I was all set up for success when I sat down for my very important client call:
A huge plateful of snacks...check!
Two really fun play activity invitations...golden!
My parents on standby for facetime babysitting...yes!
But I made one fatal mistake: I didn’t lock the door. 😖 🤪
No, of COURSE not! Why would I want to lock the door to my home office when trying to have just one hour of uninterrupted work in front of a very important client when home alone with my four year old while my husband is out with his drum circle???
I won’t say in all honesty that I didn’t consider it.
But, all jokes aside, this is a real problem for a lot of working moms out there.
Already before the pandemic, we had been expected to be the sole caregivers, happy homemakers, perfectly calm and patient souls while also, in our post feminist era, expected to be groundbreaking professionals climbing the ladder of success and glory. I am not excluded from the-wanting-to-have-it-all complex that us mamas live in.
In my perfect day, I would want to be able to start off with yoga followed by an hour of meditation while also having beautiful, healthy snacks and breakfast ready for delivery, three pinterest worthy play activities ready at any given moment while also rocking it with every single client I am blessed to support. I would have a daily walk through the woods and meet an ongoing cycle of friends for coffee, then like clockwork, cook an amazing dinner and have a perfect bedtime. In this fantasy, I would also probably be in the perfectly boho home office with a completely outfitted montessori style house, chickens and a goat in the yard, a thriving organic garden, perfectly supportive husband and an amazing, hot sex life. I would flawlessly flow through my work in time to donate to the local shelter for battered women and volunteer my time with the homeless too.
And in this beautific scenario, my client meeting would have been gloriously uninterrupted, we would have had several breakthroughs, and then I would have happily gone upstairs to discover my four year old sweetly munching on a celery stick while building the equivalent of the Taj Mahal out of magnatiles. She would run up to me, give me the biggest hug then say, “I know you were working hard, mama, so I will keep playing and you go take a nap before cooking.”
But we all know this is only the reality in magazines and Lifetime movies. The truth of what happened that day is this:
The first interruption was because she’d already finished the piles of food I’d prepped for her and now she wanted to wash the strawberries. I gracefully maneuvered that one and somehow convinced her to wash them herself.
The next knock on the door was to tell me she no longer wanted to facetime with the grandparents.
Then it was a costume change into a Belle dress followed by wanting to sit on my lap and then not knowing what to play and the grand finale was completely terror filled screaming at the top of the stairs. Oh! And how could I forget that we had also been interrupted so I could help her wipe her #2!!!
All I had needed was one hour to do my work.
And you know what else? This is an assumption, but I am pretty sure that all of these interruptions would have happened even if my husband had been home. Not his fault at all! But, you know… the mama thing.
My client had graciously and kindly humored me through the entire building storm.
Now, I could have been extremely embarrassed. Here I am, a PARENT COACH for god's sake, and my child is throwing every punch in the book! I am supposed to be leading my client through gaining a calmer, more confident and connected parenthood.
What would you do in this situation?
I could have cancelled the meeting and rescheduled.
I could have apologized profusely.
I could have yelled at my child.
Cried in the closet afterwards.
Been worried that my entire image has been shot.
Called my husband angrily shaming him for taking that one evening to himself
Stayed up all night worried and ashamed that my client was going to quit on me. After all, if THIS is her parent coach??
But no. Instead, the experience was incredibly uplifting and powerful. This is why:
I stayed ALIGNED with my truth.
I was honest about what I needed and was unapologetically grateful about getting it. I was accepting of the (massive) imperfection and owning it completely. I was also able to laugh at the ludicracy of the situation.
And you know what happened then?
My client ended up being all the more impressed, said she learned so much from me, was so grateful to have witnessed these encounters!! She was so inspired that we ended up spending the first half of the next session excitedly chatting about the lessons we both had learned.
She shared that up to that moment she had been judging her parenting against mine, second guessing herself and assuming that I led a blissful, perfect happy mamahood. She had been thinking that surely because of all of my expertise I must have a perfectly behaved child - not the banshee she got the pleasure of hearing, shrieking “I hate this family!! Save me!” by the top of our session!
No, she instead saw that my child is just like hers.
The difference? My perspective.
The huge difference that changed everything was in the way I approached it.
