I have heard from 2 to 3 mothers now and we are all experiencing the same thing: stress from trying to get us and our children on time to places like schools, play dates, lunch dates, bookstore and library story times… you name it. We get frustrated and end up being short with our children, often resulting in unhappy children and unhappy moms.
A friend’s experience recently was a good example of this. They were trying to get out the door to go somewhere, and the mom ended up being short with her daughter, a 2-year-old toddler. The child didn’t say much but her expression and subsequent reaction told it all. The mom could clearly tell that the child ended up not really enjoying herself at the story-time activity they were trying so hard to get to on time.
It is really amazing how much our children pick up on our vibes and stress levels, often even without us saying anything. One of my toddler’s first words was “hurry up”, probably because I said it so much (and continue to). I often find myself hurrying her to get ready to get out the door when she is content playing with a particular toy, or on to bed when she is happily chatting with me instead of brushing her teeth. Now that she’s older, she picks up on these vibes and asks,” Are you angry?” because my voice changes as she refuses to obey me for the 3rd time. Another friend’s older child asked her, “Are you frustrated?” when they were having trouble getting out the door for school one morning.
I don’t know what gets us so stressed. Is it our self image and desire to maintain a façade of competence? Perhaps there’s a pressure to appear “with it”, that is, an ability to handle multiple children and get to activities on time (or close to it), all the while maintaining perfect manicures and hairstyles. As another friend once put it, it’s like trying to be a duck: appearing calm and unruffled on the outside but paddling “like the dickens” underneath the water. Maybe it’s altruistic: we want our child to be exposed to as many activities as possible to discover and develop their blossoming talents in art, music, and sports. Perhaps it’s a selfish motivation; we really want the child out of the house, so that we can have a break, some time to ourselves and do the things that we really want to do. Maybe there is an unconscious, subtle fear and anxiousness in us, thinking that if we don’t make it to the activity, then we will be stuck at home with the bored toddler or child, who will then look to us to entertain them and help them expend their energy, all of which wears our energy and patience down even more and gives us less time to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; some self-preservation and self-care is a must and healthy, because it enables us to recharge and be better moms. But on the other hand, it can be taken to the extreme and our children wind up in so many activities during the week, that it has an ultimate negative impact on the child and parent. Perhaps it’s a pride issue; we expect our children to fall in line like good little soldiers and conform to everything we say or ask them to do, so they should conform to our timeline and sequence of events for the day. After all, our way is the best, right?
I know I’m guilty of many of these above-mentioned motivations. But whatever our underlying motives, one question remains: is all this stress and frustration worth it? I think the answer is a clear, “No.” So what can we do about it? Perhaps some activities need to be phased out of the weekly schedule, allowing less rushing about to get from one activity to another. Maybe we need to start earlier and allow a longer “get ready” time before going out the door. Or, we can start to make adjustments to our own expectations to accommodate to our child’s/toddler’s timeline. I’m trying to adjust now to a bit more of ‘Flexi-Time’. It’s difficult! Let’s face it – kids operate on their own sense of time. They really don’t operate according to ours. But maybe that’s a really good thing in the end.