Every mother knows that motherhood is full of simple joys. Just tonight, my toddler son, who has been obsessed with my favorite cheap sunglasses, stole them off my head. He smashed them onto his own face, and tilted his head up just enough to keep them from sliding down his nose. Once they were balanced precariously on his face, he began parading around proudly—having acquired a new, previously-envied lens too look through.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Even when I am feeling sad in my heart, as I do on this particular evening, I’m grateful to know that there is something life-giving about the sight of his blond curly hair bouncing from his boastful walk, with sunglasses too large on his little cherub face. Moments like this can still elicit a belly laugh from the center of me. I am immensely thankful to know that something silly has the ability to upend a state of funk.
But also, as every mother knows, it’s not always so simple. Sometimes those small, special moments are hard to recognize as they are occurring, because you’ve been dealing with tantrums, hitting, or biting—or all of the above at the same time. Sometimes mothering is complicated, with contradicting feelings of supreme love and derailing despondency occurring on—or throughout—any given day.
Since I know I’m not the only one who is sometimes in need of an attitude adjustment, I am hereby sharing tried-and-true strategies to remain calm, ideas that I may (or may not) frequently deploy when pushed to the brink of sanity:
1. Slow down. If you feel like rushing around with anxiety because the carpet/high chair/toilet isn’t going to clean itself, or you can feel the acid rising in your throat because your child starts swatting you in the face when you attempt to change his diaper, change course rapidly by doing everything in slow motion. Lower the tone of your voice and let your utterances roll out languidly. Chase the naked child down the hallway like you’re swimming through cement. Watch for your child’s face to contort at your sudden behavioral changes. Is it still Mommy? They may wonder. Yes, it’s still you—it’s just the non-yelling version of I’ve-had-enough-of-this-crap-Mom.
2. Take a deep breath. Breathe in. Picture for a moment the worst possible thing you could be dealing with at any given moment. Death of a loved one? Spiders in your hair? Loss of your job? Your insufferable neighbor with incurable bad breath talking dangerously close to you for more than 30 seconds? Whatever is currently happening at the moment, though it may be trying your patience, is not nearly as bad as something tragic, traumatic, or even smelly. Even if your child is screaming at the top of her lungs, there’s probably a better chance it’s about what they don’t want to eat for lunch rather than looming existential dread (that’s your issue, remember?). Breathe out, letting your thoughts of rage flow into the sewer and out to the sea.
3. Remove yourself from your body. I like to imagine that my body is a suit that I can zip myself out of, leave on the floor, and walk away from. Other times, I inflate myself like a balloon and go floating or just hang out hovering above the situation I don’t want to be in. Sometimes, the best cure for association is disassociation! It may be a little untraditional, but this is my meditation. I’ll tap back into my body when my body’s nostrils are done smelling toddler diarrhea. After all, there are only so many poopy diapers a person can change in a day, people!
4. Invite someone else to inhabit your body for a while. The best defense against total CDMS (Complete Defeat of Mother’s Soul) is to literally vacate the premises once in a while. Whether you are letting your in-laws get practice putting the hellion to bed, or you’re chanting to let alien body snatchers relieve you of your earthly duties, just make sure you allow someone else the time and space to tell your child what to do instead of you. Everyone needs a break from being a dictator. And your child may in fact listen to someone (even if it isn’t going to be you, most of the time).
5. Decompression/Zone Out Time. Whether you hop in in your car and drive aimlessly around the neighborhood, go to the gym and sweat out your aggressions, or you eat an enormous bag of Juicy Pear-flavored jellybeans while alone in the shopping mall parking lot, go do you. Parenting is a full-time job. It is illegal for workers not to take breaks, and it should be illegal for grandma or auntie or cousin or sibling or friend or partner (ahem!) or anyone to to say no when you ask to leave the house for 40 continuous minutes to aimlessly wander the aisles of Walgreens, with no plans to buy anything except a few more minutes of freedom.
These aren’t mere strategies—they are tried-and-true formulas for happiness, success, and overall well-being for me. Personally, I’ve found that motherhood is about striking a balance and finding middle ground between the heart-bursting highs and alienating lows. I want to be able to be present for those sweet moments of silliness that can only be caught when I’ve taken time away and am ready to return, because I remember what I’m missing.