Not My Best Day

A couple of weeks ago, I woke on a Thursday morning with a scratchy throat and some tightness in my chest. From there, it was destined to be the sort of day that starts poorly and goes steadily downhill.

On that day, I was not a good AP mom. I was not a good any kind of mom.

I had ten quiet moments to myself to make my bed and feed my cat before both kids were awake and bouncing off the walls.

On a usual day, I like to get up, shower and dress before my children wake up, and on a really good day, I’ve also eaten something and spent some time on the Internet. Being dressed and ready to go, even if it’s in my gym clothes, helps me to handle their early morning energy more easily.

Only on this day, here were both kids awake and raring to go, and I was still groggy and unshowered, not to mention not feeling well.

Three beverage spills, two tantrums and one time out later, I decided we had to get out of the house and head to the pool. I asked the kids to please start picking up their toys so we could get ready to go, and my son immediately bopped his sister on the head and earned himself another time out. Right after that, my daughter informed me, “No. I’m not going to do it.” And I lost it. As I went stomping into the living room to tell my stubborn daughter that she needed to take off her slippers and start putting her dolls away NOW, I leaned over to scoop up a loose toy and….it happened. One of those freak things. A tiny stray piece of wood that was on the floor was suddenly and painfully jammed up under my fingernail, all the way to the cuticle. It felt like fire. I couldn’t get it out on my own, so I placed a hysterical phone call to my husband, then shaking and crying, bundled both kids into the car and drove to the nearest urgent care center.

In the waiting room, I was short with my kids. While waiting for a nurse to bring me an ice pack, my son told me that he wanted to sit in his sister’s chair and she wouldn’t move. It’s difficult to feel sympathy over a silly sibling squabble when you’re fighting back tears of pain, your finger is swollen to the size of a sausage and your entire hand is throbbing. “Figure it out on your own,” I snapped. “There are eight other empty chairs, pick one and sit in it.”

It continued in the exam room. As I played the guilt game with my kids–the pool would have been more fun, right? So next time do what I say and pick up your toys–a little voice in my head was saying, “Stop talking to your kids that way.” I was not feeling loving and I was not being respectful.

Eventually, the doctor showed up, numbed my finger and cut off part of my fingernail to remove the stick. In the absence of pain, I started to feel some remorse for my behavior that day. Having had some time to reflect on it, I came to the following conclusions. Please understand that I am not trying to make excuses for my behavior; rather, I’d like to identify the reasons my day was so horrible so I can avoid them in the future.

**My morning routine was thrown off. I am a creature of habit, and even one tiny thing throwing off my expectations for my day can send me into a tailspin. I can work on this by being more flexible and looking more closely at my priorities. Is it really the end of the world if the carpet doesn’t get vacuumed?

**I was under the weather. Everything in life, except maybe sleeping, is harder when you don’t feel well. I need to give myself a break. Our shining parenting moments rarely happen in the middle of an Urgent Care center while suffering from acute pain and distress.

**Both kids were overtired. A tired child is a cranky child, and both of mine had not slept well the night before and rose earlier than usual. I need to cut them a little slack too.

**My older child is in a phase where he questions everything and tests every limit. My younger child is feeding off of him and establishing her own independence. The younger one is also old enough to have the communication skills to fight with her brother. This is probably the biggest one. I already know that I have a temper, and an easy way to make it flare is for someone to purposely and willfully ignore my instructions. In addition, I have a very low tolerance for sibling rivalry. Listening to an argument over something as absurd as whose socks are whiter makes my blood pressure go up and my good sense drain away. I need to focus on the fact that, despite what it sometimes feels like, my kids don’t bicker with each other to make me crazy, they’re just being normal siblings. Putting them in charge of their own relationship has helped somewhat. They know that if they can’t come to a mutual conclusion on their own and need me to mediate, there will be consequences, and they usually don’t like them. I just need to find a way to tune out the racket while they figure it out.

Out of my terrible day came a good lesson for all of us.

For me, it’s easy to be a great mom when the kids are behaving and everyone is healthy and well rested and the day is going as planned. It’s not so easy when a person is sick or tired or has a tree limb jammed under her fingernail.

For my kids, they saw that even moms have bad days and they learned that there are consequences for their behavior. (In this case, not picking up the toys caused mom to turn into a crazy crying woman who made everyone go to the doctor for impromptu surgery.) And when we talked about it later, they realized that it’s okay to have a bad day–as long as you apologize to all those you were nasty to at the end of it.

How about you? What are your triggers and how do you make up for a bad day?

6 thoughts on “Not My Best Day”

  1. Wow. I had a remarkably similar experience, including injuring myself, about a month ago. I wrote a post about it called You Can Dance.

