Mornings with my eight and five-year-old girls mirror the pit stop of a NASCAR Race. It’s a drill in getting dressed, eating breakfast, assembling backpacks, brushing hair and pushing kids out the door and into the car. And yes, I also sound like I’m in a race for my life spouting out phrases like “How many times do I have to tell you!” or “Hurry up, we’re late!”. The words shoot out from my lips like poisonous darts ready to infect the morning with their dangerous medicine. One jab can raise a kid’s cortisol levels and leave them cowering in fright or running in flight. And I also don’t look like Danica Patrick (model/the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing).
Like many of the parents with whom I work in my coaching practice, I recognize that in the morning hustle, I am being guided by unrealistic expectations and in the end, I wind up doing most of the work. Consequently, I drive off after dropping my kids at school feeling stressed, tired and like I’ve already put in a full day’s work. So last night I took a step back and asked a question of myself that I ask of my clients, “How do you want to behave?” My answer? I want to be loving, peaceful and understanding. I want to be less controlling. I want to put my agenda aside. In order for this to happen, I need to drop the expectations and take back the morning with a new vision of mothering. This is how it happened:
7:03 – My girls woke up and came out into the living room. After a few snuggles with me and the dog, they both sat on the couch and spent a few minutes waking up. I was an observer, not the taskmaster. I didn’t utter a word about needing to eat or get dressed. Instead I just listened and lovingly gave them space to just “be”.
7:10- When I had their attention, I asked both girls to look at the digital clock within view. “What time is it?”, I asked. My eight-year-old piped up right away with the answer. “What time do we normally leave for school?”, I questioned. To my surprise, neither of them had a clue (The reason being because I have been owning the experience, not them). “We head out the door at 7:50. So that means that you have 40 minutes to get ready this morning – eat, dress, brush hair, brush teeth. This morning I am not going to give any reminders. Pay attention to the time and be ready by 7:50.” The feeling of autonomy spread over their cheeks and wrapped their lips in a smile.
7:30 – Without reminders, both girls had eaten breakfast. They got their bowls, poured their own cereal and milk and finished eating.
7:38 –The girls weren’t dressed. Instead of delivering a “You need to…” statement, I referred back to the clock. “What time is it?” My older daughter immediately went to her room. My younger daughter continued doing headstands in the living room. My internal dialogue at this point: “Stay calm. Be understanding. Ask a question.” “Eden Paige, do you know where your clothes are?” “No, where are they?”, she replied. “They are on your bed.” “Oh!” she says. Then she grabs the dog and runs into her room.
7:50ish – (Allowing for a five minute grace period) My younger daughter still needs to put on her shoes and socks. My oldest daughter, unprompted, offers to help. Happy face.
Not only was I calm, loving and understanding, but I also made my own breakfast, had a cup of coffee, got dressed and read the paper (that last part is not true). It felt good to be the observer, the coach and the guide, instead of being the disciplinarian, the cop and the taskmaster. It wasn’t only a shift for me, but it was a shift for my kids. It was a nudge toward greater Well-Being for us all. Stay tuned tomorrow for “Mommy takes back the night” (you and I both know that is a pipe dream).
What values are most important for you to exemplify in the morning? How do you want to behave? What is one small step you can take to make it happen?