When you’ve had a good day with the kids, there comes that certain hour when it all goes downhill. You’re tired, your children are tired and everyone is tired of being tired. You’re cleaning up the house, you’ve asked the kids to help but instead they’re behaving like mini-terrorists, running around and screaming and bugging each other.
Meanwhile, all you’re trying to do is clear the kitchen table. That’s it, just one job. The kids have also been given a job to do and that’s to get into their pyjamas but they insist on whining about who has what toy, that somebody else keeps hitting them with a stuffed raccoon, that the bathroom would look a lot better if they threw dirty nappies into it and that the toothbrushes should be thrown under the sink.
So, I end up losing it big style. I yell at them for throwing nappies into the bathroom and get them to clean it up. I drag Lightning out of his bedroom and scold him on why he’s so slow in changing. My daughter is crying because Daddy was cleaning the kitchen and then in the next moment his voice is shaking the walls. All the kids are now looking at me stunned. I’ve been working in a blue-collar job for the last 20 years and I haven’t been this continually angry with anyone before (although there have been a few times when I really wanted my work colleagues to go and stand in the corner).
I eventually get them to bed, spit out my good night to them, try not to slam their doors and last of all I let out a long sigh that I didn’t know that I had been keeping in.
I needed pointers. I don’t give up on the kids or myself when I’m like this, because I know that my own issues are coming out at the same time. They’re just little kids, even when your oldest has been mistaken a few times as a 7-year-old due to his height and strength. In the history of forever, being told to calm down will not calm you down and may make you worse for being told what to do. Even better than just pointers, I needed a list of pointers. I like lists.
- You need to sleep. And I mean sleep, not a nap during the day, but getting your full eight or nine hours of sleep. Just because you’re unemployed doesn’t mean that, hey, you can now stay up until 1 a.m playing Batman on the PlayStation. Nope, a full night’s rest will make you think better and react rationally. Everyone will thank you for not being a tired psycho.
- The house will keep, the kids won’t. Sure, the house is a disaster, but don’t let that worry you (until you have guests over at least). Your kids are way more important to show love to, not the house, or the car, or the garage. One rule that I like to keep is for the floors to be clear before people go to bed. I don’t care where the toys or books end up, on random shelves or their closet or wherever. If a child is experiencing growing pains at 2 am, then you don’t want to go in their bedroom and then scream and trip over because you’ve just stepped on some Lego. You’ll spill that small cup of Advil, and Advil’s sticky and you’ll be cleaning that stuff off for a good hour and then before you know it, you’ll be back to bed at 4 am just to wake up another hour later because you’ve just thought about that dust on the shelving unit.
- Have low expectations. if you ask them to clean their room and they end up playing with each other and making up stories instead while putting something away every ten minutes, that’s ok. Cleaning up is technically your job anyway, but it’s great if they stay on target. And besides, if the house is a disaster, why do you think that they’ll treat their rooms any better? Give them their space and give yourself a break, not an aneurysm.
- Do creative stuff with them. Kids are creative and curious, so show them how to put that Lego set together, appreciate their Play-Doh Frankenstein, go ‘ooo’ and ‘aahh’ at undecipherable hieroglyphics that they’ve just drawn and open up their imagination before formalised school takes that away from them or limits them. They learn so much just from active play.
- Do passive stuff with them. Snuggle up and watch the telly, even if it is the same episode of Dora. My 4-year-old daughter knows all the Ninja Turtles, that’s just how we’ve unintentionally raised her. It’ll be She-Ra next if I have my way. Read to them and with them. Doesn’t have to be big, no pressure.
- Do meal prep, buy a slow cooker. Play with kids all day when there’s no school to have a healthy dinner ready for you in the evening because of meal prep. This is a win on all counts. If you’re lucky, the children will actually eat it.
- Give yourself some time. It might be five minutes downstairs in the basement just to breathe, it might be exercising, reading a Bible chapter in the morning, it might be a beer and Batman on the Playstation at night, it might be a blog post like this one, playing the guitar for 15 minutes, dusting off a journal and starting to write, or paint or listen to the latest Metallica record. Whatever it is, give yourself some time at the beginning, the middle and at the end of the day. Just squirrel yourself away when the kids are preoccupied safely with something else. You mean the world to them and five minutes away will mean that much to you too.
Because you can’t have too much of that stuff.