I had a funny thought the other day. Imagine if the Emergency Services had a major change in policy and decided they would no longer respond to our emergencies but henceforth would wholeheartedly react to them. So instead of arriving at the scene of an accident and calmly assessing what needs to be done, taking the appropriate action, and quite likely saving a life, they’d skid down the road, take one look at the victim, freak out, post some pics on Social Media then skedaddle right back to where they came from. Clearly not a policy change any of us would support but here’s the thing; it’s the policy that most of us have adopted when it comes to our parenting. You know it’s true.
We go into parenting with the intentions of an Emergency Responder. I will be calm. I will be patient. I will respond as needed. I will enhance their lives. And often we throw a few other vows in too. I will not shout at my kids. I will not repeat the mistakes of my own parents. I will do things differently.
But once we get into the business of parenting, we suddenly become more of an Emergency Reactor. Or a reactor in general. Oh my God! What have I gotten myself into? What the hell is happening to my life? How can someone so small take up so much time?
You know the score.
And of course, there are valid reasons for this. Parenting is a much bigger undertaking than any of us could have imagined so there’s an element of shock at play in the early months. But when you find yourself still reacting several years in, or when you realise that reacting has become your first … well… reaction to any of the myriad of challenges our kids throw our way, the only possible outcome is an explosion. Or maybe an implosion. Depends on the parent. But my point is, it doesn’t work for anyone.
I was a reactor. I know, I know. It’s not like I fit the mould or anything – redhead, Irish – but yes, it’s true. I would wake up of a morning, promise myself I was not going to raise my voice above a bell-like tinkle yet have destroyed that promise by breakfast. Things only began to change when I finally sat down and had a serious chat. With myself.
‘Orla,’ I said. ‘Is this really how you want to be feeling day in, day out for the rest of your life?’
‘Well no,’ I responded. ‘Although it does seem to be the norm for parenting these days. Not sure it can be changed.’
A whole lot of tsking, and sighing and general disapproval followed. ‘Really?’ said Wise me.
‘Ok,ok, maybe I could be a little calmer,’ I replied, ‘More patient, even?’
Wise me guffawed.
‘Alright! So not the patient bit but yeah, sure, I could do things differently.’
‘Then do that,’ said my Wise half. ‘Instead of flying off the handle at a moment’s notice, try putting on the brakes. Try pausing, taking a deep breath, counting to ten, even leaving the room for a minute. Hell! Why not try them all?!’
And so began my journey from one of Parenting’s most prolific – and quite shouty - Emergency Reactors to one of its more relaxed, easier-going, less shouty responders. Yet still impatient.
Well, I never said I was perfect!