‘It’s a battle to get the kids out the door. I feel exhausted and fundamentally flawed as a parent’
"There is no such thing as getting it right. Your children aren’t looking for you to be more than you are, they love and accept every bit about you."
Bethan O’Riordan is a psychotherapist with over 15 years experience. She is also a mum of three - two boys aged 11 and seven, and a girl aged nine. On IMAGE.ie she’ll be helping to make parenting simpler and less overwhelming by answering your questions and sharing practical tips to help you to be the parent you'd like to be.
Please help. Myself and my partner work full time and we have a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Both kids are in a creche. Every single morning is a battle to get out the door. They scream and resist each step from eating breakfast to brushing teeth. The negotiations never end. By the time 8.30am comes I am exhausted and at my wits end, and then I feel so guilty dropping them at the creche. I’m not sure I can keep doing this every day and I feel fundamentally flawed as a parent.
The first thing I’d like you to know is that this is all normal, every household experiences these morning difficulties. It’s normal because all children are learning their emotions which means crying, being overwhelmed and letting those around you know about it! The main role for parents is to help children learn the edges of life with gentle authority.
Before we get to the practical ‘how to’s’ with the children, follow the steps below and start to carve out a parenting style that works for your family.
- Children are looking for consistent and predictable relationships which means, you should respond in the same way as much as possible. You and your partner have to be on the same page. Have a conversation about who is doing what and keep things practical. Your relationship with your partner is evolving too and you’ve got to find your middle ground together.
- Watch what you say and how you say it. Over explanations and choices bamboozle children and often lead parents down a rabbit hole of wondering what they were actually saying in the first place. We’ve all been there! Children are looking for their parents to lead with a gentle authority and this means watching the tone of your voice, facial expressions and body language — as children this young mostly respond to these rather than words.
When you see any battles brewing, empathy is your best friend. A simple “I know you don’t want to get ready now” helps your child feel heard, validated and understood.
Now let’s move to practical steps to help, and remember that change takes time — it’s about being predictable and consistent and eventually the changes develop.
Stop doing the things that cause the battles. You are going to change how you respond by stopping battles becoming battles and see this change filter through over time.
Say to your children “ok, we are going to get dressed now”, if they respond with a “no!”, say “ok, but we will get dressed before creche”. Then leave it. Don’t comment, eye roll, sigh or pass remark that this happens every morning etc. Keep yourself calm and ask again a little while later. If getting dressed doesn’t happen, leave the clothes by the front door and just before you leave home, tell them a story about something else while you get them dressed to distract them. Make it playful, exciting and silly.
Do the same with the teeth.
You might want to practice this way of responding to their resistance at less high intensity times such as over the weekend. Take your time making these changes and play around with techniques that feel right for you as you see situations escalating. Distraction, singing any instructions and play can be amazing to take the edge off any intensity.
Finally, I want to talk about the part that feels flawed and guilty. You’re not alone in these feelings as unfortunately they too are part of motherhood. I remember being floored when I first experienced these feelings. In therapy we talk about the different ‘parts of us’ and this critical part raises its head as part of the initiation into motherhood.
Our brains are wired to think critical thoughts first, which is the largest obstacle to overcome in parenting. It’s not your fault that you feel flawed and guilty. You can practice going easy on yourself by developing your self-compassionate part. This is the part in all of us that’s committed to overcoming difficulties with kindness towards yourself.
What will help dial down these thoughts is to think about what you’d say to a friend in this situation and try hearing those words for yourself. Being kind to others is easier than it is to ourselves, so starting here is hopefully easier and gives the critical thinking less opportunity to come back with ammunition to override self-compassionate thinking.
There is no such thing as getting it right. Your children aren’t looking for you to be more than you are, they love and accept every bit about you. When a child is born, a mother is born too and it takes time to figure that out. Your children are looking for you to accept yourself, even the bits that don’t go how we’d like to, so that you can accept them when they develop parts they’re unsure of too.
Cultivating the relationship with yourself and your children takes time, but following the above steps will help you to be the person, and parent you’d like to be.