Raising children is like being on a rollercoaster – It looks fun; full of loops and adventure, but what’s an epic ride without a little screaming and throwing up?
We don’t always have it figured out. So what?
Introducing twice-divorced, 40-year-old, self-employed Mom, of four kids – Me. My pals on the rollercoaster – four kids with entirely different personalities and passions in life. Four kids born in 3 years and 2 months (twins in the middle). Two girls. Two boys. Ranging from 11 – 8. Yes, I was either crazy or determined to give crazy a stare down. But who the heck knows what Motherhood will be like when they hand us a baby for the first time? Fast-forward 11 years and I’m smacked with the realization that none of my mom friends, and no divine parenting book can figure out how to raise my unique children.
I want to share an experience I had not that long ago. Experiences are what teach us about ourselves and this particular night was pivotal. I had a Mom mental breakdown. What does that look like you might ask? It looks like me jumping up from the kitchen table, using the word f**k at an epic volume, and grabbing my car keys, (no shoes, and or purse), and driving away. I drove away from the chaos, fighting, and energy-draining environment that I had created. Yes, the environment I had created, by failing to take control of my home and make changes.
We don’t always have this parenting gig figured out. Our kids change as they grow up, and if we forget to reset our sails with the direction of the wind, we get caught in a boat that is bound to go nowhere. I got caught.
I drove to the park and cried hysterically in my car. I texted my best friend Christine, who lives just down the street, and I asked her to go just deal with taking a couple of kids to her house. I left my partner, Will, upstairs in bed with a migraine. I felt bad, but at that moment my entire body was screaming to RUN! Thankfully my support system is amazing. I texted my Dad – the man who loved me first. Then in my bare feet, with no driver’s license, I drove to my parent’s home. The same home I grew up in, ten minutes away.
Our Truth as Moms
I found myself saying aloud to my parents, “I’ve been too easy on them. I’ve let them take over my house and walk all over me.” I began to question everything I thought was right in how I raised my four dynamic children. I stayed home with them for 6 years and left my career as an ESL facilitator with the school board. I gave it up gladly to be a full-time Mom. I wanted to spend my days shaping four beautiful minds and teaching them how to live a fulfilled life.
Here is MY truth: I believe my only job as a Mother is to keep my children safe, provide the essentials, guide them, actively listen and watch, and offer my thoughts when they ask. I provide an environment where they can be who they are meant to be, not who I think they should be. I read recently that our subconscious is flooded with the words our parents, teachers, and peers tell us as we grow up. We are too often directed by outside voices and not our own. So much so, that we frequently never figure out who we are as adults. We become a carbon copy of those people who most influence us. Genetics aside, I wanted to try and dictate very little in how my children perceived the world around them. I wanted them to listen to their inner voice. I wanted to raise children who asked questions and followed their gut instincts by being mindful and introspective. Sounds completely hippy dippy to some I’m sure, but this is MY truth.
So I raised my babies with a soft voice and loads of affection. I never said the words, “Because I said so.” I let them discuss their thoughts even if it went against mine. I let them go down the slide backward and eat dirt because I knew their experiences were their own and it was pretty entertaining for me in the short game. I let them be angry and sad and I validated their feelings. And only did I intervene when their behaviours became unsafe to themselves or their siblings.
I am proud of how I raised them.
Then I was blubbering at my parents about how my choice to parent them as free birds had failed. Mom guilt sets in.
But the more I talked it out to my parents and myself, I began to realize that I had done exactly what I set out to do and they were the most wonderfully, gifted children in all their uniqueness and I had nothing to look back on. Moving forward there was one clear intention – gaining back control of my house for my sanity. I was a graceful Mom who didn’t believe in discipline and punishment – natural consequences were always much more effective. But in doing so, I had allowed them to take over my home and become the only voices being heard. I allowed them to stop listening to me because they were too busy listening to themselves. And I forgot to reset my sails as they got older. They were changing and I no longer could treat them the same as I did when they were little.
Mornings were chaotic, with kids laying around, having to be reminded to do everything from brushing their teeth to wearing appropriate clothing. The fighting between Madelyn and Carter had become so volatile that I was afraid for their safety and their mental states. They used to be best friends. I didn’t understand how we got here. I became the constant mediator in what used to be my calm place – my home. All the fighting had driven me out of my house.
Ready, Set, Strike!
So I decided to quietly, but powerfully, make a statement that evening.
