If you’re like most moms on the planet these days, you lose your shit on your kids. And then you drop them off at school and sit in your car sobbing, because you’re pretty sure you broke them, and you feel so guilty, and sad, and demoralized, and, and, and…
Or you spend the evening cooking dinner, cleaning up, finishing up work projects, helping with homework, juggling six thousand balls, and they’re not listening, not brushing their teeth, not helping, and you lose your shit on them, and an hour later they’re in bed, and all you want is a do-over.
In my work with moms over the last five years (and in my 11 years as a mom myself), I’ve been able to identify the five real reasons moms lose their shit on their kids—and none of them have anything to do with you having shitty kids, or being a shitty mom.
1. Your tank is empty. When you get on an airplane, they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. This is the best metaphor in the world for motherhood, yet one we often ignore. Hungry parents can’t feed children. When we are depleted of our own energy sources, we are completely ill-equipped to support, raise, or nurture another human being. Look to your energy sources and see where you’re lacking. Are you eating healthy foods, getting enough rest, exercising, and nurturing your spirit? As a busy mom, it’s hard to conceive of fitting these things in, and when you do, you’ll find you have more energy, and, oddly, more time to be with your kids in meaningful ways. Here are some ways to jump start filling your tank:
- Download the 7-minute workout app for your phone. You have 7 minutes, and your kids might enjoy doing it with you. Mine does.
- Pick up a journaling practice. My friend Deb Cooperman has a great way to start you on yours.
- Replace just ONE meal with something super-healthy. Make lunch a salad; make dinner lean protein and veggies. Start small; don’t change everything all at once.
- Commit to lights out by 10pm.
2. The patriarchy. Yeah, I said it. When I was younger, my mom used to go around talking about smashing the patriarchy and I was full of teen eye-rolls. Cut-to middle age, and I’m like, “Yeah, SMASH THAT SHIT.” The truth is that there are about 5,438 ways in which our society is set up to make you overly stressed (which puts you on a short tether, and makes you lose your shit more and more often), and much of it comes back down to the fact that we live in a patriarchal system. I tell you this right now so you can take some solace in the fact that much of the stress and pressure you’re feeling right now has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the society you’re living in. You’re not crazy; you’re just being gaslit. Even the ways that we’ve tried to smash the patriarchy up till now still exist within the confines of that system. Whenever something becomes the not-something, it’s still wrapped up in the something it’s trying not to be (pass the bong). Here are some of the ways you’re currently suffering under the patriarchy:
- There’s pressure for you to be, do, have IT ALL. We have careers, but still also bear the brunt of the work in the household.
- Women judge ourselves and one another based on how we measure up to expectations created by the media to sell us products that confirm that we’re not enough the way we are.
- No one ever asks a man how he “balances it all,” because no one expects him to. Yet we are asked this all the time, which perpetuates the notion that we actually have to.
- Social media
- An overt misogynist has been elected president. If you think that isn’t going to set us back 50 years, you’re dead wrong.
- Diet culture
- Rape culture (see president, above)
3. Poor communication skills. We’re pretty sure that if our kids would just fucking listen once and for all, we wouldn’t lose our shit on them. We all agree on this, which kind of makes us the problem, dontcha think? Which means that ultimately, the way we’re communicating with our kids isn’t working. Communication itself is a pretty straightforward process, but most of us have the mechanics wrong. Ultimately, your communication means nothing if it doesn’t elicit the response that you want. If you ask your kids to go brush their teeth and they don’t, then it’s on you to make that request in a way your kids will hear and understand. (The same is true of everyone else in your life, by the way.) Here are some things you can start doing now:
- Don’t shout from another room. Walk in and be sure you’ve gotten your kids’ attention before making your request.
- If they’re engaged in an activity, be sure their focus has shifted before giving your direction.
- Ask for your request to be repeated back to you so you know they got it.
- Break down multi-step processes (e.g. setting the table) into smaller, manageable steps.
- Give praise for a job well done.
4. Shitty boundaries. When we don’t hold our boundaries with our kids, we teach them that it’s ok to break them. When we capitulate so that we make this moment easier to deal with (to avoid a tantrum, for example), we set ourselves up for long-term failure. We have to learn to hold the long game in our minds and hearts, putting in the hard work on the front end in order to increase long-term gains. When we say no to our kids and then they push and push and push, and then we give in, we teach them (very clearly) that their whining works. So next time, they do it again. And they’ll keep going, often escalating until we give in again. They know that eventually, you’ll give in, so they’ll push until you do. But if you hold the boundary, and don’t give in, your NO will be understood, and respected. The first time. (*Cue choir of angels*)
4. You're getting triggered. We all have triggers, and all of us get them set off, and before we know it, we’re losing our ever loving minds. Sometimes we don’t even know what’s happened until after the fact when we’re sitting in a huge mess, wondering how we got there. Our kids are particularly adept at finding and pushing our buttons. It’s our job to understand our own triggers so we can manage them responsibly. Some places to look are:
- What value that you hold dear is being stepped on? Do you have a strong value around people being on time? If so, you likely get triggered when they’re late. Do you have a strong value around personal responsibility? If so, you might get triggered when your kids get defensive or deflect or try to blame a sibling.
- What story are you making up about what just happened? If someone is late, do you make up that they’re irresponsible and disrespectful? Or are you able to simply leave it at, “they’re late.” What happened is that they’re late; what you made up is that they’re disrespectful and irresponsible. Where are you making up stories about your kids? If they deflect and don’t take responsibility, are you secretly making up that they’ll grow up to be irresponsible?
- An old wound is being “rubbed on” in a way that sets you off. Let’s say your mother was always late to pick you up from school when you were a child. It made you feel like you were unimportant and not safe, and it created a wound around lateness. Now when someone is late, it kicks up all that old shit. Someone without that wound likely wouldn’t care the way you do. If your kids leave their dirty dishes in the sink it might rub on your wound of feeling unimportant and disrespected, which is a wound you got when you were younger.
There are a million reasons we lose our shit on our kids every day, but when we break them all down, I bet each one fits under the umbrella of one of these five categories.