It was a lazy, Saturday morning. The girls’ were watching “My Little Pony” in their pj’s, eating the pancakes I had just made for their breakfast (because Saturday mornings were made for eating pancakes in front of the TV in your pj’s).
I was in my room, hunched over my computer planning an awesome day. I found the coolest indoor playground only 20 minutes from our house, with a beautiful park nearby for a bike ride, and a Mexican place on the way home for lunch (‘cause they are really into burrito’s).
Quite proud of myself for organizing such a thoughtful and fun day, I paused the TV to present my plan to the girls. “Okay guys! I found the coolest indoor playground, and there’s a park right by it where we can go for a bike ride, and…….”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I don’t want to go! I just want to stay home! Turn the show back on!”
Herein lies one of the biggest differences I’m noticing between working full-time and being a full-time mom - respect and recognition.
At my last job, I worked with an incredible team where it was ingrained in our culture to recognize each other for things we had done. Our weekly meetings had “Recognition” as an agenda item, so I would regularly hear “thank you”, “you’re doing a great job”, “you’re awesome!!!”.
At home? Not so much.
This is one of the most challenging parts of being a parent - the fact that most of the time we give out way more than we get back. I’m still doing great work, maybe even more so than when I was working in an office. I do important, thoughtful things all the time and for the most part it goes unseen and definitely unrecognized.
A Quick Side Step
I’m reading a great book right now called The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax that I’m going to write more about soon - it speaks to the fact that this generation of children is characterized by a lack of respect and gratitude. There are a bunch of reasons why this has happened (specifically a shift in the power dynamic), and he speaks about how the role of the parent needs to shift to ensure we are teaching these skills to our children. In the example above, after Zosia yelled at me of course I addressed the behavior and connected with her to remind her how we speak to each other. I want to make sure we all agree that teaching and guiding our children is an important part of this conversation.
While it’s critical for us to teach our kids to be respectful and express gratitude, Gordon Neufeld says it best:
“When our kids are young, we are 100% responsible for the relationship.”
We can’t expect our kids to be great at this from the get-go; they need to be taught. They don’t come into this world being thoughtful, kind, gracious little humans; that’s our job.
That means there will be several years where (while they are still learning) we will regularly be yelled at, hit, and ignored. Where we will put tons of effort into making them a perfect lunch only to find out they threw it in the garbage. Where we will stay up late making cupcakes for their birthday party, and they will whine about there not being enough icing. Where you will wake up at 3am to get them a glass of water, only to be yelled at the next morning for making their eggs wrong.
This is going to happen.
The reality of parenting is that we will be taking all kinds of shit for many, many years.
What the hell do we do with that?! How do we stay sane in the midst of that futility?!!!!
How do we get up every morning and do it again, knowing that there is definitely no “Mother of the Year” award coming in the mail?
1. Sometimes Just Be Sad About It
I’m putting this one first for a reason - if you give yourself a bit of time to be sad about it, to really sink into the futility of it all and let go of your expectations on your kids, you’ll be in a WAY better place to move forward. Skipping the sadness is a mistake.
So go ahead, have a good cry once in awhile. You are working your ass off, no one is noticing, and there’s really nothing to be done about it right now. It is appropriate and necessary to be sad about this.
I love to cry. If there was an Olympics of crying, I would win the gold medal. I know I’m a better parent because I have a good cry atleast once every few weeks, and there’s a lot of science to support this.
First of all, crying releases toxins. And not just any toxins - they tested different kinds of tears and crying for sadness versus crying for joy releases different chemicals. So your body is actually releasing what needs to be released in that moment when you cry.
Gordon Neufeld also talks about helping our children “find their tears”. In those moments where they are angry and frustrated about something they can’t change or control, helping them move from anger to sadness triggers a biochemical response that allows them to move on. This is the same for adults - moving from frustration to sadness through tears gives us the space to release and then move on.
I know for myself after a really great cry I feel clear and relaxed, like I’ve just spent an afternoon at the spa. I feel as though the weight of futility has been lifted off of me, and I can relax into what is. Not from a place of giving up, but from a real place of acceptance.
2. Write a Thank-You Note
After you’ve had a good cry, another idea is to take responsibility for your own recognition and write yourself a thank you note. This is a excellent practice if you are someone who is great about journalling every night (which I am not). Each evening take a moment and imagine the day from your children’s eyes. Write out all the things you did for them and thank yourself. If you want to kick it up a notch, once in awhile send yourself some thank-you flowers and a love note from yourself.
3. Design Some Recognition With Your Husband/Partner
While we can’t expect our kids to be in a reciprocal relationship with us, we can expect this from our partners. Sit down and design a practice with your partner where every evening the two of you recognize and acknowledge each other for the things you did that day. Because I’m an HR dork, make it high quality recognition by saying what they did (the observable behavior), be specific, and let them know how it impacted you.
eg. Thank you for packing the lunches this morning. When you do that, it gives me the space to really be present with the kids in the morning so I’m not rushed. This really means a lot to me - I feel way less stressed, and I know I’m sending the kids off to school from a much better place.
4. Close, Connected Friendships
Friends are also a great place to mine recognition. Find yourself some friends who are excellent at listening, and even better at telling you how awesome you are, then spend time with those people. If you don’t have time to get together this can also be a really fun thing to do online (like a Facebook group, or email exchange). Call them up and say “Heh, I need my bucket filled. Can you please tell me something I’m awesome at?”
Don’t underestimate this. It’s really challenging to love and be giving when you’re feeling completely depleted. If you notice yourself flipping out at little things that normally wouldn’t bother you, that’s usually a sign that your tank needs to be filled.
5. Notice the Ways They Do Thank You
Here’s the truth - your kids do love you. Their love, appreciation and gratitude is just rarely going to come in a “traditional” package. It’s very unlikely you will ever hear your 4-year old say, “Heh Mom, thanks for making my lunch today. When I saw you had put the cheese in that I like, I was reminded of how much you love me and it meant a lot.”
Their love will show up in different ways - sometimes a running hug, sometimes a picture they drew for you, etc. When those moments come, try to sink into it. It’s easy to say, “thank you” and then get back to what you were doing. Instead, try to hold the feeling for 20 seconds. Really let it sink in so that you have it saved up for the moment later on when they shit all over you for not washing their favourite shirt in time for school.
The other day, out of nowhere Lily grabbed my hand and started singing, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. I was so surprised, at first I started to laugh and I almost brushed it off as her just being silly, but I didn’t. I stared back into her beautiful blue/green eyes and just let it roll over me while she sang and sang. There were moments when I felt like my heart might burst open, but I stayed with it. That one is going to keep me going for a while. I might not even need my cry this week ;)