Oh. My. Goodness. Yesterday I was pushed to the limit - and I certainly didn't feel like being a peaceful parent! Here's how it went down…
#1 (5yrs) had a friend round in the morning. He was quite excited before the friend arrived, but nothing out of the ordinary. They hadn't seen each other for a while - it was an old friend from nursery, and as it was the half term holiday, it seemed like a good time for a catch up.
#1 was a bit bouncy when said friend arrived, and they got to playing in the lounge whilst we grown ups said our hellos and occupied the little ones a bit. There was a bit of an upset about the distribution of some building materials, but that calmed down and we brought out some biscuits which gave us all a moment away from the playing. Normal service was soon resumed, and off they tootled to have a bit of a play upstairs…
Now, admittedly it was quite loud up there, and yes, retrospectively we did ponder that maybe, just maybe (!) we should have checked in on them. But we don't mind a bit of mess with the play, and with 10 minutes of all mucking in at the end, we can usually get things pretty much sorted without too much trouble. But oh! When we got up there, we realised it wasn't just 'a bit of mess'. It was the towering mess mountain to end all mess mountains! They had gathered just about every toy they could find (from #1/#2's shared room, from the (baby's) boxes on the landing, from the baby's room), heaps of clothes (from our bedroom, PJs from the landing, clean clothes waiting to be put away, all #1's clothes from his clothes drawer), #3's nappy changing cloths etc, water beakers, and all of the bedclothes from all of the beds - and muddled and mixed and heaved and heaped them into a massive pile in #1/#2's bedroom.
At first I was a bit stunned. Then the reality began to sink in - I was fuming!!! I know it's only mess - my issue is the time it takes to clear it all up (whether it's me, or whether the kids pitch in), as I already feel stretched right to the limit at the moment with everything that needs doing. Anyway, I really didn't want to go off on one about it as I knew it would in no way help (however much I wanted to say "What were you thinking??!!!"), so I limited myself to saying "I am feeling very angry right now about what's happened" or some such - repeated a few times in varying forms I must admit!! Ok, as I said to the mother of the friend, I was not going to manage to be the most peaceful parent, and there was definitely a cross element of 'These toys need to be cleared away now!!' which I am not massively happy with, but I'm still working on these things, and all told I think I did fairly well holding it together, whilst feeling completely overwhelmed by the task ahead of us!
So, we all tackled the mountain (whilst trying to support poor #3 (10m) who was rather tired and upset by this point), and I heard #2 (2yr9m) telling her big brother that she was 'very cross that he had taken all the bedding off her bed' (you go, #2, with expressing yourself!!), but we eventually ended up running out of time, and just had to stuff everything remaining into the empty boxes/drawers etc it had come out of. Sigh. That's a job for another day then.
Half an hour or so later, over lunch, #1 and I had a chat. At this point he hadn't yet shown any real contrition or remorse, apart from not wanting to meet my gaze too much upstairs! (Oh, and he did seem to reach out to me by giving me a sticker once we'd got downstairs again.) I was feeling much calmer by now, so I explained why I was so cross, and expressed my concerns over what we would do about the remaining mess. It was great that #1 was happy to discuss it without fear of blame, and it was good to then hear him get from 'I'm cross with myself for doing it', via 'I don't think I'll do it again', to 'maybe I could start clearing some of it away in quiet time'.
I like to think that me staying as calm as I did in the initial discovery of Mess Mountain (as it shall henceforth be known in our house!), was a great aid to keeping our subsequent discussions respectful and productive. Believe me, inside I really really reeeeaaaallllly wanted to screech like a banshee about what a terrible thing it was to do, and to hand out punishments left, right and centre. If I hadn't known how not useful punishments are, I think I would have issued one - just to get back at #1 for this dreadful inconvenience he had caused me. I also held on tight to how much I wanted to maintain the connection between us, and kept reminding myself not to say something I might regret. It was by no means perfectly handled, but it could have been so so much worse from my end!
So, what did I learn from all this?
- I can stay calm (ish), even in the face of (for me) a seemingly overwhelming situation
- Staying calm is vital when trying to resolve a problem without recrimination
- I have to work very hard to stay calm!
- Leaving a gap before discussing the issue is good to get away from the emotion of it all a bit
- A very useful strategy for me is to offload on a (non-judgemental) adult (I rang my OH as soon as I could!)
- Having friends with similar views to you is an absolute godsend in this sort of situation!!! (For example, I felt there was no judgement in either direction about the children's motives (just that they'd made a not-the-best-ever decision), nor about the way we both handled the situation)
- Our family's ongoing efforts to declutter and simplify are a loooooooooooong way from finished (how is it possible to have so much stuff?!!)
- I can think I'm calm about a situation, but returning to the situation can make the emotions flare up again - seeing the leftover mess when we went upstairs to get ready for bed that night really put me in a grump again! That's going to be one to watch out for in future - and to prepare myself for if I have to return to the scene of a crime!!
Other articles you might be interested in:
- Ideas for staying on an even keel: How To Return To Gentle Parenting Intentions During Times of Stress
- On why we yell: Yelling (Part I)
- Why punishment isn't a good idea - although I'm probably preaching to the converted! What Is Discipline? Also the more in-depth Punitive Damages
- Great tips here to help with decluttering: 15 Great Decluttering Tips