I know that some days, maybe most days, you feel ill-equipped to parent any child, let alone a higher needs child. I know that some days, maybe most days, you feel drained, battered, bruised and you fear how closely you’ve come to completely losing it with your children because of this. I know that your brain whispers fallacies and the gut-wrenching lie that you are an awful parent.
The 3 year old was apparently drinking plenty of fluids and staying hydrated, which I suppose I could have been thankful for. But, we were camping. The pit toilet was a decent walk away. I’m currently experiencing foot issues, so my left foot is encumbered with a big, clunky, walking boot. While my children think that’s awesome and have taken to calling me “pirate”, it makes for some uncomfortable walking. All 3 Fringy kids were playing together nicely and making friends with other camping kiddos nearby. Which meant I deluded myself into thinking that I might actually get to sit and simply read a book.
Enters the 3 year old. Every 15-30 minutes the kid needed to pee. I’d see Chimp walking up, pained expression on his face, hands grabbing onto his unmentionable parts, and whining, “I need to go potty!”
The first couple of times I’d simply say, “OK, let’s go!” and walk with him over to the toilet. But, after the 4th or 5th time, my patience was wearing thin, I’d only gotten 2 pages read in the book, and I was getting tired of lugging my pirate leg over to the smelly, hole in the ground, which barely passed for a bathroom. My body language and tone of voice were obviously not masking the frustration and impatience I was feeling. Probably saying, “seriously, chimp?! You just went ten minutes ago!” with an exasperated voice didn’t help matters either.
And so, Chimp apologized. He looked quite upset that he was disappointing and inconveniencing me as he said, “I’m so sorry mom.”
And it struck me. My 3 year old was apologizing to me because he had to go to the bathroom. His body had to expel toxins and fluids and I was inadvertently shaming him for this because I wanted to sit and read a book. Yep – everyone else just take your names out of the running, I have officially won “mom of the year”.
Don’t read me wrong, I’m not beating myself up (maybe just a tiny bit at first, but I’m over it now). Nope – I’m simply using this as a wake up call. The truth is, the unending potty trips are not the only times my Chimp is greeted with an exasperated, frustrated response from me. He is the kiddo that talks non-stop. And I am not exaggerating about this. Ironically, as I’m typing, he’s sitting next to me playing a game on my tablet and . . . talking. Not to anyone or anything in particular. He just talks. And with his talking comes endless questions and requests and “mom! Watch this!”’s and needs and more questions and storytellings and . . . and . . . and . . . it is endless.
Most times I can be patient for the first 10 minutes. But then, he inevitably hears, “Chimp! What?!” come impatiently from my mouth. At which point, he usually responds, “Mom? I love you.” And snuggles in for a hug.
Chimp has the (mis)fortune of being my preschooler after I’ve been a baby/toddler/preschooler mom for over a decade. I’m tired. The incessant physical neediness of these early years of life are tiring as a parent. But, he hasn’t been a preschooler for the past decade. And he won’t be a preschooler for very much longer. It really is kinda unfair for me to forget that he simply needs more of my physical assistance right now.
He also has the (mis)fortune of being psychomotorly intense with a mom who is very introverted, as well as sensually and emotionally intense. My introverted, intense self can only handle the incessant noise of his sweet voice for so long. But, again, that’s not his fault. Nor is it his fault that his older sister requires a lot of my energy and time. I’m trying to hold it together for her so frequently that I simply don’t feel I have the energy to listen to his chatter, answer his questions, or wipe his bum one more time. There are a lot of demands on me. But, he’s just a little Chimp who needs his mom . . . and to go to the bathroom.
So, I’m going to suck it up and intentionally give him joyful parenting on the terms that he requires. And I’m going to do this in the following ways:
FIRST – I’m going to revitalize myself. I’m going to actually prioritize my own self care. I will wake up earlier in the mornings for quiet, peaceful time to recharge before the day even begins. I will take mommy-time-outs so I can be all by myself for even five minute stretches to be filled with peaceful rest before my kids put me on mommy-time-out so I stop yelling.
SECOND – I’m going to be mindful. I’m going to stay in the moment and be present. Instead of following my brain’s random thoughts and to-do-lists that aren’t related to the task or person in front of me, I’m going to breathe and refocus on the here and now. The other stuff will have their turn for my attention.
THIRD – I’m going to work and play in intervals. Like interval training, where you can keep sprinting because you know it’s only for a short period of time, I am able to stay more mindful of the here and now when I know it is temporary and there are set times ready for me to address the other stuff on my brain’s eternal to-do list.
FOURTH – I’m going to purposefully choose a mindset of joy, curiosity, and childishness while I’m with my Chimp. We do have the power to choose our frame of mind – we just have to choose it over and over and over again.
