The small stuff

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Ugh.  I’m awful with the small stuff.  And as a parent, I’ve come to see that the small stuff isn’t small at all – it feels like it takes up about 96% of my time with the kids.  Fretting over whether to allow that extra cookie.  Mediating a dispute over who gets to let the dog out.  (Puppy is still a novelty – I know it won’t be long before this dispute turns into something else entirely.)  Making lunch and getting frustrated that my oldest doesn’t eat sandwiches (who can expect to get through 12 years of primary and secondary schooling without eating sandwiches??).

You can see how these things can get me spinning.  And sadly, this is the kind of stuff that I’m really bad at.  Yes, I know my Committee tends to kick into overdrive, and I realize their feedback isn’t always accurate, but… I think I’m objectively terrible at these kinds of small decisions.  Which is particularly unfortunate because like I said, it feels like the vast majority of my parenting time is spent in this zone.

But the other 4% of the time?  The big, heavy conversations?  Those are some of the few times that I feel like, “Hey – I can do this mothering gig after all.  I can even be pretty good at it.”  When my 10 year old daughter M wants to talk about her body and ask me about things she’s heard at school, I feel myself almost relax inside as if to say, “Yep, you got this one.  No worries, mama.”  When my then 5 year old daughter E wants to know why one of her shoes has a special heel on it, I can explain how one leg is shorter than the other, and she will one day need surgery – and I feel okay with that talk.  I feel connected.  I feel confident.

It’s no small accomplishment for me to feel comfortable in my own parenting skin.  But these moments are few and far between.  Not that I need to be having the “sex talk” every day :), but it would be nice to have more of these moments of feeling confident.  Not second-guessing each word that comes out of my mouth.  On a good day, I can tell myself that these “big” conversations are the ones that the kids will remember – but I really don’t think I buy that.  I don’t think my E will remember me showing her how her legs are uneven and answering her questions in a calm, practical way.  I think the things that will stick with them are the day-t0-day experiences and interactions with me – and those are not my best times.

Tomorrow is a good example of how the small stuff takes over these bigger moments for me.

My daughter M has asked if she and I could spend some one-on-one time together.  The two younger kids ask quite regularly for “time with Mommy”, and I do that, but M recently told me that she doesn’t ask because she sees that her brother and sister are fighting over who gets to have time with me first, and she knows I have a lot to do, so…she doesn’t ask.  All of this came tumbling out the other night at bedtime.  I thankfully wasn’t as irritated then as I have been lately, and I told her that I would love to spend time with her.

We agreed that we would go shopping tomorrow, to scout out some back to school clothes for her first year in middle school (grade 6).  M then went on to say that she has this vision of us sipping milkshakes as we walk along shopping.  But then she said that sometimes she has these visions of how things will be, and then if it doesn’t happen quite that way, she’s a bit disappointed at first but she realizes it’s still great anyway.

The whole milkshake thing threw me into a panic of sorts – and it is such a perfect example of the small stuff.  Should I always do things to match her vision even if getting milkshakes at 10am seems crazy?  Does she end up disappointed by her visions a lot?  The milkshake place she likes is nowhere near the mall where we would be shopping, so does that mean I have to drive there first, and waste all that time?  What if I don’t want a milkshake because that kind of thing upsets my stomach, and on top of that, I’m trying to drop a few pounds?

Do you see how I did that?  I took something that was good and felt natural and confident – connecting with my daughter, realizing that she needs that time with me and helping her to feel special and wanted – and I took away that comfort and confidence by fretting about a stupid milkshake.  The milkshake is clearly the small stuff here, right?  But I’m afraid that my fretting about it will destroy any positive feelings about my mothering that I could have had from the whole experience.  Not to mention that it will detract from my enjoyment of the time with M – especially since she will pick up on the irritation that bubbles up when I’m not sure what to do with these kinds of minor decisions.