Because for me, this moment was frustrating, of course. But it was also a very empowering opportunity. It was a perfect example of the work that I do to help parents peel back the layers of lies that we tell ourselves about how parenting should and can look and feel:
The lies we tell about perfection. (no such thing)
The lies we tell about failure. (this is just learning and growing)
The lies we tell about enoughness. (we are always enough!!)
About what a “good” parent does. (no such thing!)
No, there is only one real truth about parenting and it is this:
As long as we follow our inner Knowing at all times, we will be more than ok. We will be aligned! We will be balanced. And we will be true.
When we are challenged by the messiest, most overwhelming of parenting situations, we have a simple choice to make every time. We can approach that same messy room with the overflowing laundry and the two kids screaming at each other in the corner, the partner glaring at us that dinner isn’t ready and the tax paperwork looming in the background -- with either self shame, guilt, anger, and fear…or with overflowing, unconditional self love and compassion.
It is up to us.
And then that same situation: the same screaming kids and the same overflowing laundry basket become something else entirely. They become beautiful. Perfect. We remain enough! And we get to simply continue trying to be our own version of enough at any given moment. That version doesn’t have to match the enoughness of the day before either! It just gets to be. WE get to be.
And the next time our working from home, alone with our children client meeting explodes in our faces we get to model who and what we want for our children to be in this world again and again:
Imperfectly beautiful, messily unsure, and simply and utterly and completely themselves.
This is what happens when we follow our parenting knowing. When we make the story about who our children actually are and not what we hope for them to be. When we honor their story. And when we act bravely enough to allow ourselves to be enough in our roles as parents.
You might also be interested by the end of the story with what happened after the meeting:
Well, I hung up the call and found my 4.5yo shrieking "I'm stuck!" like crazy, crying big huge tears with a puffy red face. It was all because she had wanted to bring a wooden wagon down the stairs and she needed my help and wouldn't wait. It sounded like she was being attacked by coyotes.
So I went to her and calmly gave her emotional vocabulary to express what she might have been feeling, with conditional, unassumptive language: "You seem frustrated that you had to wait for my help. It is hard to have to wait. You are safe. When you are ready, we can talk." I tried to touch her and she didn't want that so I said "I can either give you space or stay near you, what do you want?"
She wouldn't respond so I gave space and brought her water (a rapid reset) and waited patiently. Then, when she calmed down enough I named my mistake in not preparing her for being alone properly and apologized, named that her dad had set her up with ice cream, grandparents, and the message that I was with a client and that I had hoped that would be enough, and then diffused with silliness and played a "when can you interrupt me and when you shouldn't game" with examples like what if aliens came, should you interrupt me then? How about to tell me your favorite color is green? How about to remind me that cows go moo? When I’d gotten her to laugh a bit and she was calmer, we shifted to more practical choices like helping her wipe vs. wanting some strawberries and wanting to go to play outside vs. playing on our porch.
Then when she was totally calm, I asked her to share what she needed and was hoping for next time, which was a hug from me. So we practiced her coming to me for a silent hug, letting me continue the meeting, and leaving when she felt complete. I repeated the plan for next time again: Step 1 - decide if what she needs is a good reason to interrupt Step 2 - if it is, do it, if it isn't keep playing Step 3 - we can always do a silent hug! Then we celebrated our problem solving with the choice of a handshake, high five or a hug.
I hope this anecdote gives a small window into some of the work we can do around how to help our children be seen and heard and help ourselves not take things personally.
And I hope that next time you come across your own incredibly messy, overwhelming, shaming parenting moment that you remember this story and are able to approach it from a different perspective: one of playfulness instead of pain, of self compassion instead of shame, of confidence instead of guilt. One, simply, of alignment with your Knowing!
Sivanne Lieber is a parent coach, progressive educator, mama and early childhood specialist. But most of all, she is a PLAY enabler. Following nearly two decades in the classroom she now supports children through her work as The Joyous Parent, Sivanne guides parents to be confident they are raising creative, resilient LIFE ready kids...through the art of play! Check out her work and join the joyous journey on @thejoyousparent on FB and Instagram and www.thejoyousparent.com. Get ready to join the play revolution!
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