I'm beginning to recognize the possibility that there is no such thing as balance when you are a working mother of four; at least, I haven't found the happy, blissful balance that I imagine I might find if I just work hard enough at finding it. The balance I imagine other working mothers must have found by now.
Before Christmas, I thought I might actually have a heart attack from the daily grind: waking four children up in the early morning winter darkness, cajoling through their whining and reluctance to leave the warm cocoons of their beds. Feeding and dressing, brushing and gathering (a lot of this time was also spent searching: for car keys, for that missing mitten, for an extra neck-warmer when the temperature dips into dangerous cold). Each day I vowed to be more organized the next to prevent this extra stress.
Mostly, I spent a lot of time yelling. Not just raising my voice, but deep, painful-throat yelling. Scary yelling that left everyone rattled, including me. In those moments of frustrated, impotent rage, I could hardly see the tears in my five-year-old's eyes, or the way my older children would kind of shut down and shut me out.
Frantically, I tried to get everyone to listen, to get out the door on time, to cooperate and just do what needed to be done so that mommy wasn't late for work. I put the blame and responsibility on three children (my husband would be gone with the toddler by the time this "routine" took place). I'd panic as I drove down the laneway and noticed the ponies hadn't been fed. In frustrated tears I'd climb over frozen-shut gates and clamber over stalls to fetch the hay in my pretty teacher clothes. I'd moan and vent aloud to my kids about how the stress was making me crazy, complain aloud about how daddy doesn't know how hard it is to get out of the house with three kids, and beg them to try harder tomorrow.
It doesn't take long for this kind of dynamic to take a toll on everyone. Five minutes into our journey to school, I'd be wracked by suffocating regret and guilt, and would begin my sincere apologies to my beloved children. It truly felt as if I had lost my self, that I'd been possessed. I hated the feeling that this was my destiny, that my children wouldn't even remember that there was a time when I used to stay home full time, creating crafts and baking with them. I feared that their memory of their childhood would consist of a frazzled, stressed out mother who always yelled.
Bless their resilient hearts, they always forgave me. But I could feel our relationship being chipped away, one word at a time, and could see their trust in me slipping away in the rearview mirror.
Once the Christmas holidays rolled around, I finally found time to gather my wits and perspective. I began to make some promises to myself.
I vowed to stop yelling. I just decided to stop.
It is so easy to become a victim, to blame our behaviours on our circumstances: I'm just so tired/busy/stressed/spread too thin.
But there will always be a million excuses for our poor behaviour, and every time we do it, we model it for our children. And we'd never let them get away with those same behaviours, would we?
I'm happy to say that so far, I've kept my promise. I still raise my voice now and then, but have stopped the crazy rages. I have learned to deep-breathe through my nose when I feel that bubble of stress rising inside me. I've even added some play to our morning routine: I pick two upbeat songs and tell the children that their goal is to dance while dressing in snowsuits, and to be ready before the songs are over. I communicate clearly when I start to feel stressed.
It's working! Everyone seems less stressed, because I am less stressed. I'm not less busy, but I'm learning to cope in positive ways that help my children cope as well. And always, I'm learning to put my relationship with my children first. I know they are learning better ways to cope with stress as they see me working to repair what I broke.
In the meantime, I'm booking a counselling appointment to help me sort out my feelings on this whole working-mother thing. Deep down, I dream of being at home and keeping the fire going, tending to our animals, knitting, and being a home-maker. But I'm learning to let go of my feelings of anger that that is NOT my reality at this moment, and learning to find peace in the life I have (busy though it is).