I had about the worst week I've had since I became a parent last week. And not just because of the state of my roots.
Every now and again I go through periods of mild crisis. When the children seem to become utterly overwhelming and the general effort of keeping all of us fed, clothed and functional all becomes a little bit too stressful. Usually the upshot is I become more resentful and less patient.
My mind more and more drifts to thoughts like, 'all I do is wipe up liquid ALL DAY LONG!' as Violet upends her umpteenth cup of water of the day, or 'If Cherry asks me ONE MORE QUESTION I am going to SCREAM' swiftly followed by a question from Cherry.
The more I dwell on thoughts like this the more I turn to zoning out, scrolling mindlessly through social media and clock-watching, attempting to distract and divert the children rather than engage with them. And the more I detach the more Cherry in particular becomes frantic, until the inevitable upshot is I lose my temper and yell.
We go through this cycle every now and again. In fallow periods we can have weeks or even months without me snapping. During tougher times, I can have two or three episodes in swift succession, often just days apart. And every time the upshot is the same. I vow to do better. Turn to my usual and new resources, read and reread, and redouble my efforts to remain calm, patient and present with my children.
But I always end up coming back to this place sooner or later. A place where I all but emotionally abandon my children, even only for a fraction of a second, because I am so exasperated and frustrated and exhausted and bottomed-out and overwhelmed. I am at home with Violet full-time, and Cherry only does three short sessions of preschool a week. N is out of the house most days from 7.30am until 7.30pm. I spend a LOT of time at home by myself with two young, demanding children. Respite is hard to find, rest comes at the price of family time or time one-on-one with only one of the children at the weekends when two parents are available. These years are short, the days are incredibly long sometimes, and the space to breathe is absolutely minimal.
Despite this, this latest week has been different. After a lot of intense emotions from Cherry in particular I once again lost my rag on Monday. Only this time, something was different.
Once I'd put both children to bed I sat and thought about it, really thought about it. I did a bit of reading, a bit more thinking, and I came to a different conclusion.
This time, I am not going to try and do better.
This time I am going to do whatever it takes to stop yelling and disconnecting, and remain present with and responsive to my children. The children I have chosen to bring into the world, and that I have chosen to stay at home with.
I am not interested in becoming a 'perfect' parent. You will not find me with a smile on my face as my children walk all over me. One of my realisations was in fact that I need to get a lot better at setting empathetic limits and sticking to them.
But I know for a fact there are parents out there who do not routinely - even irregularly - lose their tempers at their young children, and yell at them. While I have never shamed Cherry or Violet, called them names or said anything I later regret, it's the volume and tone of my voice that I need to work on. I become too animated, I rant and rave, and I work myself up to a fever pitch until I yell. The words I am using are in fact entirely reasonable and respectful - it's just the way I am communicating that needs work.
The rest of this week was intense. Both children but Cherry in particular sensed the change in me and enforcing empathetic limits has been tough on her. She is, I'm a little ashamed to say, used to me caving at least some of the time if she screams enough, and that has been hard to deal with. Without the TV and indoors more than usual thanks to illness, both children have been more demanding and less inclined to entertain themselves than usual. It's been a very, very long week.
But my new 'Kind Voice Chart,' which will I hope be the only reward chart that ever comes into this house unless I need one for other parental misdemeanours too (!!) has a tick for every day except Monday. In consultation with Cherry, I created the chart to show her that I am utterly committed to regulating myself in her and Violet's presence and remaining present, consistent and not yelling. She decides at the end of the day whether I get a tick or a cross. (There was a big cross on Monday!)
I feel it's really important both children see that I am consciously working on managing my emotions, and that I am prepared to forgive myself my crosses, and keep working for those ticks.
Longer term I have signed up to a peaceful parenting course which begins in January and I am really excited about getting some one-to-one support with some of the specific situations we encounter as a family.
I have also recognised that Cherry in particular absolutely desperately needs regular, reliable one-on-one time with me. Violet still gets a decent amount of time with me while Cherry is at preschool, but unless I plan and prepare accordingly Cherry gets no time just with me. She needs regular time to play with me every single day, and a good chunk of time - at least a morning - every week.
Hopefully that will be enough to put me on the path I want to be on, but like I said, I will do whatever it takes. If that turns out to be one-to-one parent coaching, so be it.
Whatever it takes. They are more than worth it.