Ok, so this isn't going to exactly be the useful-strategy-filled post I was hoping to do, but here is a typical, got-to-get-out-of-the-house-by-a-certain-time-man-I-hate-the-school-run morning!
We get up, after a particularly bad night (#3 feeding all night as usual, #2 feeling a bit rotten with a cough and a temperature, me with a cough keeping me and my OH up half the night - joy!), and we get up to WW3. This is quite normal in our house at the moment it would seem. If it isn't complete chaotic pandemonium, we tend to wander around in a bit of a daze, muttering about how quiet it is, and holding our collective breath hoping that the peace lasts just a little bit longer.
Now, don't get me wrong: most of the time, our kids do actually get along, and sometimes, just sometimes, all three of them even play together fairly cooperatively (well, the older two include the baby somehow in whatever they're doing anyway!). But when it's bad, it really can be bad! And when you're trying to handle it on not much sleep… Well, that just magnifies it, doesn't it?
Anyway, it was definitely not peaceful this morning. #2 (3yrs) was very grizzly and under the weather (needing cuddles, and being very much the victim if anyone so much as looked at her in the wrong way). #3 (18m) was doing his usual trick of (of course) wanting whatever the others were playing with, and giving them the odd poke etc to see how they would react (not well mostly, just in case you were wondering!). And #1 (6yrs) is just wild in the mornings - it's rather like he's looking for a fight (I think he probably is actually - just to let out some of his pent up whatever-it-is that is stopping him from thinking straight).
Anyway, my OH was due to head off a bit early, but we just about managed to get downstairs before he left, which means he can help us all get to the table (why is that such a feat these days anyway?!!).
Now by this point, I am managing to be responsive, but I wouldn't say particularly warm (for example, my OH said 'Love you!' as he left, to which I grunted 'You too - in so far as I can feel love after this morning's shenanigans' - good job he knows I'm only joking!!). So far, I have used a few strategies and done a few things to help myself stay calm and get stuff done and be responsive (and occasionally warm!) towards my kids… I took a few minutes before joining the melee upstairs to empty the dishwasher/washing machine/drying up rack, and make cups of tea for me and my OH - getting these few bits done sets me up for the day's clearing up, and stops me getting quite so overwhelmed by it all later! (The tea is probably self explanatory!!) I mentally prepared myself (having heard the ruckus!) before heading upstairs - I knew we were in for it, so at least I started from the strongest place I could! I made sure that I regularly took a few moments to breathe (and drink tea) when it was all starting to get a bit overwhelming. And I tried to remind myself what sorts of reactions/responses I wanted my kids to be seeing from me at various points (i.e. warm and understanding, not shouty and cross!).
So we have breakfast, and the various and multitudinous demands on me are starting to take their toll (people dropping/spilling/needing things - you know what I mean!), and I am definitely getting more dragged down by the minute - I'm usually exhausted come about 8 o'clock in the morning! But I managed to get the table cleared (doesn't always happen before the school run), and, by some small miracle, I also somehow got the washing up done! So that gave me a moment to gather my thoughts and energy!
Then the alarm goes off on my phone (actually, that's quite useful for things like the school run, as it's regular and predictable, and everyone knows what it means - and I can blame it being time to go on the alarm!), and in theory we now all start getting ready to go. Now, this is the bit where I know I tend to lose my cool if I'm going to, so here's what I do:
- Remember that this is the bit where I tend to lose my cool if I'm going to!
- Leave lots of time for getting ready - enough that I could ultimately get each child ready one-on-one myself if I have to - about 20 minutes before we need to be out of the door works well for us at the moment
- Remind myself (repeatedly) that outside time pressures are unnatural as far as children are concerned, and the fact that we have to be somewhere at a certain time is not their problem
- Give a warning that it will be time to get ready in 1 minute
- Make sure everybody has actually heard!! (Use each child's name if necessary, and if I think the 'ok' response I get is automatic, ask them what I've just said)
- Start getting myself ready
- Let the children know that it is actually time - #2 and #3 are usually fairly keen to get started, but #1 is something of a thinker and tends to be engrossed in what he's doing. I often need to remember to come to him, use a touch (e.g. hand on his shoulder) and his name, wait until he is looking at me, and then repeat that 'It's time to get ready'
- Remind myself again that it's not their fault that we have to go (intersperse amongst other steps frequently as needed!)
- From here on in, I am prepared to help each child as much as needed - this is not the time as far as I'm concerned to be insisting they put their own shoes on just because I know they can. Usually they do (and I will ask them to have a try in the first instance if they ask me to do it), but if not, I will cheerfully (usually!) help - if I possibly can. If I can't, I try to be quite clear about that, and ask them to please do it themselves
- Breathe, breathe, and breathe again!
- Allow myself to feel frustrated that it's going soooooo flippin' slowly!
- Encourage/remind/help as needed
- And… We're off! A little grumpy and hot under the collar, and with an apology from me for that, but we're off!
I can by no means do all of these things all of the time, but even the occasional use of these sorts of strategies really does help me get through the tough times. I can't stress enough the importance for me of taking a moment's break before responding - even just one or two seconds can stop me reacting from an emotional place, and bring me back to a thinking place. It's a work in progress, but it really does work - if I remember to do it!
Other resources you might be interested in:
- What's the Difference Between Limits and Consequences? - I really like the bit in here about not just repeating yourself ad nauseum - something I definitely need to work on to avoid frustration!
- Sure Fire Tips: Make Your Morning Routine For School Run Smoother - lots of practical ideas here to help structure things to make it easier to get ready in the mornings
- Playlistening to get through the morning rush - not always possible (due to time - or lack of energy! - pressures), but making things playful both helps your/your child's moods, and moves things along much more easily