Here is May’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
With Mother’s Day this month, I’m realizing I’m not always being the kind of mother I want to be. I yell more than I’d like, I’m not always as patient or kind or attentive as I want to be. How can I turn things around?
Signed, Exasperated Mom
I think most parents feel this way at some point or another. It’s hard to be as kind, patient, and consistent as we want to be as parents when the stress of daily life makes it feel like the to-do list will never be done. The first thing I will suggest is to make sure you are taking good care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, get some exercise, and have time for things you enjoy (movies, running, knitting, reading, etc.). Everyone needs stress relief so they can function at their best. Small efforts to “fill your tank” will go a long way in helping you be a better mom.
I will also suggest visualizing how you want to act as a mother. When you wake up in the morning, take 60 seconds to sit or lay in bed and picture yourself kindly, patiently interacting with your kids. As you drive home from work or errands, visualize yourself mothering in the way you value. The more intentional you can be, the more you will respond to your kids in ways you like, and not just react to them out of stress or impatience.
Here are a few other suggestions I often use with clients:
1. Whisper instead of yell. Getting down to your kid’s eye level and quietly but firmly giving them a directive can be much more effective than yelling. It models self-control, it shows them you have the power (when you yell and seem out of control it can seem like they have the power to drive you to the point of losing it), it reduces any fear kids might have about loud yelling and that overall chaotic feel of a house filled with yelling, and it eliminates the humiliation kids feel when yelled at in public.
2. 5:1 ratio of positive/affirming comments to corrective/negative comments. Catch your child being good. Notice when they are kind, polite, caring, funny. “Thank you for waiting patiently.” “Wow, your picture is so colorful.” “That was a funny joke.” “I love to listen to you sing.” Kids and adults need lots of positive affirmation every day.
3. Spend time with your child playing and being in the moment. We all have those days where it feels like all we do is boss our kids around and try to contain the chaos. Today, create opportunities where you can simply enjoy life with your child. Go for a nature walk and look at leaves and flowers. (Be patient, go slow, look at all the bugs and dandelions your kid points out.) Go to a park and play tag. Color together. Ride bikes. Be in the moment. Choose not to juggle laundry, phone calls, and paying attention to your child. Find 10 or 20 or 30 minutes a couple of times today that can be all about being in relationship with them.
The fact that you are aware of your mothering behaviors and want better for your family tells me you are already a pretty wonderful mom!
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.