I went on strike.
I waited till all my kids were sleeping before I drove home. I cried on my best friends shoulder and thanked Will for understanding my need for retreat. Then I ripped out a big poster colouring page from one of their books and did some creative colouring for fun (who doesn’t love colouring?), and then wrote across the picture –“Mom is on strike. Get yourself ready for school. Have a good day!” I stuck it on my bedroom door and locked it.
When I heard the kids’ alarms go off, I knew it would go one of two possible ways. They would either get up and not know what to do with themselves or they would pull up their big kid panties and do what they were all capable of doing – being responsible for themselves. Either way, I stayed in bed and waited.
I heard the first one come to the door and read the sign. I heard whispering. Then Emily and Cole crept into my room from the bathroom entrance (which doesn’t lock from the inside), and kiss me gently on the cheek. Emily is truly connected to me in a way I could never have imagined and my sudden outburst and exit weighed heavily on her – I could feel it. But at that moment that she kissed my cheek, I know she also felt my great pain and resolution to change the house. I barely said anything. I looked at her and said, “I’m on strike. You are capable of getting ready for school. I love you.“
And the most miraculous thing happened – they all got ready for school! I barely heard a word. They brushed their teeth, and hair, they got dressed (who knows about the clean underwear or not), they got breakfast (Madelyn even cooked eggs) and packed their bags. I even called them downstairs on the home phone from my cell in bed and told them to take the sheets off their beds and put them in the laundry room. They did it without saying boo. They came in to kiss me goodbye (Madelyn said she was sorry and attempted to break into a confession, but I thwarted it and said it wasn’t the time) and then they left! They just left and walked to school and that was it. I could barely believe how easy it was.
Could it be that easy? Yes, it can.
I didn’t have to say get dressed 10 times and listen to a sob story about not wanting to go to school. I didn’t have to break up a fight over someone making a noise the other didn’t like. I just stayed in bed and cuddled up with Will and listened to them quietly listen to their voices and manage their world, without any discourse at all. And then it was clear that my gut instinct was right – the years had changed and my kids were older, and now it was time to treat them as the capable, responsible young people they are. Sink or swim, they needed to recognize that owning the power of self doesn’t mean you tear down the people around you.
Then I set out to carry forward firm changes in our home to show them I was no longer going to play monkey in the middle. It was my house. And in the pursuit of raising children, somewhere I had gotten lost in giving them everything and maintaining nothing for myself.
I dragged the old whiteboard up from the basement and wrote out the following:
Every day the whiteboard changed. I set it outside the front door for them to read when they got home and every day they followed the instructions and it helped them focus. Along with a daily quote to help inspire them.
The other hard and risky stance I took was this: I told Madelyn and Carter if they could no longer respect each other and stop fighting, they could no longer be in my home together. My parents agreed to take one of them every night if needed. So I told them I would not allow them to hurt each other in my home anymore. So they took turns going to my parents and I took Madelyn the next day after school. She met me with huge resistance and anger, but I stood my ground. It only took three days before she was riding home from Taekwondo class with me and said, “I miss Carter.”
Make the changes and don’t look back.
Slowly over the next few weeks, the house began to shift and calm.
I just had to lose my marbles and stop doing stuff for them.
I continued to stay in bed most mornings unless I had an early appointment. Even then I didn’t tell them what to do or take control. I let them have the responsibility of getting ready for school on their own. And I gave them some clear rules and structure for the rest of the time.
And I will NEVER go back to the way things were.
I have learned that although as parents we can stuff feelings away and stay strong for our kids, it’s not always a good idea to do so. We are not stone. We have emotions and the more we refuse to show our children that we are human, the more we do them a disservice. We teach them that you should be tough and carry on. But there have been a few times in my days as a Mom when holding in the emotion was unbearable. And in teaching them it’s ok to be real, you teach them to honour their feelings. My kids aren’t teenagers yet, but I want them to adopt this understanding now so when they struggle through the milestones of high school and puberty, that they will come to me and not hide what they are feeling. I would also like to stay mindful and more importantly, sane, during those hormonally-charged years.
In witnessing me have a breakdown, they saw the weight of their words and actions. Moms can be greatly affected. We may look like superheroes, but we have tough days at work, are not infallible to unkind words, and hugs by little children can be the most healing, and it holds them accountable for being aware of their words and actions.
Do you need to go on strike?