I had a bad day last week. Nothing special really, could've been any old day but it became a Snowball Day, the kind of day where every issue seems to snowball until my child's minor temper tantrum becomes Further Evidence of My Failure as a Mother and Her Future as a Adult Malcontent.  
I realized that I snowball these things, of course. It's not like it happens all on its own. When things are going poorly, I pack and roll and shove that snowball downhill with a running commentary in my head, every word adding more and more snow.

Oooh here we go again. I'm pretty sure the parenting books say I should have nixed this behavior, like, THREE YEARS AGO. How will she survive in the world if she acts like this in front of people who don't love every single hair on her head and even the ones on her back and up her nose? I suck at this mothering gig but also where's my medal for dealing with it EVERY DAY? Oh yes, and here are the complaints about the dinner I so lovingly planned and bought and cooked and she won't eat. She'll get some horrible disease as an adult because she never once knowingly touched a green vegetable to her mouth as a child blah blah blah

And then I feel guilty for feeling so terrible, because I am just so lucky.

Yeah. Sometimes it's not so fun being inside my head.

I've been wrestling with this for so long, this guilt over being fortunate compounded by more guilt when I'm unhappy despite all my good fortune. How ungrateful I am!

Obviously, I get nowhere with these thoughts or, at least, nowhere useful.

Whenever I'm having a hard time in my life, feeling stressed, overwhelmed or sad, I've always tried to shut down the crappy feelings and squeeze gratitude from my pores. When I am at my lowest, I've made myself list how lucky I am, how many reasons I have to be happy. This is supposed to be a gentle reality check and bring fresh perspective on my blessed position in life.

It does not feel like that. It makes me feel worse, each and every time, in a downward spiral of misery and guilt and shame.

Lose LOSE!

Then it dawned on me: when things are hard, I can simply let them be hard - but only factually. I can list them, dispassionately and without editorial comment. I can accept that I am struggling and will just have to muddle through until it gets better.  I do not force gratitude, but instead allow myself to simply list the suckitude.

So the former internal commentary now, forcibly, sounds like this:  She's still having a hard time with transitions. I will continue to love her through it, as best I can. She's still struggling with disliking most foods. I will continue to love her through it, as best I can.

Also, sadly, I realize I rarely give my positive emotions (I have a few! I do!) a push of their own.  When life is okay, I've begun seeking out those tiny moments of joy that can slip by so easily and try to magnify them and give them their own running commentary, a packed snowball PUSH of positivity.

Do you already do this? Why don't I already do this?

When holding E on my lap and reading to her, I make myself notice the scent of her hair and the feel of her soft hand on my forearm. I pause and focus on every positive thing I can think of:  I love this moment so much. I love HER. I love reading to her and how close we are and how smooth her skin is and how connected to her I feel. Every book we read deepens our bond and engages her brain. I let every single bodily sense flood with intensity and try to stay with those feelings and that moment as long as possible. My running positive commentary often feels... forced, odd, unusual.

This is sad, yes?

When listening to the girls agree and play together in the backseat of the car, taking turns and helping each other, I actively stop and breathe in and purposely think: They are working together. They love each other. They are learning how to communicate and share and appreciate one another. They have goodness and manners in them. I have taught them good things.

This intentional deep focus and positive extrapolation on the good stuff seems to make the positivity last, it gives the next hour or so a slight glow. If I gather enough of these moments, and try to snowball them, the other times, the times that could add up to despair or madness, seem to happen less frequently, even though, of course, they are probably just as frequent as any other day.

When they do occur, I will continue to love her through it, as best I can.


Shannon said...

I sooo appreciate this post this morning. I was sitting here, thinking to myself: "How can I keep doing this day after day? Is this what the rest of my life is going to be? Constantly telling myself to just wait it out, it will get better one day..." I sure hope one day comes soon. In the mean time, I am now eating nothing but chocolate, pizza, and frozen waffles, drinking coffee all day long - basically STUFFING THE UNHAPPINESS DOWN, which has never been my style. I'm usually the explosive emotive type, having to process every emotion out loud, but not anymore.

Thank you so much for sharing today. It helped. I REALLY did. I will try to do what you are doing and magnify and extend the positive moments (and there ARE lots) to help shore me up against the teeth grinding drudgery of 6 year old rages, refusal to eat anything I cook, and worsening ADHD by the day. Ta-Da!!! Super Mommy has a new strategy! Thanks CBHM!

Shannon said...

I meant - IT really did, not I really did :)

Doing My Best said...

You are so beautifully wise and eloquent! I need to work on snowballing the positive too!

Sarah said...

I was just thinking about this yesterday because, through no conscious mental effort but perhaps just remarkably good luck and maybe some kind of happy hormone surge, I had a Good Emotions Snowball day, full of happy moments with the kids and my family and no stress about piling up chores or physical discomfort or tantrums. As I was reflecting on it with amazement, I realized how sad it is that it's so RARE for me to let those happy moments cascade into each other and snowball into one great day, but so common that I let a few mishaps and squabbles turn into a day full of drudgery and resentment. I'm going to be working on this one with you!

Good Enough Mom said...

I'm with you, CBHM. I have these same struggles. If my kid hadn't puked all over my new car yesterday (hence needing to stay home from school today), I was going to write a blog about something perhaps similar...how to be present in your parenting while not losing yourself to it (I struggle with this, too...the burden of it all...the feeling of endless masochistic TORMENT of motherhood).

All I can say is that I don't think many people in today's world are good at this. I think there are moments of enjoyment, but lots of moments of struggle and even misery that so few parents will openly admit. I hear moms tell me, socially, how GRATEFUL they are to be staying home, as if they must present it that way. (Usually, they look like they are blinking back tears.) I always reply something like "really? that's amazing. I hated nearly every minute of it and tried not to resent my husband too much...but still resented him anyhow." Often I get a look of astonishment, like I have stated an unsayable truth. They often look relieved, honestly. And sometimes will then admit to how hard it is and how much they miss their former life.

I try to make it through (negative) snowball days by just ALLOWING whatever feelings I have to just be there. I try not to act them out, but instead to observe them (almost scientifically) to figure out what drove me into that state of mind. In these moments, I feel a little like Freud, doing my own self-analysis! Sometimes it helps, sometimes not.

I also go the gym as often as possible. I like my family more after sweating.

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