If anyone is keeping score, tallying up today’s wins and losses would look a little something like this: 1 point for mom; endless points for life circumstances. After several days on solo parent duty, I have been aggravated and exhausted, aching for a minute of literally no one speaking to me.
As a result, I bombed in the mom department today. I stayed in my pajamas. I caught my oldest having a heart-to-heart with Siri on the iPad, and I didn’t intervene. My youngest watched episode after episode of Daniel Tiger. And every meal we ate was abysmal, nutritionally speaking. On an ordinary day, I feel like a good enough parent, one who is attentive and sporadically energetic. I am delighted by the adventurous streak that runs through my girls, and thrilled to listen to my oldest recount every detail of her latest book. I am tuned-in, mostly.
But today was tough. More than once, my 2-year-old demanded to know, “Mom, are you happy?” and when I answered anything less than an enthusiastic “yes!” she would just keep asking. I am not particularly proud of my parenting today, but some days are meant for survival.
The Daily Practice That Shifted My Mindset
So, instead of beating myself up for the harsh tone I took, or the nearly vegetable-free dinner we had, I’m just going to let it go. Instead, I’m turning my focus onto the one thing I did right today: the tiny sliver of time I threw down in a raucous and muddy snowball fight between me and my girls. The one that had my oldest and me laughing so hard we couldn’t speak. The one that left my little one squealing that she was stuck in a snowbank and needed an airlift.
This is what the parenting books all tell us to do with our children. Expert after expert instructs parents to shift their perspective, ignoring bad behaviors and praising the good. Sure, the reasoning behind this differs for little ones—we ignore unwanted behaviors so that, without focus, they peter out into oblivion—but for me, at least, it’s all about grace.
Expert after expert instructs parents to shift their perspective, ignoring bad behaviors and praising the good.
We’re going to have bad days. We’re going to misstep. And so long as our mistakes don’t put our little ones at risk, then what is the point of dwelling on them? I used to have full nights when I would lay in bed replaying the worst moments of the day, beating myself up and dissecting where exactly I went wrong. While I still appreciate a good reflection and a plan to sidestep issues the next time around, I think there’s real value to be found in giving yourself praise.
So, months ago, I started a simple practice. While I wash my face and brush my teeth, long after my kids are in bed, I recount the good I’ve done that day. Maybe it’s as small as putting my phone away and diving into a chunk of totally dedicated playtime. Or, maybe it’s refereeing a sibling fight with empathy and respect, or striking out on an adventure with my girls. Whatever it is, I put my focus there and I allow myself to see the loving mom I have been in those moments. I build a bank of these memories so that I can remind myself of my capacity for tender-hearted, good parenting. And the more I show myself the moments I’m proud of, the more of these moments I want to accumulate.