I thought of a word earlier tonight that represents how I have been feeling with parenting recently: floundering. I told my husband today that I survived, but I most certainly did not thrive.
I thrive when learning. I thrive engaged in genuine, deep conversations with adults. I thrive playing volleyball on the beach with friends. I thrive when I wake up rested, in the stillness of early morning before anyone else in the nearby world is awake.
Do you know where I do NOT thrive? Playing referee between squabbling, bickering children who can go from happily playing to screeching in a split second. Currently every moment in our house there is the lurking possibility that someone will start screaming, either from anger over a toy being snatched out of their hand that they "were playing with first" or injury by a sibling shoving, hitting or any other myriad of ways to injure one another (hair pulling, pinching, kicking...the possibilities are apparently endless at this particular mix of ages).
I am on edge.
And that is at home.
Frequently worse, is entering the public. It is nearly impossible to relax as a parent in public.
There are certain places you know not to take your young children. Fine dining. Expensive art galleries. Heavy metal shows. But in order to continue living for the 10+ years you have young children at home, there are places you cannot avoid: Grocery stores. Libraries. Doctor's offices. Restaurants. Playgrounds. Your own neighborhood. Family gatherings. Pools. Book stores. Banks. Car rides. Stores in general.
This is far from an exhaustive list and may not be representative of where you find yourself usually, but it is a scattered sampling of where you might.
It is incredibly stressful to grocery shop with four young children. The amount of "no's" that must be said unless you feel like buying every cookie, candy, snack, soda and toy you pass is beyond counting. And the amount of times little hands must be redirected from pulling items off of shelves is innumerable as well. At least at parks, playgrounds and family friendly outdoor places there tend to be people around that understand. But then again, often you can be under pressure there too.
My oldest was getting loud and fussy as I was in the check out lane of a store when she was a baby. I had been timing it and knew I was pushing the limit as I grabbed my last few items but knew I could nurse her as soon as I made it to the car. A "helpful" older mother ahead of me in line explained how she always had a bottle ready for her babies in the store, and that I should remember to have something with me. I felt like picking Eliana up and nursing her right there to prove that I did have something with me, but I refrained, bounced her around on my hip and cooed my way through the line until I was able to head out and immediately satisfy her hunger.
At a park by the river this summer, an inquisitive woman was clearly concerned about my parenting, letting me know that there are strong currents and I really shouldn't let my kids by the water, wondering why we don't have a pet for them (which we did but had to let go because she was starting to growl and nip at our youngest), saying well we should certainly get them another dog as soon as we can once the baby is older, explaining how many pets her parents made sure she had growing up, asking about Charlie and Eliana having their own phones, pleased that Charlie does not and that Eliana does but then mystified why she is only allowed to use it for texting and calling, "But, then how does she look anything up or learn anything?" Her brow was still furrowed when I explained we could go to the library for that or I could help her search for something if needed. She sat down and talked to me loudly when I had just put Scarlett to sleep with her head laying on my chest, finally resting, enjoying the river view and watching the other children fish with Walter. When her conversation woke Scarlett up less than 10 minutes after falling asleep she couldn't understand why my baby was so fussy.
We celebrated Eliana finishing elementary school this spring by taking her to a restaurant of her choice after the last day of school. She chose Texas Roadhouse, which sounded delicious and relaxing not having to cook any dinner. It was not. The food was good, but every two seconds Scarlett was grabbing something or trying to climb out of her chair or off my lap once she made it there or knocking over a water or reaching for a hot plate or almost grabbing a steak knife or spilling water out of the kids cup by squeezing it or dumping it out of the hole for the straw. And Charlie was tired and grumpy and starting fights with Willow and Willow was angry about something and when she is angry she doesn't care what you say to her she will make it known in the volume of her voice. Cooking at home while holding Scarlett or having her cling to my leg or sitting her with the kids only to have someone screaming or crying as soon as I make it back to the kitchen is not enjoyable, but it would have been ten times more relaxing than that dinner was.
I am not normally an anxious person. I used to love adventure and life being unplanned, spur of the moment and free wheeling. I tended to be a rather even keeled person, calm and unruffled after years of practice with an older brother to get there. But recently, I have noticed myself having a shorter temper, a lower threshold for agitation and anger flaring up quickly. This is usually only with my children. They see such a different facet of my personality than I have in any other setting. Environment does change people. I know my triggers, but I can't change them!
1. A dirty house. Try as I might, my house is continually, unbearably disastrous. It truly feels like my children are more comfortable in a home that has a item, whether that is a toy, clothing, a book, crumbles of a snack, a piece of paper, a backpack, some playing cards, a spoon, marbles, one shoe or something of the like, spaced apart every one square foot. (See my previous post with photos after trying all day to keep it clean. https://www.charlestonfamilytravel.com/post/i-like-to-mow)
2. Fighting children. I have yet to discover the elixir that creates perfectly peaceful siblings.
3. Whining children. Mine are all experts at this. Mainly the youngest two, but they all take turns or join forces concurrently at this.
4. No time to emotionally or mentally reset. Willow screams because she doesn't want to take a nap, but screams about everything if she gets too tired, and also screams that she wants to be held but then sometimes screams to "Go away from me!" but if I actually start to move away screams even louder because she doesn't want me to leave but then will kick and squirm like she is trying to get away if I hold her, which she just asked for me to do. Sometimes I can handle it and sometimes I cannot. But for me to actually leave the room to emotionally reset means she, unbelievably, can find a still higher volume of repeated screaming of "Momma! Momma! Momma! Momma!" which can literally continue as long as I stay away, however long that may be, which honestly doesn't allow for much of a recovery on my part.
5. No personal time. Being a full time mother is restful in many ways compared to when I was juggling working and parenting, but also does not provide much in the way of free time. I get frustrated without time to learn, do, read, write or accomplish progress towards some type of goal though. Free time is only possible by ignoring the constant needs of the children swirling around me, leaving them all with my husband who prefers them in ones or twos or at the very least, without the baby who requires the most continual attention, or losing moments of desperately needed sleep by rising early or staying up late.
6. Lack of sleep. See the above sentence for where some of the potential sleep goes. And the remainder is laid at the feet of my darling baby who is incredibly sweet and adorable but also fully controls how restful of a night I will have and how many groggy interruptions to soothe and feed her I will struggle through.
There may be more triggers for my recent emotional state that are not coming to mind right now, but these are probably the most consistent and have the greatest regular impact.
Even so, as I said in my previous post, I Am Where I Want to Be. (https://www.charlestonfamilytravel.com/post/i-am-where-i-want-to-be) Just as a lawyer chose their profession but can have a horrendously stressful case that drags on for months or an ER surgeon chose where they want to be but can have exhausting nights of on call or particularly awful moments to deal with, never knowing what will come through the doors on a given shift, I am in that season right now. I am here, I chose this, I want this, but the moments of enjoyment are difficult to find some days amidst the muck.
I don't control my sleep.
I have to be very purposeful to squeeze out free time.
I am stretched beyond my emotional capacity to absorb and respond appropriately to children's diverse range of emotions.
I have to frequently listen to a sound on a wavelength that is instantly grating.
I play referee all day.
The state of cleanliness in my house gives minimal to no return on effort except when all children are asleep.
This is where I am right now. I am floundering. I am on edge. I am praying that my interactions with my children that I am not proud of in this current phase are not the ones they remember or emulate.
I only hope that through the haze, I continue to soak in the beautiful moments that are scattered in the midst of the mire that I am paddling in, and that somehow my children are still taking out of it that I love them.
How are you? How were you in this phase? I would love to hear your story too.
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