There was a time when a three-day weekend was an idyll during which I could sleep late, go out to brunch, and get a mani-pedi. These days, I am convinced that the three-day weekend was invented to torture parents.
Kids can’t handle all the unstructured down-time (at least mine can’t), forcing me into my least favorite role as cruise director, to figure out how to fill every moment of the day so as not to give them time to get off track.
Long weekends also get everyone out of the regular get-up-and-go routine, thereby making reentry to school and work on Tuesday morning almost as depressing and complicated as it is for astronauts returning from space.
We are currently faced with one such holiday. Just the thought of it has me contemplating hari-kari. It is one of those weird holiday that some people have, and some don’t. I will be home with the children because I don’t work on Mondays anyway, but my husband has to go to work.
Here is the thing: I kind of dread being left alone with my two kids- Jack, six, and Emily, two.
Just admitting to that sentiment fills me with guilt and self recrimination.
Sometimes I see other moms out and about with a passel of their young, and I wonder, how the hell do they do it? The mother looks so calm and the kids have all fallen in line, are listening, helping one another out, and cooperating with their mama.
Then I wonder, what the hell is wrong with me?
Nature dealt me two of the most independent, strong willed, and temperamental children known to humankind. I know my own neuroses has helped somewhat in shaping their characteristics, but I’ve got to tell you, they just sort of came to me this way. It was crazy humbling to learn I had a lot less control over my children’s personalities than I would have thought.
Right now, at their respective ages, both Jack and Em have a totally different set of interests, needs, and desires. Jack wants constant attention and help on complicated projects (80 million piece lego set anyone?) and gets squirrely if he doesn’t get enough time and attention. Emily is hell-bent on jumping off of anything high enough to at least cause a serious concussion, or beating the cat into giving her ginormous welts over her entire body. She is actually pretty happy-go-lucky and can entertain herself nicely, so the goal with her is basically just keeping her from killing herself.
At best it is draining trying to keep them safe and happy. At worst, it is a freaking nightmare. Dare I miss one of Jack’s hunger, tired, or needing-attention cues, and he launches into a five alarm tantrum that triggers Emily and has the neighbors questioning if they should call the state on me. Dare I turn my back on Emily for five seconds to make a fluffernutter for the Prince of Low Blood Sugar, and she is tumbling head first off the stairs into something scratchy/pointy/angular/hard/etc.
My adrenaline starts pumping as I decide whether to fight (time outs for everyone!), take flight (how much was that ticket to Hawaii?), or freeze. My body usually picks the last choice and stands there staring at the chaos in mute paralysis, until crisis forces me into action.
I can’t win. And I know that makes me a mom. But it also leaves me wanting to whine, can’t we all just get along?
You may be wondering, what kind of mom dreads being left alone with her children? Don’t get me wrong, I adore my children. For every post I write about my confusion and frustration with motherhood, there are ten other posts and poems about how mesmerized I am with the little people I grew in my tummy. For every moment I am wrangling them in the throes of a tantrum, there are twenty other moments where I am hugging, kissing, and praising them.
For me, acknowledging these thoughts and feelings is important. My honesty makes me sound at times like a bit of a Debbie Downer, but being mindful of my short-comings as a mom allows me to be and accept the human being that I am. Through self-acceptance I can work on smoothing out some of my kinks and quirks in gentle, loving ways that don’t cause additional emotional self-mutilation.
It’s simple Cognitive Behavioral Therapy here, folks. Recognizing that I am having any or all of the following automatic negative thoughts:
- I’m a failure as a mom.
- My children are the worst behaved children in the world which must be my fault.
- I’m so overwhelmed I want to pack it in.
- I can’t handle all this.
- This day is never going to end,
allows me to also recognize when my brain goes down this path I feel:
- anxious and panicked
- hopeless and depressed, and
I then can realize how this set of emotions affects my behavior. Usually when I am feeling the prickly pins and needles of anxiety, I am not on my A-Game as a mom. I lose my cool faster, start to obsess over cleaning, and nit-pick until everyone around me is ready to sell me to the gypsies.
So I have a chance to reassure myself, cheer myself on with some brighter thoughts. For example, Keep calm it’s almost bedtime, is one of my favorites because it also gives me a chuckle. Telling myself, they are just kids, also helps. Sometimes nothing helps and I just feel crummy and overwhelmed, but I guess that is part of life too.
Awareness helps me put a name to the free-floating panic that wells up in me the day before a federal holiday. Being able to recognize my thoughts and feelings helps me feel more control over what is happening.
It’s all part of the process.
Hopefully I can remember all this during that long-ass holiday.
What’s your secret? How do you manage your children during “down time” on holidays and vacations? Are you ever overwhelmed? Please feel free to share in the comments below. I love to hear from you!