1. Conquer my lizard brain
Back in 2015, when I sent myself to happiness boot camp, my first happiness reset sphere was parenting. At the time, E. and I were butting heads A LOT. It was a combination of a difficult developmental stage for him (no one is exaggerating when they talk about how miserable 3.5 can be), a lack of purpose for me (PhD finished, no job, no second baby), and very long, cold winter.
We had slipped into some very negative patterns in our relationship, and I knew things needed to change.
It was a bad phase, but we got through it and things did change and get better and, for the most part, things are a lot smoother chez Turia these days, even with the addition of P., the pint-sized tornado.
When I took a step back and looked critically at the way I interacted with E., I could point to this as the problem:
One of the things that I dislike the most about how I parent E. is how easily I get frustrated/irritated when he starts yelling or getting hugely upset (especially when it is over something that seems highly inconsequential to me). The moment I get frustrated, I feel my jaw clench, and my willingness to compromise or to not sweat the small stuff evaporates. Although I almost never yell, I do raise my voice. The minute I do, the situation escalates.
E. is very sensitive. Yelling doesn’t work. I know this, and I almost never yell at him in anger. But he is just as easily upset by a loud, stern voice, and I am guilty (very guilty) of resorting to using it, especially once my buttons have been pushed and I feel like I’m locked in a battle of wills that I must win.
It’s still the biggest problem in our relationship. I ask E. to do something, he refuses to do it, I ask a different way, he refuses again, I get frustrated and wham! Here comes my lizard brain, which sees danger around every corner, and suddenly my back is up and I’m dead set on winning whatever battle of wills we’re currently engaged in.
I am pretty sure it was Dr. Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting which first explained to me exactly what was going on in my brain when I would feel myself losing my temper over the most inconsequential of things (but I didn’t write any quotes down from the book, so I’m not 100% positive. I do remember thinking it was a really important book once I had finished it). Basically, when our children push our buttons, our lizard brain (the oldest, most instinct-driven part of our brain) rears up and takes charge. Lizard brain lives in fight-0r-flight mode. My beloved son is not a sabre-toothed tiger hiding in the grass, but when he’s arguing with me and my lizard brain kicks in, he might as well be.
I don’t feel like I have enough patience for E. a lot of the time. I think sometimes I am too quick to think of him as six-and-a-half-SO-big! instead of six-and-a-half-still-little. Maybe my expectations are too high, or maybe they’re reasonable for his age but he’s not yet able to meet them because of his own developmental arc. I do know I had so much more patience for defiance and meltdowns and hysterics when he was two, because I expected the behaviour.
I know my triggers: not enough sleep, not enough me-time or quiet, being hungry, or having him suddenly disagree about something when I wasn’t expecting it. I know it is developmentally normal for kids to push boundaries and to test their parents, but it’s very very hard for me to keep my lizard brain suppressed when he’s arguing with me or speaking rudely or refusing to do what I’ve asked. I almost always react too quickly and too strongly. I don’t give myself the time and space I need to respond the way I would like. I hit panic mode: “I have to stop this behaviour NOW” rather than being able to take a step back, assess the situation and think “Why is this behaviour happening?”
Lizard brain doesn’t let you step back, take a deep breath and assess the situation.
So if I achieve only one thing this year, I want it to be this: less time with lizard brain in charge.
2. Start getting ready for bed at 9:30 p.m.
Before the holidays, Q. and I were in a bad pattern of going to bed too late, and I was in an even worse pattern of taking ages to actually get ready to go to bed (largely because I kept taking the phone with me to the bathroom so I could read “one more thing” while brushing my teeth). I also hated doing anything that would make the morning more efficient in the evenings because that was my precious “me” time, which meant that E. and I spent quite a bit of December sprinting to school to make sure we wouldn’t be late. We were never late, but it wasn’t a great feeling.
When I was thinking about goals and resolutions for 2018, there were a whole bunch of little ones that could all be neatly folded under this one simple change. So this morning I set an alarm on my phone for 9:30 p.m. called “Go To Bed”. My goal is to be all tucked up in bed by 10 p.m., and to use those thirty minutes to do a bunch of little things that I never prioritize:
- make E’s lunch for the next day
- make my lunch if I’m going to be at work
- fold laundry if it’s hanging out in the dryer or put it away if it’s in a basket
- file important papers and tidy my desk
- clean out the litterboxes
- plug in all of my devices (and put the phone down!)
I need to stop thinking of 9:30-10 p.m. as “me” time and start thinking about it as “get ready for tomorrow” time. This is hard- I’m often still upstairs with E. until 8:15, and I don’t like to give up “me” time. I think it will make a huge difference though.
3. Stop taking the phone to the bathroom.
I still have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone. Lately I’ve felt it’s been creeping into my life a little too much. I’m on it too much in the evenings (which noticeably affects my ability to go to sleep) and I tend to take refuge in it too easily. I have been known to hide from everyone in the bathroom with the phone, which feels, on the one hand, like some excellent multi-tasking and, on the other, like maybe I’m a bit addicted to it. So no more email writing or blog reading in the bathroom because it always ends up sucking far more time than I expected.
4. Make the switch to manual and RAW on my camera.
I feel like my photography skills have plateaued. I can shoot pretty well on Av mode, and I control my ISO and my white balance, but I’ve been hesitating before taking that last final step to full manual mode, and I’ve still refused to start editing my images. I’m sick and tired of being jealous of other people’s photos without ever taking steps to change what I know, and I’m frustrated that I default so quickly to using the camera on my phone while my big camera sits on a shelf. Shooting inside my house in the winter is always a challenge- the light’s never very good- but I don’t want to just keep taking snapshots with the phone.
I signed up for the same photography course that Mali is doing. Hopefully that will give me the push I need to practice more. I also need to be more willing to take pictures of things other than my kids, both because they’re not the most cooperative of subjects if I’m trying to fiddle with settings and because I try not to post photos of them online. It seems silly to take a course and not make it possible for others to offer critiques of your work. Plus I do like finding beauty in the everyday.
5. Read 75 books.
I will hopefully write an entirely separate post about this one, but for now I will say this: I am an avid reader and reading is one of my most important mental-health management strategies. 75 books is more than I read in 2017 or 2016, but far less than I read in 2015 (which was the first year I started keeping track). These all have to be books for fun- the (no doubt many) books I will read for my work will not count. My TBR list has expanded exponentially since I started following Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I currently have over fifty books on hold at the library (most listed as inactive), so finding the books will not be the challenge.
6. Go on two dates a month with Q.
Q. and I have a monthly lunch date, which he organized as his present to me for our tenth wedding anniversary last summer (the envelopes with the restaurants’ menus were all presented to me in a tin lunch box because tin is the traditional gift and Q. is amazing). I want to add to this and make sure we get out at least one other time each month, whether that’s for dinner or to see a movie or a concert or just a long walk together and a chance to poke around in a bookstore. Our nanny is happy to babysit on days when she hasn’t been at our house, my mother will soon be close enough to babysit as well, and P. is now (I think) getting to be old enough that my youngest sister might be occasionally willing to look after them both (although her schedule is usually pretty busy). We have options. We need to start taking advantage of them to make sure we remember to prioritize our marriage.
I feel like there should be something in here about exercise and something about writing in general (and blogging in the specific) and something about work, but I haven’t been able to clearly articulate something for those areas yet, and I don’t want to get overwhelmed. So I think I will leave it at six and reassess how I’m going at the start of the next quarter, in April.
What are your 2018 goals/resolutions?