The house was a disaster.
Well, that’s a tad dramatic. It wasn’t really so bad—by my standards—but it was messy enough and I’d already cleaned up so many times that I struggled to hide my disappointment and frustration.
It was a Friday afternoon and Tara had been out of town for a week with a few days left before she’d get back home. I was exhausted. I’m not foolish enough to ask for sympathy, I know nothing about how hard being a single parent must be, but I’m a middle-aged computer nerd who loves routine. It’d been a long week.
Why did my kids leave empty water and soda bottles all around the house? How hard was it for them to throw them away? Why did they walk past toys and clothes on the floor instead of just taking two seconds to pick them up? Why did my older kids decide “cleaning up” after making mac ‘n cheese did not include cleaning the pot or putting it in the sink or even putting the milk in the fridge?
As parents, can we please admit our kids annoy us sometimes? That’s a universal reality we all share, right?
Isn’t it odd that they tend to be the worst when we want them to be their best? When we’re out in public they act like hooligans. When guests are over, they say and do the most embarrassing things. When we have important meetings or stressful situations at work, they’re louder and needier than ever!
I’ve often felt this way, but it’s almost never been true.
Almost every time I’m annoyed with my kids, something is going on in my world that’s out of the norm and that they don’t understand. When we’re out at a restaurant, they’re having fun with their family while I’m looking around wondering what people at the nearby tables think. When company is over, my kids don’t change much, but my expectations of them do. My kids are always loud and always (thankfully) want me to pay attention to them. When I’m stressed, they don’t change.
When I reflect on times that I have been annoyed by my kids, the vast majority of the time there was something going on in my world that had me off balance. Behavior that was amusing, cute, or at least tolerable in normal circumstances felt intentionally designed to bother me when my world wasn’t normal.
The next time your kids get under your skin, I encourage you to take a step back and look at what’s different. Why are you annoyed right now? What is it about their behavior in this situation and at this moment that isn’t acceptable? Is it uncharacteristic and inappropriate behavior that requires immediate correction? Or is it quite typical behavior that at this moment is embarrassing or distracting you?
My kids weren’t any different that Friday afternoon mentioned above than any other time. My world was different, and my expectations were different. Yes, I’d love for my kids to remember to put the milk away, but at the end of the day they’re kids, not robots, and in normal circumstance I would’ve realized that.
I’m still working on the skills of recognizing where my “parenting emotions” come from and I wish you the best and blessings on your journey, too!