It's only Saturday night here, but I've had a rather enlightening weekend so far. Or rather, an enlightening Friday and Saturday, which has been quite wonderful in spite of my expectations of difficulties galore.
I'm relearning a lesson I've “known” at some time in the past. Or heard again and again, and occasionally put into practice, but not consistently enough to actually change my long-term habits. I'm talking about the power of a positive attitude.
Something I have really noticed about myself in recent years (probably since having kids), is that I am actually quite a pessimistic person. I did not used to think of myself as such, but I am realising more and more that what I used to call realism is often negative expectations. Example – my darling needed to go away for two days for work. I know, only two days, really not that big of a deal. But in my little world, it felt like a big deal. By Friday, I am usually just holding out for Saturday, for a brief reprieve from the usual routine and sole responsibility of caring for the kids. Just to have a little breather and share those tasks with my dear one. Somehow, through repeating this weekly pattern over and again, I have come to believe that I cannot manage without my hubby, especially on a weekend. Or that I can manage but it will be fraught with frustration, exhaustion and downcast spirits.
As I write this, it is only an hour or two until my darling is due to return. The kids are in bed, so in essence, I have survived the trial. And the funny thing is, we've had the best couple days that we have had in a while! The kids were more fun, played more happily together, whinged less and actually ate their dinner both nights (without any tantrums). This is quite extraordinary. Enough to make me stop and reflect, certainly. As I reflect, I can't help but recognise that the difference is not so much in my children's behaviour as it is in my own.
Because I knew I was the only one available, I didn't put off unpleasant tasks – I just did them to get them out of the way. Because I knew I would have less energy in the afternoon, I prepared dinner earlier in the day. Because I knew that the kids would be needing more input from me, I prepared in advance a “What Can I Do Box” (thanks Becca for that wonderful suggestion!!), so each time my sweet but oh-so-needing-stimulation daughter asked “Mummy, what can I do, what can I dooooooooooooo?” we could go and get something from the special box. The stuff in there is not special per se, it contains a variety of activities that she already does on a fairly regular basis, but it just helps her see the options before her and make the decision for herself rather than the usual:
Her: Mummy what can I do what can I dooooooo?
Me: How about play-dough?
Her: No, I don't want to.
Her: No, I already did that.
Her: No. I can't decide, you decide for me.
Me: Ok, I decide colouring.
Her: Noooo, I don't want to do that!
Does anyone else get stuck in these frustrating conversations? Usually I am focused on something else at the time, a household task or trying to write an email or whatever. Going together to the “What can I do box” helps us to break the cycle of frustration.
But back to the reflection on how I was different these last couple days. I was focused, yes; I was organised, yes; but more than that – I was positive. So often in the last few years, I have found myself getting caught up in the “I can't” thought trap. I've talked about some of that before – you know, “I'm so tired, I can't get by without a chocolate fix!” Or my favourite, “I just can't deal with this right now!” Ummm...toddler boy has just pooped in the bath AGAIN and I am saying I can't deal with this right now? How is that helpful? I know that I am actually going to HAVE to deal with it, as I can't fob it off onto anyone else. Why not bypass that unhelpful negativity and just go straight into action mode? Perhaps even with a smile and a game. Playing hard-done-by does not do anybody any favours.
Of course, I know all of this in theory, but this negative thinking habit just sneaks up on me. I really want to kick the habit and replace it with a more positive and helpful way of thinking...I try to teach my kids that any chore can be made into a game by how you choose to face it, now I just need to practise that more myself.
If childbirth taught me anything, it's that I can persist in a difficult task through much more pain and exhaustion than I ever thought possible. And what helped me most when the “I can't...” thoughts threatened to derail my focus was my darling chanting in my ear “You CAN do this, you can DO this!”
Oh, and then there's this old song from my childhood that just popped into my head. “I can do all things, all things, all things! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13!” Thanks DonutMan! It is true - with Christ as my strength, I can face the challenges of each day - and perhaps even smile through it all. :-)