You know those days when the kids’ noise level has reached a fever pitch, and all you want — with the passion of a parched woman in the desert — is a little peace and quiet? It’s even harder when you’re tired, which is every. single. day. There you are, bringing all the care you can muster to your mess of tiny humans, while silently screaming “Please SHUT UP for the love of God!”
Here are the five comeback strategies that work best when my wild things are winning.
1. Get outside
Out of doors is where “outside voices” belong. It’s also a fresh canvas. The kids can run free, or channel their pent up energy into pick-up soccer games and colossal snow forts.
As for me, I feel instantly calmer once I’m outside. Sometimes it’s the simple fact of being released from the close quarters of our messy home, but being outdoors also helps in other ways. I get grounded by leaning against our old ash tree, or share a slightly unhinged laugh with a neighbour about the jar of Vaseline spread all over the bathroom floor.
2. Go away
When I was a kid and we were spiraling out of control, my mom sent us to the basement. She must have heaved a sigh of relief to be separated from the four of us kids (plus friends) by a foot and a half of timber, ductwork and butt-ugly carpet, selected solely for the virtue of showing no stains.
I don’t have the luxury of a finished basement, so sometimes it’s me who has to go. If I’m home alone with kids, exile may only be as far as locking the bathroom door for a few minutes and having a little cry, but those moments can have a miraculous effect as I purge the urge to smash something.
With my first baby, I instituted a weekly mini vacay policy. I’d have a sitter come for three hours straight every Saturday I could manage it, and the time away was immeasurably restorative. Suddenly my kid looked cute again!
3. Add more Kids
Paradoxically, taking care of children is often easier when there are more in the mix. My friend Johanne, now in her 70s, fondly remembers the summers when her three boys were growing up. They didn’t have a summer place of their own, so Johanne would often invite herself and all her kids up to her neighbor’s cottage. They stayed for weeks and the moms tag teamed. In the late afternoon, one mother would be down at the lake with kids — all six were completely absorbed in a world of their own making. The other mom would be up in the kitchen preparing dinner. I imagine her savoring a glass of cold beer and listening to the radio as she fell into her own rhythm.
On a smaller scale, I like to do “kid trades” with my six-year old. We invite a small friend over for two hours, and then we send them both over to the other kid’s house for a couple more hours. Since the age of three of four, these dates require very little supervision, and both parents get a break for free.
4. Get really quiet
When my son was around three he took perverse pleasure in singing — with loud and atonal glee — over top of my goodnight songs. It was too easy to end up in a power struggle that left us both revved up. I finally hit on something that worked for me. The louder he got, the quieter I sang. My quiet melodies helped me stay cool inside. I would sing the ritual three songs without feeling interrupted, and there would be no more songs even if he protested “but I didn’t hear you sing ‘Hush Little Baby’!” Most often though, once he realized I wouldn’t compete, he would quiet down so that he could hear the words of the lullabies.
5. Get really loud
Sometimes when I feel tired and not up to parenting, it’s not straight up sleep deprivation. My fatigue may come from ignoring my playful or frustrated parts, or may mean I’ve given in to a feeling of low grade despair. In moments like that, finding a way to engage actively with my kids can turn things around.
When I roughhouse with my older boy, we both end up feeling better. It’s the perfect combination of releasing frustrated energy and connecting in a simple, physical way. We growl, we tumble, we jump on the bed, but most of all we laugh!
And if all else fails, dance party!
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- How to Make a Comeback When Your Wild Things Are Winning - May 5, 2017