Keep Your Cool, Mama

Tuesday was a day of one minor disaster after another.  I won’t list them all here, though it is rather comic, but they included things like overflowing the dishwasher three times (requiring a repairman) and dropping a dish of cooked rice all over the kitchen floor (and the repairman).

By the end of the day, there was nothing left to do but laugh.  One of my children counted and told me that it was 17 things that went wrong.  I am still adding to the list (at the end of that long day, I forgot to cover the grill, which was soaked in the rain that followed, and our kitchen floor is now buckling due to the dishwasher catastrophe).

Some of these problems were caused by my children, some by me, and some just sort of happened.  The amazing part was that I did not yell at all, the whole day.  My kids were sort of in it with me, they knew that I was having a rotten time and they tried to give me space, and I just dealt with each thing as it came and tried to move on.

That is SO not like me.

I think that there were a few things at work:

1. Grace.  I have been praying to the Holy Spirit in this week between the Ascension and Pentecost, and I really do think it was the Holy Spirit who helped me come to:

2. The understanding that almost all of my “problems” derive from a houseful of growing, healthy, loving kids, and most of the catastrophes that day could be solved with money, of which I have enough, at least to meet these particular challenges

3. Not being over tired.  The more I prioritize sleep, the more I am able to go with the flow.

4. Pregnancy.  I know that for many women, pregnancy, and the tiredness and hormonal changes that go along with it, make day to day life more difficult, but for me, being pregnant is like being just a little bit buzzed.  I sleep well and I don’t sweat the details.  I have less anxiety, social and otherwise.  I put a priority on rest and I avoid joy-stealing situations because I don’t pressure myself to save (or control) the world.  I don’t know why this happens when I am pregnant, but I think it goes a long way to explaining why my husband is open to so many children — I am better wife, mother and person during those 9 months.


So, I am at 36 weeks, which means that this pregnant bliss is about to end for our family, and I am thinking hard about what I can do to keep my cool at other times in my life.  I was touched by Tex’s post about leaving the dishes in the sink because this would be nearly impossible for me with a newborn in the house — I would either do the dishes or, more likely, yell at someone else to do them, or, finding myself unable to do them, cry.  Postpartum is the worst for me, but rolling with the countless punches of large family life is hard in general, and I wonder if any of you have any advice for a little perspective in the moment of a real or imagined crisis?

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  • Mary Alice, my family is about half the size of yours :), but I do know what you mean about needing to roll with the punches of daily life. I have realized over the years that I feel terribly after yelling at my kids – I get a bad headache, my throat hurts, and I know that I have let my impatience get the best of me. I’m not saying that I regret calling my kids out for something that they have done wrong, or for failing to do something that they were supposed to do. It’s just that I regret yelling – I think that it’s demeaning for both them as children and me as their mother. Remembering how terribly I feel afterwards helps me to stop myself before I get started. Also, the old trick of just leaving the room for a few minutes works wonders. With my eldest, I have also had luck with linking certain behaviors with specific consequences that are helpful to me – for example, if I have to remind him 10 times to get ready for bed, he has wasted a good bit of my time. To make up for that time, he needs to do one of my chores for me, like cleaning up under the kitchen table. This makes me happy and makes sense to him! And if he needs a ride to school because he has been dawdling all morning long, I charge $2 for the ride – this hasn’t happened in quite a while 🙂

  • JMB

    I think when you are in a real crisis, you don’t think that you are in a crisis. You just do what needs to be done. When you are not in a crisis, I think “what is the worse thing that can happen here?”, and then I remind myself that I am just using my imagination. Most of the time, when I come up with an answer, I think “so what?”. I can handle that.

  • Juris Mater

    For rolling with the punches with a large family, I think two major keys are setting fewer expectations (and these can be incredibly subtle–I am starting to try to journal the unrealistic expectations I set for myself so that I can get them into the light of day) and having regular help so that minor catastrophes don’t sink the Titanic.

    MaryAlice, your ability to laugh about it and bring the kids in is such a wonderful place to be–you’re right, everything minor like that can be fixed, and to be able to laugh I think shows both abandonment to God and true Christian joy. These are both gifts that we are given and also virtues/habits that we can develop through practice. I pray for them for all of us!! These are challenging years, but a sporting spirit (to borrow James Stenson’s term) can make them wonderful.

    Also, you know I’m going to say this because we’ve been hit hard by mood disorder in the last few months, when struggling with a pre- or post-partum mood disorder (or both at once : )), the very best thing to do is seek professional help to at least work back up to ground zero.

  • Amy

    Mary Alice, I think you hit the nail on the head with sleep. I see from other posts sleep is a challenge, and with the # of children you have, it’s been years since you’ve felt good in that area, I’m guessing. My mom had 5 children and said she ‘woke up’ after the last one turned three. So, there’s that hope. Not sure the ages of your little ones, but one thing I did in those postpartum days with my #6 was nurse him first thing in the am, then hand him over to my oldest girl, who was 10. Usually he would just go back to sleep, but she would watch tv or read and keep him alive while I slept for another couple of hours. It helped SO much.

    Also, I know this super godly woman, a strong Dutch Reformed mama with 4 kids. She told me that she and her hubby had never once raised her voices at each other (!), but that she regularly yelled at her kids. This quiet, gentle, lamb of a mama yelled at her kids?? That always gave me perspective after I’d lost it with mine. EMMA yelled at her kids! And they are all wonderful adults now! If that wonderful woman lost it at times with her kids, maybe me losing it at times with mine doesn’t mean I’m a bad mama, just a very human one.

    Anyway, sounds like you did an amazing job keeping your cool on Tues. and walked away with real insight. That’s huge, mama! Big pat on the back to you;)

  • BMM

    Love that insight JMB – so true!

  • AMDG

    As a woman who has a very difficult post-partum time (moderate to severe post partum depression), I applaud you for recognizing where you are now, where you might be in a month and for planning ahead. I think that professional help as JM mentioned above is beneficial even if you do not have a clinical issue. That outside voice of reason can often gently help us to see things as they are rather than how they appear to be by our clouded minds and help us to find coping strategies that fit our needs. Before the birth, I also find it helpful to talk with my husband and have some “safety nets” in place so that when I am not rational he can take the reins and allow me some time to rest and get to a better place.

  • texasmommy

    Alice, so glad that you received and responded to the grace to roll with the punches! To be fair, I have more of my yelling/crying fits when I pregnant, so it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses then!