    First, I am sorry that happened. Those days, when I am in so much pain, physically and psychologically, can be devastating and very draining; and I am trying really hard to understand and find a way to survive these days with a modicum of grace. I think it is important to share the hard realities and good ideas, so thank you for your post!

    When I see a bad day coming, the main thing I try to do is to avoid a total meltdown by (like you) getting outside/changing the scene; finding a bit of space or time from the kids (though this can backfire as they come looking for me); calling a friend and talking to them, possibly meeting them; and by trying to maintain connection and respect with my kids… But like you said, when I am tired or triggered, it becomes quite challenging to stay calm and collected, and even just simply trying to get us all out the door can be overwhelming.

    So when I do lose it, I always (always) apologize. Really apologize. We have a practice at our house to never be forced to apologize before one is ready. We talk about waiting until our hearts feel open or we feel ready to connect. This type of apology is big, and warm-hearted, and it often springs from true remorse and a full seeing of what I’ve done.

    When I talk about what happened, I am very clear to take responsibility for my actions. Even if I felt irritated “at the kids” at the time, it was how I felt inside that propelled my actions. So, for example, I wouldn’t say, “I yelled because you squished the blueberries,” but something more like, “I was feeling frustrated because I didn’t want to scrub 100 squished blueberries off the floor. But I said what I said in anger. I wish I had waited for the anger to pass before I talked to you about it.” Nonviolent communication has helped me figure out how to unmesh the tangle of feelings and needs and talk responsibly about them.

    In addition to apologizing and talking things over with my kids, I sometimes “sleep-talk” to my kids — I heard about this on the positive parenting yahoo list years ago. The basic idea is to talk to your children in the time after they have just fallen asleep. This is a time for me to tell them the core messages I want them to hear: They are good. They are whole. I know they felt scared or hurt. I know they can heal. That we can heal.

    My two-year-old once spontaneously created his own play therapy by telling me he was the mama and he was yelling at me. So that gave me the idea to do some playing with them, but only after the incident has had time to settle. (You can check out Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen for ideas.)

    And last but not least, I go to therapy. 🙂 I see a hakomi therapist, who works with deep beliefs and incidents or patterns by bringing them to light in loving presence/mindfulness. I simply sit and talk to her and she reflects things back to me. It has been a remarkably simple and effective technique for me to uncover and be freed from some deep, deep triggers (like you, sibling fighting is a big trigger for me). I do feel my ability to cope has improved, but there is still so much to learn.

    I am wishing you the very best…


  2. I have a few triggers. One is when my preschooler wakes my napping baby. It makes me see red like nothing else. That, and I freak out when they pull all the toilet paper off the roll. This comes up far more often than I’d wish.

    I make sure to apologize for my behaviour when I’m not being the best mom. I also make sure to make clear how we can avoid situations like that in the future – I need to be calm and not yell, the child needs to leave the sleeping baby alone. And then we leave the scene of the fiasco. Getting outside often makes everything all better.

  3. Since my two boys sleep in bed with us, the mornings are pretty full-speed ahead. They wake up at about 6:30 AM and with me not being a morning person it’s taken a while to figure out how to get through the first hour in the morning without yelling or fuming so much. I usually give my 3 year old a banana or some kind of fruit in the morning to keep him occupied while I get coffee going. If my 11 month old isn’t awake yet I let him sleep of course, but if he is I change his diaper and put him in his high chair w/some cereal. Then I feed the 3 year old some “real” breakfast (usually cereal or some scrambled eggs) and then I let him watch some PBS while I wake up a little more. I feel like when I’m given the chance to wake up and come into the world I have a much better day, but days when the mornings don’t go so smoothly, I try and focus on the good things about my day and vocalize them. I say to my son, “You’re doing a great job with your puzzles!” or “I like how you’re sharing with your brother!” Sometimes its hard to remind myself to do this, but when I do remember and I can bring myself to do it, it’s almost like a reset button. And that reset button can TOTALLY save the day sometimes. 🙂

  4. We all have “bad days” but what’s good after all those tiring activities, kids fighting as they want the same toys, etc is the fact that at the end of the day, there’s a chance of asking for an apologize for all the fights they had during the day.

  5. What a refreshing little story. My guy is only 8 months but I am already preparing for the days when I will not be the parent I want to be. I know they will happen, after all, I’m only human and so are they.

    I love how you turned it into a teachable moment. What a great way to make lemons into lemonade.

    Hope your finger is better?!

  6. That story made me both laugh (because of the similarity to so many of my days) and think (for the same reason!). I always find it comforting to read about other parents who face episodes like this and can confidently share how insane it was at the time but how important it is to reflect on it all and think about what could be done differently next time. I’m always working on this, especially because I was raised an only child and now have three of my own. I am learning daily what sibling behaviour looks like!

    Thanks for sharing. I hope your finger is better!

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