Do you ever hear the sound of your own voice and it makes you flinch with embarrassment? When the words you are uttering are going totally against your instincts and desires and yet they still keep coming?
About a year ago I literally could not stand the sound of my own voice in the mornings. ‘Did you brush your teeth?’, ‘Put your shoes on’, ‘Did you use soap?’, ‘Shoes!’, ‘Don’t forget to make your beds’, ‘Teeth!’, ‘Eat up!’, ‘You’re going to be late for school!’ and so forth…every single day, on repeat for what felt like an eternity! I couldn’t understand why I had to remind the boys of the same things every single day. The routine was the same as it had always been on weekday mornings. Up. Breakfast. Make your bed. Brush teeth. Wash. Dress. Shoes on. Go! I didn’t think I was asking for much. Just a little cooperation. I had somehow become a broken record, playing a boring old tune, as I tried to get three kids out to school with breakfast in their tummies, semi-clean faces and shoes on the correct feet! The monotony of the daily chaos was taking its toll and I wasn’t feeling good as a Mum. A crazy morning routine may not sound out of the ordinary and I’m sure it’s the norm for many families, but as I search for a peaceful, gentle, slow, mindful experience and pathway for my family what we were doing wasn’t synchronising with our values and aspirations.
It wasn’t because I was disorganised either that the mornings were frantic. Schoolbags and kits are packed the night before, uniforms are laid out and lunches made. We get up on plenty of time, but still I heard myself become that nagging mother I never wanted to be. You know how irritating a dripping tap is? Well that was how I sounded to myself and I was seriously sick of it! Was I expecting too much of my children? Were my children simply unaware of the time, or were they playing-up on me? I don’t think I was asking much and I don’t think they were particularly different to other kids their age. I think perhaps my outlook was a bit wonky and I was trying to get from A to B with an unnecessary and not very scenic detour. Did I really need to keep reminding them or had it just become a bad habit as we made the transition from the toddler years where help was required to ages where they were capable of organising themselves? Anyhow, the exhaustion that this daily routine created in me was soon accompanied by dread. When my alarm went off in the morning, instead of looking forward to seeing my children, part of me groaned inwardly knowing that a battle lay ahead for which I didn’t have the energy or motivation. That’s just life I told myself. It’s all part of the parenting journey. It’ll get easier. Suck it up! It’s the same for everyone I convinced myself not wanting to feel all alone in my boat that was currently stranded out on a rocky sea with no sign of the shore. I’ve heard all the sayings, ‘Enjoy every minute’, ‘The days are long but the years are short’, ‘They grow up so fast’…these things are true. I know that. But I was feeling buried under a huge heap of mum-guilt for not savouring every moment of every waking hour, which just added to the feelings of inadequacy and failure. And so I continued in this vicious cycle of trying to stay calm and retain my sanity while getting my boys to school on time and looking respectable. Until I decided enough was enough.
After a particularly challenging morning, I sat with a coffee cup in my hands allowing its warmth to comfort me. Tears dripped off the end of my nose (pretty, I know!). ‘What am I doing wrong?’ played on it’s critical loop in my mind. It’s not so much that I was arguing with my kids, but the constant need for reminders to get ready was draining me and left me so little time to get myself washed and dressed. I was often leaving the house without breakfast and feeling rubbish all day for constantly nagging and because I was running on empty. I knew that the tone of my voice was starting to sound critical and harsh and this was not the childhood memories I wanted for my children.
