The parenting years are some of the best moments in a person's life. It is a season marked by the incredible opportunity to love and witness a life forming from birth to adulthood in a very unique way. As this season unfolded for me many years ago, I found myself under a pile of materials with tips on how to make my baby/child set for success. Of these strategies was the book entitled, The Happiest Baby on the Block. I set out trying all the methods proposed, only to discover I was making myself crazy trying to keep my baby, and soon to be child, "happy." It was around that time that I noted a very important connection between a child and parent. When I was nervous or upset, my child's response was similar and vice versa. It became clear to me in that moment that I needed to care for myself, and remain "happy," in order to increase a "happy" response in my child. In other words, in order for me to take care of my child well, I also needed to care for myself, so that I could be a source of love and encouragement that is so vital to a child's growth.
With that said, it can be a challenge in parenthood to find the space for self-care which would lead to positive well-being. Instead of spouting lines of joy, the long days lead to groaning and the groaning aspires to complaining. Soon the complaining resembles a walk in thick mud, the feet sink in nicely at first, but every step that follows becomes more arduous.
I write this article not only with years of observation and interventions with family systems, but also with the personal experience of times when my own tiny violin is tuned to perform the solo of Griping in Dm.
The perfect combination of lack of sleep, kids whining, and an exorbitant amount of responsibility is kryptonite to any Super Parent. Fortunately, with a dose of psychological theory and a dab of personal piloting, I have devised and applied some defensive strategies that may help to keep that cape in flight, and give us Super Parents a chance to win in a day rather than wallow.
Why am I Complaining?
It is very common to question why complaining seems to arise in the face of frustration, especially with children. Wouldn't we all love to smile big and say "it's okay" when the box of Cheerios is dumped on the floor for the fourth time in a week? Perhaps there are hopes of radiating knowledge, experience, and love 24/7 to these tiny new minds who are dependent on a parents example to grow and thrive. Yet, there is not one parent who can say with confidence that there are not moments and circumstances that override even the most noble hopes while challenging the very essence of all parenting ideals.
To make matters worse for parents, every complaint or ill feeling is accompanied by a layer of thick guilt that is almost unavoidable. Older passersby offer wisdom that these are the best years of life, and though it is heard and accepted, somehow it tends to intensify the thoughts and frustrations as another layer of guilt sinks in. These kind of comments tend to communicate that any challenge in these "best years" is something the individual is probably doing wrong which is why it feels like an uphill climb rather than a skip in a flowery meadow.
So where does the urge to complain in this season come from? Well, it can be asserted that the root of most complaining in this season is in regard to a pile up of circumstantial aggravations rather than big picture catastrophes. These circumstances are rarely chosen, they come all at once or unexpectedly, and tend to completely derail any attempt to have personal control or a predictable plan. For example, I woke up the other morning with high hopes of getting out into the sunshine with the three kids and going to a festival with friends. In the course of 15 minutes my 6-year-old, on autopilot repeating favorite movie lines, annoyed the 4-year-old who started crying as the craft tub she was pulling on went down to the floor and spilled. While I was moving to clean that up and grab their clothes, the 18-month-old baby stunk up the room while simultaneously finding the paint and putting it in her mouth. Breathing out all my frustration, I went to clean up all the mess, change a diaper, discipline the 6-year-old, and comfort the 4-year-old when the 6-year-old felt sick and threw up in the toilet. There went our day, my agenda, the outing with friends and possibly the whole weekend. The circumstances drove me to anger which came out in complaints. To rise above circumstances and not let them get you to the point of anger is a skill that takes recognition and practice. It also requires strategy. Since circumstances with kids tend to lead to forfeiting personal time, a predictable agenda, and sometimes relational growth, being able to regain any of the above will lessen their effect, decrease the power of the triggered frustration, and encourage ways to rise above any given moment.
Here is the good news. If the theory holds, that circumstances are a driving force behind persistent complaining, then intervention is completely attainable as circumstances are within grounds for control. Taking preventative action strengthens the weaknesses before the challenge occurs, so when up against a personal battle, a line of defense is already in place.
The next article in this series will explore steps that one can take to decrease complaining and increase self care so that parents, and their children, continue to grow and find merriment in these special years.