I blurted out yesterday these exact words: “I can’t DOOOO anything!” I am not the only parent who knows what it feels like to not be able to do what they want to do when they want to do it. It’s incredibly frustrating. But here’s what lit up for me the moments after I stated (well, blurted out) the obvious.
- This season of life (parenting young children) is not about “doing” anything. It’s about being and becoming.
It’s easy to confuse the main objective in these years—we still want to operate on endless task completion (because it helps us feel like we’ve accomplished something tangible), but it’s just not realistic to think that we will have no interruptions or distractions or reasons to slow down. Tasks are important to complete, but what’s more important right now is to develop the deep and lasting qualities that will help us through this time and through the rest of our lives. Qualities like patience (we don’t grow it unless we need it). Self-control (we can’t do it unless we choose it). And peace (we won’t have it unless we make space for it). So if I could get a do-over, instead of exasperatingly declaring a duh statement (“I can’t DOOOO anything!”), I would take a breath, focus my mind, and be deliberately calm as I handle the situation as it presents itself, knowing that this is just how it is for now. Easier said than done, yes. But that’s why we need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way to practice these skills.
- If we truly need to “do” something that must get done or if we need to feel productive, then it’s important to find strategic times to accomplish these things.
Sometimes we do have to do certain things now—no matter if it’s a good time or not and no matter if there are kids around. But sometimes things don’t have to be done right now this instant. We can wait. There often is a better time to do things that will require concentration. Children’s energy levels ebb and flow just like our own emotions. Chances are that if we just wait a little bit, there will be a pocket of time to do whatever it is that needs to get done without having to fight off much frustration. Also, making use of some of the time when others are sleeping is a smart way to function if we need to make measurable progress with something. What’s been working for me is to take advantage of the time in the morning (as opposed to the time at night). We can’t always control how long our children sleep or what their sleep patterns will be, but we can try to make a habit out of using a little bit of the time that may be available to us when they are sleeping. What I have found is that about three out of five days will offer some usable time in the mornings. The older children get, the more predictable the usable time seems to be. This is just how it is right now. So we will simply need to be strategic if we need time to ourselves to do things.
- Just because we feel frustrated doesn’t mean that we have to act frustrated. We can remain calm and cool-headed even though we might be feeling negative things.
This is the crux, really. The point of distinction. We absolutely cannot control everything around us. But we most certainly can control (or at least learn to more effectively anticipate and respond to) what is happening within us and how that translates into what we say and do. Yes, we can divide our feelings from our actions. We can divide our feelings from our words. And we can divide our feelings from our thoughts. Feeling: frustration. Thought: This is frustrating. But I’m going to take a breath, stay focused, and stay calm. Why is it important to think about what we’re thinking about? Because it’s how we change how we think. This is not about suppressing emotions. It’s really about the opposite. If an emotion is already there, we need to feel it. And then pay attention to how we think about it. Eventually, we will be able to cut many of our negative emotions off at the pass (before they become full-blown emotions in all their glory) just by staying aware of how we are thinking about a situation.
So the next time it becomes painfully clear that we can’t do anything [while we are inhabiting the station of parenting young children], let’s try to take a split second to remember that this season is more about being and becoming than it is about doing, that we may need to be strategic about when we work on “concentration required” things, and that we can separate our feelings from our words and actions. It’s not always easy, but we can do this. We are in it together.