It’s a Tuesday evening, and I’ve escaped to the bathroom and locked the door. My three kids are in the kitchen, all expressing dismay for various reasons and by various means.
My five-year-old daughter is whining because I casually mentioned taking my son out for a “Mommy day” in the next few weeks (never mind that she had her own Mommy day only four days before), my three-year-old son is crying that he wants more grapes, and my five-month-old baby is emitting high-pitched shrieks because I had the temerity to put her down (all in the name of heating up fish sticks).
It’s 6:52 p.m., that turbulent, borderline time where a long day has already passed, but bedtime is not quite within spitting distance. In a moment, I will heave myself up off the pink tiles of my bathroom floor and face my squalling trio.
If you’ve had nights like this, you know what can happen next: the yelling, the “Please stop hitting your sister!”, the vague, frustrated threats of “I will not get you cotton candy again until you can go to sleep nicely!”
It’s a dark secret of motherhood, these moments of utter exhaustion and overwhelm; when you just want to throw your hands up and walk away. But you can’t, of course, because you’re responsible for tiny people, some of whom subsist primarily on food produced by your body. And the treadmill of life doesn’t stop after bedtime when there is still laundry to fold, backpacks to empty, and snacks to prepare.
Sometimes when I think of Robert Frost’s iconic lines: “The woods are lovely/ Dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep,” I can’t help but think that Frost was thinking of me, and my futile attempts to get in some Netflix.
If you’ve had these moments too, here are some tips I’ve learned (all the hard way, naturally!) on how to get through it:
1. Give Yourself Some Grace
My friends in the mommy blogosphere love talking about grace–in non-religious terms, it’s the freedom to give themselves a break.
And while as a Jewish mom, I’m often more on the guilt train than the grace express, I think there’s something to this. When I look around at my friends, I’m in awe of everything they accomplish. From busy careers to young children to Shabbat meals and community work, the amount they do in a single day is extraordinary.
The problem, though, is that sometimes we can get so used to being superhuman that we forgot we’re actually human, after all. It’s okay to have a hard day. It’s okay to need a break. And it’s okay to fail sometimes, even at something as important as parenting. After all, Jewish tradition teaches that the goal of parenting is to help us grow, and growth involves struggle.
2. Apologize to Your Kids
The other day, after a rough night, I read my kids a book and kissed their tiny heads. And then I apologized–for losing my patience with them, for getting frustrated, for not being kind. I won’t say I didn’t get any sanctimonious responses (“Mommy, you no get fwus-twated wif me no more. Is not nice.”) but I was glad I did it. By showing our children that we can own up to our mistakes and we’re committed to working on ourselves, we model the personal growth and self-development that we hope our children possess one day. After all, we’re all works in progress–some of us shorter than others.
3. Remember that It’s Never Too Late to Start Over
Sometimes, in the final moments of a difficult day of parenting my little ones, I hug them before bed and we talk and connect, and for a brief moment the challenges of the day fade away. It’s so easy to think to ourselves that because we’ve already messed up, the whole day/evening/weekend/vacation is ruined. And yes, it’s hard to change course when we’re tired, in a bad mood, and already yelling. But it’s possible.
Just because we’ve started to yell doesn’t mean we should scream for the rest of the night. Just because we’ve thrown our parenting tips out the window doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment, breathe deeply, and start using a helpful tool. It’s so easy to feel like it’s too late (“What’s one more slice of cheesecake when I’ve already broken my diet? One more stop at the mall when the budget is already blown?”) but we can always, always, turn things around. And you know what? Once you do, you won’t remember the bad stuff quite so much.
4. Pray. Drink Coffee. Repeat.
Parenting young children is not for the faint of heart. Be kind to yourself (something moms don’t do nearly enough) and take the time to connect with yourself and pray or meditate or listen to music or whatever is spiritual for you.
5. And, of course, coffee–always coffee.
Because the bottom line of motherhood is that our love for our children stretches and refines and strengthens us, allowing us to keep trying and growing in the middle of the business of life. You can get through the difficult moments of parenting and survive–and thrive. One day at a time.