The Surprising Way In Which It Gets Better
It's been no secret that family life in our house has been hard of late. September was difficult. October was brutal. And November? I don't want to remember.
But December? December is showing progress. Although I risk some kind of karmic comeuppance or jinx-driven reversal, I'm here to tell you that December has been leagues better in our house. Our older Smartling's crying jags have stopped almost entirely, and our younger Smartling's tantrums have dropped to a far more manageable level. On good days no one cries or rages in our house, and good days are coming faster and more frequently. I know that this era of increasing peace is as transitory and temporary as was the period of extreme upheaval. Still, I'm grateful for every day that we begin and end in, if not exactly tranquility, detente. It's better for everyone. It feeds on itself and reproduces more good days. It's a relief just to say the word "relief" as a present tense fact rather than as a wish for the future.
What has been surprising about our digging out of this emotional shitstorm has been how little of my actual effort it has required. What has worked best in the past few weeks has been my absence of work, which has been shocking in its efficacy. And here's been my magic bullet:
I outsourced childcare. Lots more childcare.
This seems like common sense to figure out that, if you and your children are experiencing only strife with one another, perhaps you all need a break from one another. But I'm a take-charge, never-say-die, take-the-bull-by-the-horns, direct-action kind of person, and admitting that I just needed my younger Smartling to GO AWAY FROM ME was hard. After all, I'm a stay at home parent, right? It's my actual job to raise these daughters, and seeking out alternate care for Madeline felt like subcontracting or, worse, outsourcing. It made me feel guilty and lazy and irresponsible. Like I was shirking my duties. Like I was becoming Betty Draper, a stay at home mom with full-time help and one kid in boarding school. Seeking more childcare for my younger daughter while my older was in school was antithetical to what I'd imagined this gig to be, and it hurt to make the decision.
Just kidding! That's not us! My younger 'ling isn't even IN ballet! (Image source)
What helped me make the decision, though, was one of the many, many books on child development and emotion coaching that I'd been reading to fuel my experiments in effective parenting. An oldie but a goodie, Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg was the most validating read on how hard life with our younger 'ling had become. The book both acknowledges how impossibly challenging an individuating three year old can be and recommends several times to find other caregivers to provide yourself respite from the lunacy. Something about reading in a book by knowledgable experts that, YES, this job is incredibly difficult, and, YES, just temporarily running away from it is allowable was incredibly comforting. It isn't the whole answer, obviously, but it is helpful. And it is OK.
Friend OR enemy? Does she have to choose? (Image source)
Having seen some dark places in previous weeks and with textual support and permission to seek out babysitters and playgroups for my younger daughter, I arranged a schedule that included standing playdates with friends and increased time with a crew of awesome babysitters. It was better for me, which made me better for them. And, surprisingly, it allowed my younger kid to become someone I didn't know she was capable of becoming. My wild girl, my atomically angry bombshell, is a completely different person in different care environments. She is calm and cooperative when she's not fighting against being my baby and toward becoming her own big kid.
I received this message from one of her caregivers last week, a mom friend who hosts a regular playgroup at her house:
"Can I just say Maddsy is the most calming influence! I love Maddsy, she is the best kid."
I have to admit that I guffawed lustily when I read this. My kid? A calming influence? It sounded like a joke, but it wasn't. I asked this friend at pick-up about the message, and she explained that Madeline, my Dark Madder, had spent the day peacemaking among her playgroup friends and helping maintain emotional equilibrium within the group. It's a miracle! It's amazing! And it never could have happened at home, at least not yet.
I am so glad that I womanned up (ovaried up?) and sought additional childcare for my own good. It was a positive move toward self-care and respecting how hard this job is. And, although I didn't see it coming, I'm even more grateful to have found the extra care for my kid's own direct benefit. She gets to let go of her struggles with us at home and be a completely different person: a tranquil, kind, gentle friend capable of seeing conflict and ameliorating it. Had I toughed it out and kept her with me during her many non-preschool hours, she wouldn't have had that opportunity to become the emotionally wise and generous person she can be in my absence. She's still three, and she won't spend every non-mommy minute making peace and calming wild influences, but she knows she can. She's experienced that kind of behavior, that state of being, and she can act that way and be that way again. Who knows if she'd have gotten there if she'd been trapped with the person she's most developmentally driven to fight against?
So, my recommendation for you if you're struggling, too, Smarty Readers, is to experiment even with unconventional or unusual solutions to your problems. I always practice and advocate an experimental method of parenting and throwing lots of different methods and practices against the wall to see what sticks. But this solution - what ultimately stuck - was a real shocker. If the home is a parenting and chld developmental laboratory, this was definitely an unexpected Eureka! moment. Perhaps seeking out additional childcare is possible and positive for you. Or maybe you and your family need something else entirely to work through your struggles. But I encourage you - always - to keep changing your practices up as needed, to remain flexible and committed to creative problem solving as problems arise. I didn't see this solution coming, and it has absolutely made a wonderful change in our family dynamic. May you be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Wishing you peace this season, and every season of your families' lives.