FIFTH – I’m going to do all these things until I don’t. Which means, at some point this afternoon I won’t be doing them anymore. And, when that happens, I will practice self-compassion. Just as Chimp can’t yet go potty all by himself, I can’t yet (or ever) parent joyfully 100% of the time. And there’s room for compassion in that.
OR – I’ll go buy some earplugs, make Cub take Chimp to the bathroom, and get back to my book.
In the interest of being REAL, we’re going to give you REAL in REAL-time.
In the space of this past week, the readership of the Fringy Bit blog jumped over 5000%. Seriously. I’m geeky enough that I did the math. And that’s great. I love that more Fringy Families are able to support each other. I love that the words I spew out on the keyboard resonate with people. I love that I’m not the only one living this type of Fringy life.
On the evening of the day when things really exploded, I returned home from working at the practice to find that my loving husband had already poured me a glass of wine. Now, you’d think this would have been a congratulatory pouring of red, but nope. My husband knows me better than that. It was a glass of wine to help take the edge off just a little bit. He assumed I’d be freaking out and he assumed correctly.
I’d called my best friend earlier in the day and said, “I need you! I’m totally overwhelmed and can’t wrap my mind around this. People from around the world are writing and asking for my opinion and engaging in debate . . . with me. Do they realize I’m just a meager therapist, living life on the fringes, and usually spend my evenings watching Orange is the New Black with my hair up in a messy bun wearing sweatpants? Do they realize that just yesterday I flipped out at my kids and really don’t do this any better than anyone else?!”
The thought that people, literally, around the world were reading my random start-up project of a blog made my teeth sweat from anxiety. Correction. The feeling that people around the world were reading my blog made my teeth sweat from anxiety.
The truth is, my mind knows that I’m competent. My mind knows that I’ve had the training and experience to help support families. My mind knows that I’ve spent countless hours reading and studying and attending conferences and trainings. My mind knows that I know this stuff, both personally and professionally.
But my gut? My gut feels like at some point, someone is going to call shenanigans and reveal that I’ve had it wrong all this time. My gut feels like I’m still that shaky little girl trying to hide from the spotlight. My gut feels like I’m an imposter.
There’s technically a term for this, I suppose. Imposter syndrome. Self-doubt. Really it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It feels kinda cruddy. And I’m not writing about it to be self-important or presumptuous. I'm writing about it because I know that nearly everyone has felt this way at some point in their life. I know that the gifted kids I work with feel it all the time (“people tell me I’m smart, but I don’t think I am. I feel pretty stupid”). I know that many parents I work with can be paralyzed with self-doubt (“everyone tells me I’m a good parent, but I’m really just a fraud. What would they think if they saw me when I yelled at my kid for not brushing his teeth?!”). I know that fringy parents, especially, can feel like imposters (“people keep complimenting me on how much patience I have, but they don’t see what happens when we’re not in public!”)
So, what can we do about it?
We step out there even when we feel afraid. The biggest difference I’ve noticed between people who have more of the life they want and people who don’t, is whether or not they’re willing to be uncomfortable and step into fear.
We surround ourselves with positive, uplifting, and encouraging people. Jon knew exactly what I needed in that moment – a hug, an affirming word, and a glass of wine. Rachel left me a voicemail which will never be deleted in which she said all the right words to quiet that doubting voice in my head. And not only do we surround ourselves with these people – but we reach out and ask for support and help when we need it.
We acknowledge the anxiety, the fear, the doubt. We mindfully notice it and then let it pass on its way. We can’t control what pops into our minds, but we can control what we do with it. And we can either dwell on it and believe it, or choose to notice it and let it slip away. And, yes, sometimes we need to choose to notice it and let it slip away every 5 seconds before it actually slips away and stays away.
We choose not to judge ourselves for judging ourselves. When we are filled with self-doubt, judging ourselves for feeling that way is certainly not going to help. Be kind. Be compassionate. What would you tell your friend in a similar circumstance?
We remind ourselves that no matter what, we’re going to be ok. The worst case scenario rarely happens, and even when it does, we usually come out ok (and even stronger) on the other side.
We remind ourselves that everything is temporary. The pleasant will fade away and the unpleasant will also fade away. The majority of the extra abundance of Fringy Bit readers will probably not be reading this post (though some of you for sure have stuck around, and to you, we say “welcome! And we’re glad to have you!”). There may be another trip around the world for another blogpost of ours, or there might not. Everything is temporary and all will be well.
We take deep breathes and we just keep plugging away.
And, perhaps most importantly, we remind ourselves that everyone has moments of self-doubt. Everyone’s voice is important. Everyone feels in over their heads at some point, or that cliché wouldn’t exist. And when we can remind ourselves of that, we can be REAL. And when we’re REAL with each other, well, that’s when true connection and freedom happens.