Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mindfulness: Front-Loading Patience into Your Day

I had a rough day yesterday. It was a Tuesday, and I only had a night class to meet for my job and my kids happened to have had the day off from their schools. Now, this was a good thing to me. I thought, "Wow, I'll sleep in, we'll chill out, read some books, have some meals, sit by the fire; It'll rock!" But it's just not how the day turned out.
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The day started with whining. Daylight Savings just ended and the 2 year old didn't get the memo that we get an extra hour of sleep in addition to having the day off for the big kids. Plus, we got to bed late and the baby was fussy all night. But the 6am whining started things off on a bad note.

When the big girls got up, there was more whining. Breakfast was taking too long, there were bad dreams, no one wants to take the dogs out, it's too cold, and on and on. I got a little bit of productivity into my morning by going for a run, but after that, the baby was up and I held onto her to let my wife sleep a little after a rough night. I became irritable, grumpy, and down.

I found myself begging for more patience. I even thought to myself that I've written about the value and necessity of patience over and over again--here and here, for example. I knew better than to get all bothered and grumpy, especially when my entire family needs me. Somehow, having this intellectual understanding of what was going on didn't help my mood, but actually hurt it. I felt like I was an utter failure for not being the "fun Dad," but rather, being a total grump.

Things got worse because while I was now grumpy, my kids were fed and happy. They started playing and it was all "too loud" and "too noisy" and annoying. Why should they get to be in good moods when they've already ruined mine?

The repercussions lasted the whole day. I was touched-out and had no patience for the slightest complaint or tattle. Did I really want to be the kind of a father that would rather his kids be at school on a day off? No!

I gave it more thought. It was easier to think while I was driving to work that night. And a few things dawned on me.

Usually, I wake up before the kids. Lately, I've tried to wake up and do some exercises and make lunches before getting the kids up for school. This, I think, steels me for the day a bit. If can ride out the initial whining and grumping that a hungry morning can bring, then I can enjoy things once they get better.

Second, I was expecting too much. I was expecting that because they had the day off, they would sleep in just a little and that they would take care of themselves for the day. But we work very hard to put our kids into a routine. I've worked to make them used to getting out of bed at 6:30. And school works hard to give them structure. I want them to be unstructured at home, but that means that chaos should be a bit more welcome than a grumpy father is willing do take.

Now, sleep is important. Being overly tired from a lack of sleep can really take its toll on you. But with a newborn in the house, there's not a lot that you can do about it on any particular night. It's out of your control.

I often tell my students who are noticeably dragging during an 8am class that the world starts at 8am, that they have to get going if they want to have any modicum of control over the course of their day. I think that it's probably okay to *try* to sleep in once in a while, but I think that I will have to be more tolerant in giving up my control and giving it to my kids and their moods. Sometimes they wake up happy, sometimes they wake up whiny. I can't control that--especially if they wake up before I do.

It's the harder decision to make--to face your day head-on and try and take control. But I think that I've learned that I can't let days go by where I don't feel good about myself or about what I do for my family. My wife is going to be tired from breastfeeding all night. My kids are going to be kids. I need to be more solid than I want to be if I'm going to take an active role in how the day goes.

Being a parent is not a job, it's a joy. But sometimes, taking joy in something takes hard work. I mourn the loss of my day yesterday, a day I could have spent having fun with my kids, that I instead spent being upset. I will focus on this, work, wake up, and do better. Being a parent is also a process. There's always time to try again.

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