Friday, March 9, 2012

If Mama Ain't Happy...

There's a common old saying, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't NObody happy!"
BestestHusband's corollary to this is, "A happy wife is a happy life."

It's so true. 

My emotions are no longer my own. They bleed over onto everyone around me and affect them, too. As my moods rise and fall, so do those around me. I can insulate them from each other's moods, but they can't insulate each other so well from mine. 

Nobody told me about this part of motherhood. It's still a rude shock. Before, I could spend a grumpy day carefully avoiding the innocent. My wrath seethed inside, but in my self-imposed quarantine, it was contained. Everyone else was safe, unscathed.  Now, I'm surrounded by people who seek me out. They follow me around. They work hard to provoke my wrath. But I must struggle to keep it inside. And it's hard.

I started out the day behind the eight ball. I fell asleep on the couch last night at 7:30, roused myself to put the girls to bed, fell asleep on the couch again, roused myself to send out a few emails, then went to bed. The mountains of laundry still loomed, the backlog of unanswered emails still mocked, the details of the impending Big Event still capered in my head. I needed to wake up early and get going before little people were interrupting every thought with requests for nose-blows, bum-wipes, more milk, boo-boo kisses, and crises that needed to be averted. (Note: I believe that these requests are appropriate for 2 and 3 yr olds to make. They're just not appropriate for me before my first cup of coffee.)

But I didn't. I was awoken by a little person crawling into my bed with a noisy baby toy. This is not a good way for me to start the day. The annoyances and injustices just compounded from there.  

It's noteworthy to point out that my name is "Joy", not "Temperance." (Honestly, I think this is one of the things that sucked BestestHusband in so many years ago...) I am emotional. I am emotive. It is unavoidable.  The opposite of joy is unhappiness. I fully experience both ends of the emotional spectrum. And everything in between. To the fullest. So if you're around me, you'll have a good idea of what's going on. I try to temper the temper, but it still exists. I must face the fact that I'm as incapable of keeping myself from being cranky as I am incapable of keeping myself from being happy. 

I know moms who try to keep themselves from showing any negative emotion: "I am a bottomless well of patience." Well, I am not. I've tried to overcome my emotional side for years. I've failed. And statistically speaking, at least one of my girls will inherit some of my emotional nature. Actually, I can tell you that MeToo has. So should I go forward demonstrating to my girls denial of a part of my character and pretend I only feel happy things? Well, first of all, I know that I'd fail horribly. Or require serious medication. And second of all, what is that teaching my girls? Deny what you feel and only show people what they want to see? Do my local uber-feminist bottomless-well moms realize that's what they're doing? (Note: I am a big proponent of social niceties, and teach manners like the girls' lives depend on it. We should be nice. But we can recognize when that's hard to do.)

What if, instead, I recognize that I can't turn off my crankies, and talk to the girls about how we can all manage to have a good morning anyway. I'm starting to emphasize the "teamwork" aspects of home. How we all work together in a family to have a cozy comfortable home, yummy food to eat, and fun happy days. We're starting to give the girls little chores (take their plastic dishes to the sink, make their beds, etc) that contribute to this end. Shopping today, HeyMama was motivated to help choose cereals, cheeses, etc to give us yummy meals. We've started high-fiving when we all do a part of a task. Family life is teamwork.

So why can't we frame emotional management as teamwork? I certainly try to help isolate and insulate their foul moods. We try to do nice things for each other to make each other happy. We try to comfort each other when someone's upset. Why not work together to manage cranky days, too? We know how to push each other's buttons. Certainly we can work to avoid that more on cranky days. Experiencing and discussing emotions and how they contribute to behaviors is all a part of EQ.  I think IQ + EQ is a dang good combination for the girls to have when they go out into the world. (Note:  Obviously, when the girls go out into the world, it will be clear that they are not responsible for other people's behaviors and emotions, but they will understand that they can influence others' behaviors and emotions if they pay close attention...)

So that's my new theory on managing emotions and behaviors. And managing my cranky days. They will come. And we will all have to deal with them. And the girls will have cranky days. And we will all have to deal with them. And someday they will be teenagers. And BestestHusband will need his own ManCave to escape to. 

I bought myself flowers to make myself feel better. Thank you Trader Joe for cheap flowers!

How do manage your cranky days if you can't run away?


  1. The best $540 I ever spent was at UMass Med School's Mindfulness class. Barring that, read anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn. There's something about just noticing what your body is doing when you are cranky, happy, angry, anxious or whatever that makes it easier to cope. Not to take away or change the emotion but to notice it, acknowledge it and react from there.

    1. You're right, Joy - if mama ain't happy, nobody is. It's a terrible responsibility. Mommy sets the tone for the day. Every day. And we're not always happy, or well rested, or patient (nevermind that the amount of patience necessary for success with multiple small children is at a level some people never achieve).
      I think that setting a good example of dealing with your own crankiness is good for the kids. Not hiding it, but dealing with it. I try not to be snappy on crabby days, but it's hard. I find it helps to make sure the family does things that will help Mama feel better (teamwork!). Just like taking 10 minutes (or whatever she seems to need) to pay all your attention to your needy 2-year-old can set you free to get some chores done for the next half hour or more, taking the time you need to relax and make yourself feel better can make everyone feel better that day. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes that mood won't leave you and you need to work on it all day.
      The best thing to do first is to take a minute or two to pray for what you need that day. Patience. A better mood. Cooperation. A little joy. Or sometimes you don't know, but He does. Include the kids in the prayer if you like. I have to admit that I forget this sometimes and those days just aren't as good - I have to leave my favorite prayer book out to remind myself.
      Then try to do easy stuff you all can enjoy as much as possible to avoid spreading crankiness. Play in the yard instead of going to the park. Skip the errands if you can. Use the emergency frozen pizza for lunch (or dinner). Let them turn into little prunes in the bath with extra bubble stuff while you sit beside it with a book (or blow bubbles at them).
      Play some nice music - whatever will pick you up (it's hard to be too cranky listening to Pachelbel, or watching your kids dance happily to the Beatles). Hide noisy toys if necessary. Let them watch some TV (thank you PBS). Or get out those markers that won't color on anything but special paper.
      My girls are usually fairly understanding when I say "Mommy needs a break for a bit, please play nicely for a while" or "Mommy needs to sit and drink her coffee; she's tired today". Let them cuddle you while you rest. Let them know when their cooperation has made you feel better. Sometimes I'm surprised how good they are at entertaining themselves when they're assured that Mommy is just there. Not necessarily doing stuff with them, but not off getting things done either - you're there to smile at them when they look at you. Try to quite worrying about stuff, sit back, watch your kids playing, and think about how much they love you and you love them. Hopefully you'll get a little pick-me-up before you have to play referee...
      Mommies have to know limits. Kids' limits. Their own limits. You know not to try to make your kids do more than they're capable of - follow the same rule for yourself. It might not always work. But take a few deep breaths. And give yourself and your kids a break! You deserve it. That's what I tell myself! And at 30 weeks pregnant, we've been working around Mommy's limits a lot these days.