To be the parent you want to be, you have to have some clarity of mind. Most of us don’t get as much rest or free time as we want, but a certain level of stress is manageable. At some point however, the level might get so high to seriously interfere with your parenting.
I got to that point once when my daughter was in her late 3s and just kept whining. This is very normal for a preschooler. Other behaviors might be they become aggressive. One way or another, they lose it, over the seemingly smallest of things. And the frequency and intensity of it can be exasperating.
During this time, I once went to deal with my older children who had got in a fight. I had a laundry basket in my arms and my toddler clinging to my legs. Worse, my brain was filled up with so much stuff that I couldn’t really focus on what was going on in the moment. Had I clarity of mind, I could at least verbally coach my children through the problem. My arms and my brain, however, were too full.
In my struggle to stay patient with my daughter who kept whining, I was doing some serious reading about certain issues on my own plate. One thing I came across is an equation for anger. Anger is a result of antecedent stress + current stress + indirect stress + a trigger. Antecedent stress are past traumas still affecting you. Current stress is your current needs that aren’t being met–maybe you need some serious down time or you’re having relationship trouble. Indirect stress is maybe you didn’t get enough sleep last night. And the trigger is the trigger.
I was working through some bad mental patterns I had and so I was working on antecedent stress. I was noticing how by working on that I had a better ability to stay patient in the moment. Before, I would get inflamed but coach myself through the negative feeling to bring myself back to calm. Now, having worked through the antecedent stress, I wasn’t even getting angry. The propensity for it had diminished greatly. Much of it revolved around being purposely mindful of how I did things–for instance, paying attention to where I set my phone down so I could find it later. I wrote about it here, “Reducing the Propensity for Anger.”
I was still however struggling big time with my whining daughter. I got so full of responsibility and frustration that I decided to take an entire week “off.” Of course, I can’t totally take a week off. I am a homeschool mom to 3 children. However, I decided to say “no” to anything I didn’t have to do. And, in addition, in the time it freed up, I was going to be very deliberate in how I chose to spend my time. This meant I could not just idly sit on social media. I had a set of problems I knew were eating at me and my time would be focused on them.
What I noticed about mental burden is that if you have something lingering in your mind, it makes in the moment problems harder to deal with. A big problem might be you need to redecorate your house. The boring colors are killing you day in and day out but you don’t have the time to invest in it. A small problem might be you have to go grocery shopping. What I find is the big problem (in this case, a “current stress”) makes the smaller problem much more difficult. You can’t just be. You can’t just focus on the small problem. I find some small problems can be a joy–indeed like grocery shopping. With big problems looming, however, I can’t enjoy the trip out as the lovely task it actually can be. I feel anxious and hurried. When mentally loaded, you’re making a lot of choices all day long about what you are not going to get to and carrying around a sense of guilt and anxiety about it, even if in a low form. Because the bigger problems make the smaller problems harder, the equation changes to something like this:
Anger = (antecedent stress) + current stress + indirect stress + (antecedent stress)*(current stress) + (current stress)*(indirect stress) + (antecedent stress)*(indirect stress) + trigger
Further, if you have anxiety, your worry about all these stresses in addition. So take the whole equation and multiply it by the factor of anxiety.
So in the equation above, the bigger stresses make the smaller stresses bigger. This is not an exact formula but I want to simply illustrate my point. And in this equation, reducing antecedent or current stress will reduce anger significantly.
Therefore, in your mindful week, concentrate on one of these things. If the issue is sleep, do that first. Otherwise, maybe it’s that you’ve been meaning to redecorate your house. Maybe your relationship needs work. Maybe you’ve been meaning to read that book about a particular mental health issue you have. I think you’d be surprised by how much you can clear off your plate in one week of focus. You can make significant strides in big projects in a few days. The bonus is that you set yourself up for a calm state of mind in so many ways. The mindful week in and of itself can help with mental hygiene because you will have a sense of accomplishment at the end. This is what “meditation” is for me: picking a topic to study or a project to do and really focusing on it to do it right.
Be extremely mindful of your small actions too in your mindful week. Where did you set your keys down? Where did you put your kid’s cup or bottle? Are you sticking to your set of tasks?
Here is a mindful thing you can do every morning: pay attention to the first thing you do. For me, it means making sure I put my blindfold in a spot where my kids can’t find it, such that I can find it later. As a mom, I often wake up to kids crying and needing me immediately. I’d love to make my bed and exercise before I start the day, but I often can’t. But I can put focused attention into my first few actions. It helps.
I found the my mindful week felt really good. Some habits I’d like to pick up more long term. It’s a process to get there. It really felt like a spa day–but better!