Parenting is unlike any other job in the world. The hours are long, the whole reverse-pay system is confusing, the sick leave is a joke -- but the benefits! Oh, the benefits. Except on the days when you can't figure out exactly what the benefits are.
Every parent has days when sanity is questioned, when eBay's terms of service are carefully read for loopholes that would allow listings of live children, when success seems as far off as a full night's sleep. But even on those days, you can take steps to turn things around and create a better reality for yourself.
If you have a screaming infant, a tantrum-bound toddler, or a tween with too much attitude, it's hard to stay calm. So make sure your child is someplace safe -- a crib or a safe room of the house
for a younger child, denied access to car keys for an older one -- and take ten minutes for yourself.
If you need to run the shower to drown out the screams, so be it. But take ten minutes to pull yourself together. Call your best friend, update your Facebook status, or even paint your nails. Do something that will take your mind off the immediate situation.
When you go back to the kids, set a timer. You can handle the crying, the homework battles, the whining, or whatever for ten minutes, right? You might find that it's petered out by the time the timer dings. If not, the timer itself often provides distraction for younger children. For older ones, you can simply say, "I'm sorry, your time is up. You can move on, or you can go to your room to continue."
The cool thing about parenting is that it's a little bit like being a scientist. You can experiment all the time to find what works. And what works today might not work tomorrow. Fun! The point is, don't be afraid to try something new. Your infant might calm to the dulcet tones of Matchbox 20. Your teen might agree to join you for a latte and a chat. You won't know unless you try. So try.
Granted, you won't have much luck if you tell your 6-month-old you expect peaceful rest times throughout the day. But with older kids -- even those as young as 3 or 4 -- you can set clear
expectations, and your kids may surprise you.
Make sure your expectations are realistic -- your 4-year-old isn't going to play quietly for two hours while you nap, but you can reasonably expect him to stay in his room and play for 20 minutes while you have a cup of tea. And your teen can certainly understand that you expect your car returned in the same state it was borrowed, particularly if consequences are attached to those expectations.
Take five minutes to sit down and write out your ideal day. Then think about what needs to happen to get you there. What changes need to be made? What one thing can you do right now to start on the path to that ideal day? You may surprise yourself when you try this experiment. You may be a lot closer to your ideal than you think.
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