Today was a tough one. In the grand scheme of all the tough days, it wasn’t near the top, but it was still tough. It was one of those days when the slow grind of parenting gets to me. It featured the usual suspects: broken sleep and a defiant toddler (caused by broken/little sleep). And there were new antagonists: a looming move, a cold, and an open house. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t in the greatest of moods after I finally got my little girls into bed. Then I made some space for myself. I put on some headphones and walked go around the block listening to some nineties R&B.
I was still strolling when I remembered a mantra that has been helpful on a few occasions over the last few years: They may have won the battle, but they haven’t won the war. I know I’m not at war with my kids — sometimes we’re negotiating, but there are never hostilities — but it can feel like a sustained campaign. And it is. As such, thinking in terms of the longer arc of the thing rather than dwelling on specific conflicts makes sense. There are things that I can do to break a bad mood and move forward. I’m writing them down here in part to remind myself.
The first thing I usually do is give myself a little time and space. So, so simple. When I’m in the throes of a perfectly terrible mood I can weaponize my feelings against others. Cue taking a stroll, chucking on some great tunes and just walking. (Strapped for time? Increase the speed of the walk. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes if you walk and hold as quick a pace as possible for that whole time.) I should give some credit here to Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahnemann, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, who is a proponent of this idea.
Act like a General
Generals learn from defeats and move forward. Whether, in the context of parenting, that means choosing to get more sleep or giving kids more of a heads up before heading out, it’s critical to not continue to fall in the same traps. It’s one thing to take a beating. It’s another to fail to learn anything from the experience.
Find the Funny
YouTube is great. Funny videos change lives. Find something that makes you laugh and put it on when you’re at your lowest. Smiling and laughing makes a difference. When I do this, my mood shifts. Family Feud clips work for me. Find something that works for you. (Then share them)
The truth is that we have everything we need to not just survive parenting, but enjoy it. Sometimes, we just need to step back for a second when things aren’t going our way.
Dan Steele is a teacher, school leader, and the founder of the education publication Upgrade Think Learn.