(It’s worth noting here that it probably sounds horrible to say that I’m worried that I’ll destroy the good mothering feeling I had about something – but my confidence in the mothering arena is pretty low, and a constant source of trouble for me, so I have to work on building that up.)

So what do I do about the milkshake?  Just tell myself that whatever I decide to do – one milkshake, no milkshake, two milkshakes – it will still be a great opportunity to connect with M and feel good as a mother?  That sounds so ridiculously easy to do but I know it would be next to impossible for me to “just tell myself” that it’s ok no matter what I decide.

Where is my thought process breaking down here?  What can I do to keep the small stuff where it belongs, and not let it eclipse the important stuff?

 

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13 thoughts on “The small stuff

  1. I am clearly no expert on children, but it seems that as long as love is present and administered, everything will really be fine in the end. If anything has been made clear in your posts, it is that you love your children. You want what is best for them and are willing to sacrifice to see that they are taken care of. Parenting is certainly a balancing act. No one is perfect and no one comes out unscathed. Your children are blessed to have a Mother who even stops to consider the “small” things. Many parents don’t have time to care about many of the big things, much less any of the small things. Go Super Mom! You can do this!

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    • Thank you – you’re too kind. 🙂 And I appreciate your encouragement, too.

      I do love my kids. Mothering has been really hard for me – because of my depression, and because of my personal baggage. I wish it came more naturally to me but I’m working on finding my own voice in all of this… my own way of mothering that feels comfortable to me.

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  2. The only thing I can say is don’t think so much. I think it is contributing to your down feelings and causing you to doubt yourself. M will be happy to be with you, shopping, no shopping, milkshake, no milkshake. Also, the questioning or strategy making is normal, but what is disruptive is questioning whether that tendency is normal. If you can just breathe as your mind jumps to these thoughts and wait until it passes, which it will, or allow yourself to proceed with the thoughts without the questioning, then you will be happier and less self doubting. BTW: I do not have a degree in psychology so take my untrained advice as you will.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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    • Thank you for the advice. 🙂

      I’ve been told before that I think too much – that I think myself into problems. I needed to be reminded of that here, in this context. You’re right that a lot of it comes down to self doubt. I struggle with that – it paralyzes me and weighs me down SO much.

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  3. Life with kids is 96% small things, you are spot on with that statement! And its so relentless (what, I have to make a meal again, I just did that! / why am I having to explain for the upteenth time that it’s not a good idea to … [insert your childs current bad habit here] / no, don’t wrap the banana inside some legwarmers and put it in your bag [one from today, needed repeating 3 times before he stopped his preperations to listen]), there is no pause to take breath, little chance to triage what is important, no manual to follow, often no one to cover your shift whilst you have your own lunch / go to the loo, little time off and you always take work home with you.

    The big thing is that you found out, because you listened and because she trusts you, that she doesn’t feel that her needs are as important as others in the family, and you’re showing her that they are. I know you worry about family history repeating itself, this is proof to me that it’s not, well done you.

    Not sure if you want specific advice about milkshakes, but how about asking her? As in, “that’s a nice vision, I know you enjoy milkshakes, it sounds fun, but the milkshake place is a long way from the mall, I’m worried we’ll spend too long driving around and not have as much time to really enjoy each others company, what do you think we should do?” She might be happy just for you to acknowledge that you know she likes milkshakes but see it’s impractical, or she might decide the milkshake is more important than the shopping and actually she’d rather do that, or she might think of another option you weren’t expecting (that place near the mall isn’t as good but we could go there to save time, or lets make milkshakes at home and take them with us). You don’t have to make all the decisions solo.

    Good luck, whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a great time.

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    • Your last paragraph brings up a good point – I tend to feel like I’m going it all alone in thinking through these things. And then once I’m that far lost in my head, it doesn’t matter who else is out there – because I’m too lost in there to know anyone’s there! But you’re absolutely right that I can ask M what she thinks, and talk things through with her.

