Sometimes it really does seem like living with kids means constantly cleaning up after a party that you weren’t even invited to.
I’m not the tidiest one out myself, and I know that living with kids comes with it measure of disorder, but every so often, the chaos that invades my home creeps up on me, and I’m instantly overcome with irritation and resentment.
I can’t help but think “How did this happen?” “They’re taking over!” and “Get me out of here!”, at which point, let it be advised, that everyone should either start picking up their crap, or clear the deck, because this girl is about to blow!
And sometimes I do lose it on my kids, fruitlessly of course, because no one cooperates when mommy pulls a Jekyll and Hyde!
So what’s a gal to do when she wants to help her kids get a job done, but she’s super peeved that it has to be done in the first place?!
Well, once you’ve decided that enough is enough, and something’s gotta change, then you have to start to get familiar with your reaction. You know, the way you get when you’re suddenly struck by the mess that your kids have arguably unintentionally created, but nevertheless is taking over your living space and your head space.
Begin by paying attention to your reaction. Not just what you do, but how you feel and the thoughts that cross your mind amidst the chaos.
Let’s be honest and open with ourselves about what really comes up for us when our kids make a mess. What’s underneath your reaction? What thoughts go through your head and what feelings come up for you?
For me I lose it when I’m stressed, or bored. In which case I can’t stand more on my to-do list, thank you very much, or I just want to escape the monotony. Sometimes I fantasise about collecting the stray articles strewn across my floor, putting them in a bag and sending them off with a smug grin to the local second-hand shop. Let some other kid enjoy your crap (or in all likelihood, abandon it in some random location in their own home). When I just can’t stand living in a pig sty that I didn’t create, then nothing else in that moment matters, and the mess becomes an intolerable itch that I have to scratch.
If you’re going to overcome your initial urge to freak out and lose your cool, then you’re going to have to dig down deep and develop your awareness and understanding of your reactions, because the more you get to know your reaction, the better you will become at recognising the warning signs of an imminent eruption and catching it before catastrophe hits.
But let’s say you’re able to catch wind of your reaction, well that’s great, but the not so good news is that recognising your irritation doesn’t necessarily equate to quelling it. Your self awareness will definitely tame your strong emotions and impulses, but they certainly won’t go away.
So as you precede to motivate and direct your kids, be prepared to put up with some of your very own strong thoughts, feelings and impulses. Don’t try to ignore them, because they’ll just fight harder to be seen. Instead welcome them to the playing field and give them a copy of the ground rules: just because i feel like chucking a spack, doesn’t mean I’m going to!
And if you’re looking for an alternative action plan, well here’s what you’re going to do instead:
Make a conscious, not impulsive, decision to clean up. That’s it folks, I’ll announce to my brood, the time has come and we are doing this!
Cleaning up is not a punishment for being messy. Instead, approach the task as a learning opportunity. That is, you’re going to teach your kids what it means to clean up and how to do it.
Set a timer and let your kids know that in x number of minutes (I usually give my kids a five minute warning) the festivities will begin. And tell them that when the timer goes, everyone will stop what they’re doing and everyone will take part in their own capacity (I don’t expect the same initiative from my four year old as I do my nine year old, but I expect something-nobody is exempt). We all made the mess together, so we’re going to clean it up together.
And here is where your tone of voice is so important. You want to encourage and assist your kids, not demand and reprimand them. Think warm and loving kindergarten teacher, not commanding drill sergeant.
You’ll likely come up against some selective hearing, protests reminiscent of the anti-war movement and sudden meltdowns that deem your child incapable of participating. That’s when you’re unpleasant team members, you know, irritation and impatient will want to get into the game and show their stuff. Acknowledge them. They have every right to be there. Cleaning up with kids sucks, but keep them on the bench and remind yourself that your goal is to get this mess cleaned up with calm, and considerate direction.
It’s not easy, I’ll be the first to admit it. Sometimes I can start strong but lose it half way, or I can just as well start on a tirade, catch myself, and then regroup and reboot; decide to stop myself, take a breath and change my approach entirely. After all, we’re only human and life is messy. So it’s only fair that I approach my kids, and myself, with compassion and kindness, and take every interaction as an opportunity to calmly guide and encourage myself, and my kids to chip in and tidy up.
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