The first time these words began clamoring in my ear were on a Friday night. I had planned a great family night – we were going to order a bunch of pizza and rock out to Leo Moracchioli on YouTube. It was going to be good quality time, the kids were going to love it, and I was going to be the Best Mom Ever. Naturally, my kids didn’t live up to my expectations. Shock didn’t want pizza, she wanted mozzo sticks, and began huffing and puffing. Lock and Barrel wanted candy, and I needed a beer to cope with the whines. I put the music on, and the kids got into it. They started headbanging, dancing, and playing air guitar. We were all laughing and having a great time. Then Lock accidentally hit Shock, and suddenly WWIII erupted and all kids got sent to bed, because I’m not a huge fan of everyone beating the ever loving shit out of each other. Sue me.
I was sipping a beer and sadly noted to Jack, “I really thought this was going to be a fun night…why does it always seem like every time I try to do something awesome for the kids, they go apeshit?” Jack answered me with a kind of profound snippet, “You can’t change them, you can only change how you react to them…”
I’ve been really trying to work on how I respond. I am impulsive as hell with a tendency to allow torrents of shit flow out of my mouth. My diarrhea of the mouth tends to make me feel like shit for days, and my temper can be described as psychotic. As an aside, one time, Jack and I got in a fight and I chucked an office chair so hard at the wall, it literally stuck out 90 degrees. I’m 5’5″, but I guess I kind of Hulk out when I’m pissed. Jack has a nasty temper too, so our fights used to be ridiculous. Thankfully, we stopped chucking furniture at walls as we grew older, but the word vomit never stopped.
After we separated, we both focused on our anger a lot, because our anger destroyed our family. I have a tendency to swing from one pole to the other (prrrrrrrrooobably because I’m bipolar, hardy har!), so my initial reaction was to be completely passive to everything and everyone. In truth, I became passive aggressive, and that was actually worse. I didn’t solve any root issues, so I’d either be snippy and kind of nasty or I’d bottle everything up until I exploded. We all struggle with this, because we are all impulsive.
We react, not respond. As I started studying ADHD and Bipolar, I began understanding how critical it was for all of us to start coping with ourselves better. Breathing, music, and coloring mandalas have been instrumental in better self control; something we all lack. To Jack’s point, though, I can’t change anyone but me. I can give us all tools and suggestions, but the only person I can actually do anything about is myself. Jack had said, “Anger is the result of an expectation not being met.”
When I began focusing on what the hell I was so angry about, I realized I was angry at my life. I was angry at Jack, the kids, my job for making me so unhappy. I was angry at myself for making so many shitty choices that put me where I was. I was angry at my brain for making me crazy. Then, I remembered something I had read when I was a teenager. “If you cannot make yourself happy, no one can possibly make you happy.” I expected everyone to make me happy, and no one could actually live up to my expectations.
The first painful pillar I had to knock down was perfectionism. My expectations for myself were impossibly high. It is not even that I could not be happy, I would not let myself be happy. Nothing lived up to my expectations, and when that happened, I would become angry. Something as simple as a Friday night was blown to proportions in my mind, because I expected us to be perfect. In all of it, all I really was doing was overcompensating for feeling guilty all the time. I had this image of myself as a Mom, and I never met it, and I hated myself for it.
I’m not going to try and say, “oh I’ve worked through all of this, and I’m SO much better. I’m a perfect Mom, I never yell at my kids, and we all have found a peaceful happy place where toys are picked up and people don’t punch one another for stolen lollipops….” What I am saying is that I am getting better at stepping outside all of this chatter and connecting with who I really am, deep deep down. When I can clean my slate and free myself of all these expectations, remove the micromanaging, and get out of my own damn way, I am a very happy person. I yell less, if I get angry, a couple deep breaths help, and I almost never make plans anymore. I am transitioning from Type A extraordinaire to Hippie, Zen Mom. I see and appreciate where I started and where I am, the little nothings that make being a mom amazing, and that they need a healthy Mom more than a perfect Mom. I do not compensate anymore, because I have nothing to feel guilty about. I am not a perfect Mom, but I do love my kids. I have grown to appreciate everything more, because I have stopped expecting so much of all of us.
Now I’m in the mood for beer and mozzo sticks, I wonder what I’ll be doing tonight? How about you? What do you struggle with? What changes have you been making? How do you notice your changes and honor yourself? What’s your favorite beer?