As a seven-year-old girl, I remember my grandpa coming over for the holidays and juggling whatever fruit he could find in our kitchen.
He taught me to juggle using not lemons, but tissues. The fruit was too big for my little-girl hands, but like a set of training wheels, I practiced with those tissues until my hand-eye coordination allowed me to float five in the air, rotating them hand to hand all at once.
When I became a parent at the age of 30, I found myself juggling again but this time the things flying perpetually around me were not tissues but diaper changes, breastfeeding, my work, my relationships, and eventually playdates, after-school activities, house-cleaning, and on and on and on — you know the drill.
Right from the start, it was a lot, and I felt like I was coming up short most days.
Fortunately, as I became a mom of two, and then three, and then four, somewhere along the way, I realized that I was not alone in the need to manage my painfully high expectations of myself and my children which left me feeling near-perpetual not-enoughness those first few years of motherhood.
A Generation Mindful community member mom recently wrote to me on Facebook, and I was reminded of those days spent learning to juggle as she shared about her night with me.
Rae’s night had been tough. She had been heading home from her mom’s house about an hour and a half later than usual, and her kids were hungry, tired, and off of their routines.
With her fourteen-month-old baby girl and five-year-old boy in the car, and five miles between her and home, her baby started screaming, which sent her noise-sensitive son Nick into a full-on downward spiral.
The mental effort that it takes to drive and not become overwhelmed with screaming children in the back seat is sizable, and it was all that Rae could do to breathe and to practice staying calm herself as she navigated the final few miles home.
When this frazzled mama finally got home, she gratefully handed her still screaming 14-month old child off to her firstborn, 11-year-old big sister Angela, so that she could work with her son Nick who was now darting towards the door, screaming that he missed his daddy, who was working out of state.
As her young son fell to the floor sobbing, Rae sat next to him and comforted him, validating his feelings.
The juggling proceeded.
With Nick now crying in her arms, the baby had started screaming all over again. Rae could hear loud and clear that this was now an “I’m hungry and sleepy” cry.
Two of her children were melting down. Two of her children needed her.
So this warrior of a mama continued to juggle, trusting her intuition to guide her even though she was finding it hard to catch her breath. She reminded herself that being perfect was not her goal — but that instead, being present was.
Rae brought her upset baby to breast, and just when she thought all was lost, something miraculous happened.
With all the chaos swirling about, Rae’s eldest child Angela went to sit in the family’s new calming corner, and that’s when it happened — that was when little brother (mid-tantrum) Nick followed along, with no prodding of any kind.
From the next room, Rae listened on as big sister guided little brother through the “What Can I Do” activity mat, an emotional awareness activity that came in their Time-In ToolKit.
After listening to her son choose the way he was feeling (sad), Rae could hear her son physically calming down from the next room.
Rae finished putting her youngest to sleep and joined her older two children in their Calming Corner. The three of them played “Simon Says” and wrestled a bit. They talked through a few of the PeaceMakers mantra cards that also came in the kit, including “I am kind,” cuddled, watched some funny animal videos on YouTube, and then went to bed.
Rae could not believe it.
She got online that night and shared her experience on Facebook, saying that it usually took Nick an hour to calm and process his emotions, especially when he was in sensory overwhelm as he had been that night — but that with the help of our Time-In ToolKit and his big sister’s example, on this night, he’d found his calm in just 25 minutes.
What made Rae happiest of all, was that the calming had been initiated by her son and her eleven-year-old daughter without her intervention or guidance.
Juggling our children’s emotions for them or reacting to them does not teach self-regulation.
Children learn these vital social and emotional skills in the context of their relationships; through loving limits, compassion, and empathy given in the difficult moments like this night that Rae was having, particularly when empathy does not feel at all “deserved”.
As parents of little ones, we may never move 100% past the feeling that we are juggling life and the many demands on our time, but we can rest into the knowledge that, though emotions can run high, we are making it safe for our kids to feel, and in doing so, giving our children and the entire world a great, great gift. The gift of a future self-aware, compassionate adult.
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