing Jack to lead the way. I believe in keeping him close at all times. I believe in responding to all of his cries. I believe in gentle words, attachment and closeness. I have an ideal in my mind that I strive to attain, but it is an ideal, it is not realistic to be this way all the time. I am not perfect. I lose my patience and want to run away from it all sometimes. And I am OK with that for now. I have come a long way. So have you.
Abby Theuring, MSW