Last night I was home alone with my daughters. My wife was traveling to a conference with her sister and I had the kids. It shouldn’t have seemed abnormal, I’m with them all the time during the day but the day can be punctuated by trips to the library, visits to family, or adventures at the park. Flying solo all day requires energy and effort for these things and more. My aunt reports telling her husband that if he had to work past six, he may as well not come home at all that night. She wasn’t being mean, it’s that having a spouse come home to share the load in the evening is a big deal.
Yesterday my parental stress of the day began accumulating toward the end of the day, like engine gunk in an old Buick. In times past I would have lost my patience, yelled at my daughters and sent them to bed. Instead, I slowed things down to a snail’s pace and slowly worked through each person’s evening routine with them. “Did you get your shoes, bag, and coat ready?” “Have you set out breakfast?”
On a good day I don’t need to remind them of any of this and they can get their prep done in ten minutes. Yesterday wasn’t like that and like a summer storm slowly rolling in, I saw it coming. So I took shelter under an umbrella of patience. This evening was not going to be one that was sunny and we just had to slow down and try not to get too wet. And this worked. By 8:45, the kids were in their own beds and I was enjoying a book until, THUNK.
Our youngest daughter fell off her sister onto the floor.
As I moved from the couch to the room my blood simmered from tepid to hot. My mind began to create a list of reasons she shouldn’t be crying. It didn’t hurt that much. What were you doing there anyway? Why aren’t you in your own bed? Why were you on your sister? When I got to the room I started with “Are you okay?” and left it at that.
It’s so easy to live by a set of maxims at work or the gym or with your friends. At home though, that’s another monster. It’s like all the tools we use in life get left behind and we yell and scream and get angry. I know because I normally get angry. Last night I didn’t. Last night I won.
It felt good to win, to side with patience in victory over anger. It felt empowering and it felt like I could do it again. That’s a life theme too, that we (maybe just me, who knows) can apply to our families too, our victories. If I could do it yesterday, a day when I shouldered nearly all the parenting without any extra trips or distractions and when we were confined indoors by cool temperatures and rain – then I can do it anywhere and anytime. It’s not just this though, it’s dealing with crappy people then dealing with crappy kids. It’s negotiating office politics and car pool friendships. Everything we do is in our lives and we should use it in every part of them.
I’ve written a book about some of these ideas that a few very kind readers are going through and I’ll post more when it’s time, but this is what I’ve really learned being a parent. It’s not about being funny or explaining how things are done. My experiences with those things are too empirically constrained. Other ideas like how we feel and act and think around our kids, these are the big ones. The ones where we find the real victories.