      I winced when you pointed out that M feels like her needs aren’t as important as those of the other kids. I winced because I immediately go to the place where I think to myself that I’ve already screwed up because she feels like she’s not as important, and how will this manifest itself when she’s an adult, and so on. But it gets at the same thing that cardamone5 said about thinking too much. And, focusing on the possible negatives instead of the real positive of your point – that M felt comfortable enough to share that with me. I really should be giving myself a pat on the back for that – thank you for making that point. 🙂

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  4. Definitely lots of pats on the back. because we all feel rubbish and undervalued sometimes, everyone, whoever our parents our, whatever our situation in life. But you’re teaching her what to do about it, that she can talk to someone who’ll listen and she can change things with help from family and friends, – not everyone has a mom as great as you to show them that.
    So rather than feeling bad that M is human and has bad days sometimes (which however great a Mom you are you’ll never stop happening completely) tell the committee to focus on how you’re helping her have the tools to deal with a bad day so she can learn to manage her stresses herself when she’s older.

    And I think it’s ok to say to our kids “I know you want A and B but they both can’t happen because …” and then get them involved in working out what to do – it stops you having all the stress of making The Right Choice, it makes them feel grown up and involved in the decision making instead of being cross with you for stopping them doing things and it teaches them skills for later in life.

    Obviously I do this 100% of the time and never get cross or exasperated 😉

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  5. Definitely seconding the advice to involve M. in the decision (though the shopping trip is now in the past – how did it go?) The fact that she shared that with you is lovely! And also that she expressed a need and you met that need. That sounds really healthy and awesome. Maybe you could make a note to yourself to try to have a bedtime check-in with her like that every now and then (which you clearly do already), or sit down and schedule a few things like the school shopping, or even just going out for milkshakes with just her every few weeks or so? As far as the small stuff goes – you’re the mum, so unlimately it’s your call. Kids will always want another cookie. You get to say no. 🙂 as long as you’re not making them feel bad for wanting the cookie, it’s all good!

    Also, just wondering – do you have any house rules you’ve agreed upon with your kids? I’m a huge fan of Supernanny (the Jo Frost TV show) and I’ve noticed that when the parents sit down with their kids, or each other, and actually write down the rules, they feel a lot more confident about enforcing them, because it no longer feels so arbitrary. Do you think that’s something that might help?

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    • Thanks for all of the great thoughts! Your comment reminds me that I need to be more proactive about scheduling time with M. She tends to get put off to the side because she’s older and more self-sufficient – but she needs that time just as much as the other kids. And, the reality is that I only have a year or so before she no longer wants that time…so I need to be better about seeking it out with her.

      I often think about your post on sugar and how you were made to feel bad for wanting an extra candy or piece of cake. As I think I commented at the time, it occurred to me that I might sometimes do that – so I try to keep your post in mind. 🙂

      As for house rules, we do have some clear ones – but we, like many, forget the power of writing down things with your kids. I’ll have to think about that again. Thanks!

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  6. Also: if oldest child doesn’t eat sandwiches, maybe she could be responsible for finding a sandwich equivalent the night before? She might enjoy the independence of it – or realise that sandwiches aren’t that bad, lol!

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    • Yes, I definitely need to revisit this. The lunch issue has been an ongoing one for us and now that she’s older, we can try some new solutions. (And while I eat sandwiches, I would much rather have leftovers or something else for lunch…so I suppose it’s genetic? 🙂 )

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  7. I like those ideas reallyintothewords. Agreed rules, and getting hubbie involved in the negotiation might make you feel more supported and empowered in dealing with the small stuff. And making fussy eaters responisble is a great idea. How about something like “I understand you don’t like them, but we all have to eat something we don’t like so much sometimes, I will find 2 alternatives to sandwiches a week, the other 3 days you can either make something yourself by 8pm or I will make sandwiches”, You could add in clauses about what is acceptable if you think she’ll just put biscuits in instead and deadlines for shopping requests if she’s going to start demanding stuff you don’t have at 7.55pm.

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