I was that mom recently, in the grocery story. You know the one, where her kids are out of control and you don’t want to make eye contact with anyone. I should have known better; what was i thinking bringing 2 kids to the grocery store to get supplies for supper. Egads, i even bargained with them to get their own stash of candy and snacks for the week.
My kids are not toddlers anymore, so either I should lower my expectation to hope that we can we get errands done after school, or they will never be able to get their beloved snacks. Right now, I’m leaning on the no snacks for a while.
Let me back up and explain myself, as i am usually the one to tell others to not take kids grocery shopping if they can help it. It was April Fool’s Day and as a nice surprise, i thought it would be more fun to play hookie from school and go hang out with my sister and kids for the day. My son was all over that – he hates Mondays and school (what a terrible combo, I’ll give him that) but my daughter was upset to miss school, or at least the jokes she was planning to make on friends at school. After a bit of work getting her onboard, we went to visit my parents. It’s a quick road trip away, and yet it always seems to bring with it some baggage – in this case, my son has outgrown the toys that remain at my parent’s home from my own childhood. He gets bored quickly when there isn’t a book to read. His boredom quickly turns to irritability which can spiral down pretty rapidly. This leads to sibling conflict that is so triggering for me – they get mean and uncooperative, and downright aggressive, to me and each other.
It can be hard to shift after big conflicts, and yet i knew i had to find a solution (aka distraction) quickly. When i suggested to play hide-and-seek, they had no idea of what amazing options were at their disposal. Living in a 100-year old house in Toronto means no closets, so our hiding spaces are limited. Not so in a newer house.
Luckily, we found a way to enjoy the rest of the day. That is, until we drove home and got stuck in traffic on the highway, and it slowed our commute down considerably. My kids were fine. I had some foresight, so I pre-planned and brought their tablets to play with while i drove. Since i don’t drive often on the highway, i feel a bit anxious, so i knew that i needed any help i could get.
It was during this drive that i was able to reflect on what i needed to regroup. I had thought that i could just drive while listening to my favourite playlist, and i would be back to the city. I was still irritable from the kids’ conflict at my parents, slightly stressed to drive on the highway, and i was so thirsty. It’s one thing to do a checklist and see how i’m feeling, but a whole other activity to take care of that need when stuck in a car with your kids, and you are the one that’s driving.
Once we got to the city, i knew i had to get groceries or we wouldn’t have food for dinner or lunches. My kids shared that they were onboard with going, and we made a deal to get things quickly. But once inside, it’s like my son realized that he could have more fun by being silly. Sure, that can help boring things go by more quickly, but at what expense? He put all sorts of things in the grocery cart (dog food, but we don’t have a dog, meat but we’re vegetarian, you get the idea). By the end of our 20 minute excursion, i was so done. I contemplated just ditching our groceries and going home empty-handed, but i knew that would mean more work for me ultimately.
I’ve been noticing that my anger (hyperaroused state in the great Window of Tolerance tool) has been escalating quickly lately, and the logical side of my brain knows the tools to do to help calm down. I am trying to catch it a bit sooner. I knew that the anger (dare i say rage even) was brewing inside when while i was bagging the goods at the cashier. I felt eyes and judgement on me but i kept breathing and reminding myself that I would be home in minutes. I just had to get home.
Our family practices non-violent communication instead of discipline. Sure, that means we are a talking-it-out family, and yet i know that taking their candy (that i did buy) wouldn’t tell them how they acted was inappropriate – it would just tell them that i took something away that they wanted and i had promised them. Of course, they didn’t EAT any of this said candy when we got home, but we sure did talk about expectations, being a better team, and how to honour the agreements we made.
As a therapist, i know what i should be doing to regulate my emotions. As an attachment-based parent, I know that my kids’ behaviour was telling me something, and as a feminist i know that i have a right to be angry when there is more work on my plate just by going to the store with my kids. It’s a lot to balance.
So, i choose self-compassion – while i couldn’t make eye contact with the other customers at the store (a few with kids in tow themselves), i still knew that i was not the only mom in the world who was having a hard time taking her kids to the grocery store. That common humanity helped me. So did the time i took to myself when we did get home.
And so did the candy that we bought, that i snuck in for myself before making dinner that evening.