“Tomorrow is a new day.”
My mom has often used these words (memorably uttered by the irrepressible literary heroine, Anne Shirley) to placate and comfort me when things get to be too much.
Throughout the gong show of 2020, and still today, I find myself using these very same words as a mantra—sometimes hopeful, sometimes desperate. But lately, as I continue to navigate this new reality of homeschooling, working from home, and pandemic restrictions with an increasingly headstrong 5-year-old and chronically frayed nerves,“tomorrow” often doesn’t feel soon enough.
This doesn’t mean that I am wishing the hours away. At least, not usually, although the countdown until bedtime is more exciting some days than others. Rather, in this new pressure-cooker environment it is harder to be responsive and intentional vs reactive and unhinged, and there are many, many times when I wish there were an instant reset button so that I could handle a situation with more kindness and calm, with less crankiness and exasperation.
These are the days when my parenting falls short of my ideal. My voice gets a little louder than I’d like (usually after the kazillionth time of calmly asking for shoes to be donned, toys to be picked up, or the pets to be left alone). Or I overlook the warning signs of an impending meltdown and dig my heels in when I should be softening. Or I catch myself saying “no” as a reflex, shutting down before I listen.
Parenting is hard. Parenting under additional stress, and doing it “perfectly,” is impossible.
Like many, I struggle with anxiety, which often appears as a nagging, chastising voice telling me I am not enough, that I’m failing, that I’m letting my son down. During his first several years I let that voice lead me along spirals of catastrophic thinking and paralyzing panic. Fortunately, thanks to counseling and help from my doctor, I’m now better at recognizing the warning signs and take proactive steps to manage it. I’ve learned that listening to that needling voice does not serve anyone except for Anxiety itself.
Of course, our extra-ordinary circumstances (at least at the point of writing this) have not made managing my mental health any easier, and this pandemic doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I often find myself drawing on the power of wisdom which has been shared in many different ways by others, essentially: you can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control your perspective, which in turn can influence your response.
Stress piles up and spills over. It happens to the calmest parents. Anxiety or not, beating ourselves up every time we get testy is not helpful and can lead to more of the same reaction.
So, here is what is helping right now:
Even though there is no such thing as an actual reset button, I’m getting better at stopping, breathing, and giving myself (and my son) the grace to try a “redo.” This perspective shift is sometimes all it takes to diffuse a heated exchange or get a bad day back onto a positive track. I literally pause and say, “I don’t like how this is making us feel. Let’s try this again.”
At the root of this grace is my love for my son and my desire to do my best for him. Shaming either of us for a mistake (a raised voice, impatience, etc…) doesn’t serve him, or me. We’re both learning to forgive ourselves (and each other) and do better next time. The redo gives us a chance to do better right away.
And when all else fails, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – L.M. Montgomery
(Note: I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out for help from a medical or mental health professional. There is no shame in it, and you will probably be shocked to realize how many people are dealing with anxiety and depression, especially during these unprecedented times. You are most definitely not alone, and it does get better).