I went around and around in my head in a bid to find a solution, knowing that I couldn’t continue in this dark cloud of anxiety. I chatted with my husband and we agreed that we needed to try a more positive approach to our morning routine. So, we concluded that we would ‘take a step back’, and allow our then 6, 8 and 11-year old children to get themselves up, breakfasted and ready for school. We would gently waken them with a whisper of ‘Good morning’ then go downstairs. There would be no yelling, no threats of consequences for not listening, no repetitive statements of ‘do this’ or ‘do that’. Instead, I made a list of the things they needed to do. Breakfast. Bed made. Teeth Cleaned. Wash. Dress. Maybe other parents already do this, and we missed the memo, who knows! It wasn’t a demanding routine and of course as parents we were still at hand to squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste from the tube, or help with ties and top buttons. We weren’t abandoning them! Simply stepping out of the stress-zone and allowing them to take responsibility for getting themselves put together on time. We were beginning to foster independence and nurture self-reliance with the outlook that it would do them good in the years to come. There would be the odd gentle reminder like, we have to leave in 20 minutes, but that was about it. Instead, I get up, make coffee, chat with my husband as I put pre-made lunches in lunchboxes, and enjoy that connection with him at the beginning of the day instead of dashing about frantically trying to get everyone to cooperate. When the kids appear down for breakfast I resist the urge to serve them, telling them what’s in the fridge and cupboard for breakfast and allowing them to help themselves. I linger near them as they eat and chat to one another and relish the closeness and the little snippets of sibling bonding and bickering that I overhear. I try not to intervene too much. If you spill something, clean it up. Pop your bowl in the sink when you’re done and stop for a hug on the way by. It’s calm, it’s togetherness and it was revelatory to me that the morning could flow so peacefully and gently.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like this every day! There can be mornings where it all falls apart at the seams spectacularly and we are grumpy or impatient due to tiredness or if we have accidentally slept in and I find myself back in that old place of barking orders and placing demands on myself and my children. Those days are a good reminder of how we used to live and rapidly jolt me awake and force me to reclaim my calm that I worked so hard for. The mornings are always busy, there’s just no escaping that in this season, we are a family of 5 after all. But it’s focused busy. Focused on what needs to be done and focused on keeping relationships tension-free and encouraging.
In turn, these changes led to me thinking about the language we use within our household. We have a couple of mottos that we use on a daily or weekly basis. At night, my oldest boy can’t go to sleep until he’s called downstairs: ‘Night-night, love you, sweet dreams, see you in the morning,’ and received the same in reply. These are words that we have spoken to him since he was a tiny newborn and they are to him still at 12-years old a source of comfort and security. Language and communication is so powerful in helping us to know where we belong and who cares for us that these daily repetitive, positive phrases are so vital.
On a Saturday morning I leave for work just as my 3 boys are heading to rugby training. Without fail I say to them: ‘Play Safe. Play Strong’ and fist bump each of them in turn. This is my way of reminding them to wear their gum shields and scrum hats and to enjoy their team-play. They love this little enactment and it creates a bond of solidarity between us that even as we go our separate ways we are still a unit that is looking out for one another.
As a lover of words and language, both in how it communicates information but also in how it reinforces relationships, I realize that how we speak to our children is so instrumental in their forming of self and understanding of their place in the world. Language shapes and moulds our inner world and our connection to the outer world. Therefore, I want to be a Mum who pours out positive, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting words that will enable my children to be confident and positive people who add value to the world. My aim now in the busyness of our morning routine is to be a Mum that uses gentle speak and also a Mum that listens, and really hears what her kids are communicating and saying about who they are at their core.
Believe me, I am no parenting expert. I am for the most part winging it and trying to find my flow along the way. What works for my family, may not work for another. I am constantly gleaning great ideas and tips from friends and excellent bloggers and putting them to the test. I won’t give up trying to be the best Mum that I can be for my boys and I guess that’s really what’s at the heart of all that I try to put across on my blog. I don’t have all the answers. Some days I don’t feel like I have any answers. But I am willing and eager to learn. To try. To trip. To fall. To fail. To get up. Dust off my knees and try all over again to be a source of positivity and light in my children’s lives so that their inner monologue is one that says ‘Well done,’ ‘You’ve got this’, ‘You can do it’, ‘I believe in you!’. If I can raise kids who have self-belief and care about those around them as well as the world in which they live I will be happy that I have made so many errors but never give up.
Because as Yoda wisely said:
‘The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is’.