When my son was 18 months old my babysitter breezed into my home office revelling at the fact that she had walked him all the way to a play centre, then to the school to pick up my three-year-old (like walking the island of Manhattan for a toddler). They all walked back in perfect harmony, smelling pinecones and discussing pirate ships. This was the third day this had ‘allegedly’ happened. I use the word ‘alleged’ because although I believed her, (she is a truthful, wonderful person) I had never experienced this for myself.
The day before that, I parked a block away and had to walk the kids to my car. My younger son staggered up and down the street. The older one just kept saying, “My legs are tired. My knees hurt.” As I grew more and more frustrated, I picked up the younger one and marched on. The other one then fell to the ground in an Oscar-worthy performance moment, claiming he did not want to go on, he could not, in fact, go any farther. Once the tears came, that was it; contagious drama ensued.
“Get up right now!” I barked. I was losing my patience, but not because of the actual situation. All I could think of was my babysitter walking down the street hand in hand with the two of them in glorious harmony.
That’s what bugged me.
It wasn’t that my three-year-old was claiming injury, laying flat on the cement unable to make it to the car a few feet away. That part was actually pretty funny. And I shouldn’t have expected my 18-month-old to walk a straight line, holding my hand the entire way.
It was that her success somehow meant my inadequacy. And as my thoughts about the situation started to cause more stress than the actual situation, I realized something: It’s not what actually happens that makes me feel inadequate or stressed or down—it’s the thoughts surrounding it that creates the catastrophe.
My baby won’t sleep—maybe he’ll have a sleep problem for the rest of his life. My toddler isn’t talking—maybe he’ll develop a learning disability. My son still doesn’t dress himself—am I teaching him to be dependent? Blah blah blah!
There have been many moments in the middle of the night when I have been woken up for the third or fourth or fifteenth time and I have become frustrated. Sure, it’s annoying, but the moment I really start to lose it is when the catastrophe thoughts come: “He’s never going to NOT wake me up. This is it. He will ALWAYS wake me, every single night for the rest of my life.”
Yes, those nights I’m tired and annoyed that I no longer own my sleep, but really, it is the thought that I will NEVER own my sleep again that turns me from a pretty nice lady to Medusa on her period.
Do the thoughts surrounding a perfectly normal situation create the expectations that, in the end, produce the most amount of anxiety?
After a few nights of uninterrupted sleep, I forget about the worries and the questions. I look at my son and can’t even recall how awful his scream sounded in the middle of the night. It’s just gone. Poof. I now walk my older son all the way to his new school every morning. He hardly complains and I hardly remember him flailing his arms on the ground in protest months before. They will soon remind me of that frustrating feeling and the compulsion to want to cloak the situation with negativity, but for the moment, it’s not palpable.
My mid-year resolution is that I’m going to go up against a nasty pattern and resist the temptation to think beyond what’s right in front of me.
If I could just react to the actual incident instead of what I think about it, I might be able to rock parenthood a little more relaxed.