Just one thing: How to calm yourself when parenting is too hard

We have all had those really, really hard days and weeks where everything feels like it’s too much. Mum of two Jessie Moss talks about how she copes when life is sending her curve balls.

This year I have been feeling increasingly paralysed by the seemingly immense and insurmountable tasks that surround me. From small everyday parenting tasks and my work as a new entrant teacher to my role as a partner and friend, and as a member of my community at large.

A playcentre meeting, lunch boxes, whānau hui, wānanga reo, piles of washing, math planning, hospital appointments, just one more email… And weaving through all of this, the never ending behavioural and emotional management of small children. This is the grit that threatens to eat into the fabric of the very ropes that bind me together.

As a teacher, I simply put on my professional hat. I take some deep breaths, remember all the theories and best practices I know and I set to work. And I do a pretty good job. But by the end of my working week, I don’t have much left in the reserve tank. Over the years, my own daughter, who has ongoing behavioural and learning challenges, remains a constant but delightful work in progress. This has been exhausting for me.

Our daughter doesn’t intend to throw me these curve balls. She doesn’t mean to walk my partner and I through these especially muddy territories. She is just getting through life her way. She’s just being her. But fuck me, she can be hard to parent sometimes.

So the immense and insurmountable bit is the parenting work – my toddler and my big girl both doing their best as they are. The work is doing what I know they need. It is being consistent and reasonable and calm. As much as is humanly possible.

Credit: Pixabay

When doing these things is difficult, or I know straight up that I’m just not doing them at all: I have two mantras that I bring myself back to.

One thing at a time and this too shall pass.

Both are commonly known ‘encouragements’. They are both simple but they require dedicated effort to enact. The great thing about these nuggets is that I can actually hear the voices of those they came from: two dear friends, who are also raising wonderful children. So when I think of these encouragements, I can stop myself from spiralling because I can see them seeing me seeing them.

I take a breath.

I regather.

I move on.

I keep to my word.

I am consistent.

There are so many behaviours, inter-sibling warfares and areas of development in our children that we could focus our parenting on at any given time. How do we decide what is most important? Where should that precious energy go? And why is it so hard to unknit all the threads that create these parenting challenges in the first place?

The answer is in the fundamentals of being a child. It all comes back to learning.

Learning is fun for children and they aren’t particularly conscious of doing it. They relish in it. The exploration, the attempts, and finally the mastery. That is, of things such as tying laces, putting your reading folder in your bag, riding a bike, or making your own breakfast. Some other kinds of learning are not finite, such as social skills and emotional regulation.

We also know children take time to learn – at their own pace, in their own (sweet) time. We know that there is no clear path and no right way to do it. For the often busy adults in their lives this can obviously be frustrating. And for those of us with kids who walk to a slightly or radically alternative beat – those of us who are supporting children to master everyday tasks and to manage their developing emotional landscapes – this can be really hard, slow and sometimes enraging work.

At any given time, there can be a multitude of objectives, goals, aims, checklists, to-do lists, and star charts. We have to juggle all of this stuff. It is possible however, with practice, to put one thing front and centre, which allows all the other stuff to follow in the slipstream.

We pick one focus point, one area of learning that we commit to being purposeful, reflective and consistent about.

For us it is behaviour and emotional management, for them it is new learning. It is critical that we remind ourselves of this. Children want to do well. They want to please us. They want to learn. It is hard work for everyone, but we are the adults. And they are the children. We have experience and are essentially their life guides. Or sheep dogs, however you want to see it…

Consistency is hard. There are so many demands on parents and caregivers that push our limits, that threaten our abilities to be consistent. Strip it back, make it achievable and keep it manageable.

When faced with difficult times, new learning frontiers or changes in our children’s lives – I say pick one thing. One thing at a time. Pick the thing that is really driving you the highest up the wall. Put that front and centre, because if you can get that under control, many other things will fall into line, or they might dissolve completely.

And the sense of peace achieved for you and your child will be huge.

It might be that this new learning takes a week, three nights, or a month of dedicated consistency…whatever. Commit to it. Be consistent, and then move on.

To the next one thing. Because this too shall pass. And there is always more work to be done.

Jessie Moss has written for The Spinoff Parents before about her daughter’s syndrome and her quest for a diagnosis. And how she and her partner will tell her about her differences. Jessie is primary school teacher, musician, writer, keen runner and Te Reo Māori enthusiast who lives in Newtown, Wellington with her partner and their two daughters.

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