Yesterday, all three of my kids were home with me and my husband was sick in bed upstairs with strep. It was a rainy and cold day, the house was a mess, and I didn’t feel well. The perfect recipe for a super fun day!
By 10am, my shoulders were tight and I had this burning sensation in the pit of my stomach.
I was already feeling anxious, getting short with my kids, yelling, and in general, just feeling terrible. I was thinking things like “When will there be a moment where someone isn’t asking something of me?” or “I would love to be upstairs resting in bed like my husband and not managing a household and three children.” or “I’m just tired and want a break!”and “It sucks that we have to be inside all day with the rain.” “I have no idea how to keep my kids occupied and they’re going to be crazy and restless.”
There was even one moment where I literally yelled at my son while I was trying to change my husbands fever soaked sheets, “GET OFF THE BED!”, after asking him kindly 4 times.
He looked at me and said, “Mom, that was mean.” And he was right.
His words were like a wake up call. Why was I acting this way? I knew I could chose to think thoughts that helped me to not yell and feel irritated. If I wanted to, I could take back control of how I was feeling. I took a few moments to breathe and to become aware of the thoughts that were causing all of those negative emotions.
As I looked closer at my thoughts, the main thought causing me to feel anxious kind of shocked me. As it turns out, deep down, I was worried about my husband being sick. My thoughts were spinning about him dying or being sick for a long time, and one day losing him, and having to be on my own.
As a result of these thoughts, I was feeling fear.
FEAR. What?? I didn’t see that coming! I was feeling fear about a possible future without my husband and this feeling was what was leading me to lash out at my son, not what he did or even my thoughts about him. And this made so much sense.
When we resist feeling fear, we tend to layer on other emotions, like anger and anxiety, which is exactly what I was doing, and I would never had recognized that was the problem unless I had really taken the time to figure out what was going on in my mind. Recognizing what was causing me to feel fear allowed me to process it, and to intentionally chose my thoughts around him being sick.
This is how I was able to take care of myself on a day where I was taking care of everyone else.
I chose to think, “Right now, my husband is ok. I am so grateful he is getting better. Nothing has gone wrong here.” I even went to worst case scenario to prove to my mind that it could calm down and stop protecting me. I thought, “And if something does happen to him down the line, I know I will figure it out and I will be able handle it. The worst thing that can happen is just a negative feeling.”
The rest of the day I practiced awareness of my thoughts and was compassionate toward myself while I was dealing with a situation my brain thought was scary. It wasn’t perfect and I still struggled with feeling irritated and worried, but I remained self-compassionate and patient with myself.
On the whole, since I have learned how to managed my thoughts, I now view challenging situations like these as opportunities for me to look into my mind and to coach myself.
If you want to help yourself feel better in challenging situations with your kids, here are some step-by-step instructions:
- First, step back mentally and physically, even if it’s a for few seconds, and just take 3 breaths.
- Relax your face and shoulders.
- Become curious and compassionate towards yourself.
- Ask your brain a question, like “Why are you feeling so ___________?” or “What are you thinking?”
- Pay attention to thought patterns and identify thoughts that maybe creating the unwanted negative feeling.
- Write down the thoughts if you can or define them in your mind.
- Find the FACTS about the situation, for example, “My husband is sick.”
- Become aware of how your thinking is creating your experience of your life. Tell yourself that thoughts are optional.
- Process your feelings, then if you are ready, choose a new thought that is more neutral, like the thoughts in this post, one that you can believe easily.
- Be patient, as your brain will resist the change in thought, but it will allow new thoughts the more you practice them.
This is the most important work we can do as parents.
Managing our thoughts helps us to act more kindly and rationally and become more peaceful, accepting and confident parents. This work is not optional if you want to be your best self in this lifetime.