Let’s Talk About Emotions

{Also published on The M Word }

I’ll be clear from the start: Most of the time, I’ve NO IDEA how to handle this situation.

But now that we’ve established our three-year-olds are essentially walking bundles of emotional confusion, what can we do to help them – and ourselves – get through it? Well, here’s what I’ve discovered on my quest to find out.

Last summer, when Rian was two and that all important half, I started seeing that he was randomly slapping other kids, for no apparent reason other than, ‘they’re toddlers, sometimes they just do that’, as people explained when I asked about it, and what I could do about it. It was quite stressful, if he did it to kids we knew, or kids we didn’t know, all I could do was apologise and try and make it clear to Rian in that moment that we do not slap people..however, during some research into it and how to handle it properly, I came across a recommendation for a book called The Colour Monster. Sold.

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Sniffy & The Colour Monster

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas is a book about identifying emotions for children.

Any research I did about the slapping incidents, or major meltdowns in general which were starting to become more frequent, all told me what we already know – they don’t call them the Terrible Twos or Threenagers etc for nothing. Toddlers don’t know what the emotions they’re feeling are, or how to manage them.

To be fair, and perfectly honest, a lot of the time I find it hard to control MY emotions (specifically, impatience and temper), so how can I expect a two or three year old to be able to do it?

My research also explained how emotional intelligence is something that ideally should be taught from a very young age so that we can learn to control and understand how we feel in lots of situations, not just as kids, but as adults too. So I figured it was worth a shot.

When the book arrived, we started reading it for our bedtime stories. It’s a quick book, a line or two per page with really lovely illustrations. It takes you through five emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Calm. It assigns a colour to each emotion and explains that sometimes you can feel lots of things at once, when all your ‘colours’ feel all mixed up.

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After a few reads, Rian knew all the words. The slapping continued every now and then, and all I could really do was intervene each time and firmly explain why we don’t slap other people. Of course it was still stressful and I went through all the usual worry of, am I doing this wrong?

Tantrums are par for the course and so they continued, and still happen – in fact we just had one about an hour ago (side note, he’ll be four soon enough… they stop at four, right??!!). But what started to change was that he was identifying how he felt… and I’m no expert, but I think this is the important bit.

For example, just the other night, Alex merely sat on my lap to read a book, so naturally by his three-year-old logic, this was deemed as a valid reason for Rian to have a big meltdown. At the height of a tantrum, (on the days I manage to keep myself calm too – let’s be completely honest; it’s not easy), I just weather the storm and wait for it to pass. Once it does, I ask does he want to cuddle for a minute. Sometimes he does, and other times, its as if nothing had ever happened… like a switch flicking from complete chaos to complete calm..!

But on the days where he takes up my offer of a cuddle, I talk to him about it. This is where The Colour Monster comes into it and where I’ve found it an amazing help.

I started noticing that he’d tell me he was feeling like ‘The Red Colour Monster’ when he was angry. Another day he came over to me, and out of nowhere just asked for a cuddle because he felt ‘like the Blue Colour Monster’. Another time he asked me if I was happy ‘like the Yellow Colour Monster?’… and so I knew that he was at least learning to identify each emotion with a label, to recognise each one and differentiate between them.

Now I’m no expert, maybe this would have happened anyway as he got over each stage of development, I don’t know. But the book most certainly helped us talk about it in a way he could easily understand and picture in his mind. So back to the other night when he had a tantrum over Alex sitting on my lap, without me even asking him he walked over, got the book, opened it on the Red page and told me ‘This is how I feel Mama!’

Thankfully, the slapping phase is over, can’t say I’m looking forward too much to Alex getting to this stage, with any luck he’ll skip it altogether… yeah I won’t hold my breath! But if you’re reading this and are nodding along knowingly, in the same boat, then I can’t recommend this book enough. There’s a similar one too by Dr Seuss called My Many Coloured Days – we came across this one a while after The Colour Monster, and I really liked it too but we had already gotten to know The Colour Monster so I just stuck with that one.

I don’t think there’s a ‘too early’ stage, Rian was two and a half when I bought it – if they’re sitting long enough to look at books for any length of time, then give it a go. Go forth and unravel that little bundle of confusion!

Anyway, don’t forget, the very second you happen to figure out one confusing phase, they’ll leave you behind,  move on to the next one and you can start all over again…

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The Guilt Factor

Each morning, Monday to Friday, for the last 10 minutes of my commute to work just before I walk into the office building, I try and FaceTime the boys for a chat, especially on mornings where they are asleep when I’m leaving the house and I haven’t seen them yet. Alex usually blows me kisses and babbles very important things at me. Rian, more often than not doesn’t want to talk. This morning though, when I was having chats with Alex, in the background he said: ‘ I don’t want to talk to Mama on the phone, I want to talk to her here!’.

For a moment I considered turning around and going straight back home again, giving him a hug and telling him I’ll never leave him. But I can’t, because I have to go to work – and I want to go to work too – and at the end of the day, the bills need to get paid. So I felt the usual pang of guilt that I usually feel a few times a day, except a bit worse than usual because he had said that, and finished my gurgley chat with Alex and headed towards my desk, feeling pretty crap about myself as a mother.

If I had the freedom to choose, I don’t think I would choose to be a full time stay at home mother, I just know it wouldn’t be for me. Part time would be my ideal option, because at same time, I want to be with them all the time too. It’s that very tricky, ever elusive, perfect balance.

Guilt is something I became familiar with very early on, in fact, since the start of my first pregnancy. We are IVF parents, very very lucky ones at that, our treatment worked. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant – extremely grateful yes, of course, but pregnancy for me was months of nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, extreme heartburn… ok my hair got a bit thicker and softer and my skin looked nice and almost glowy (possibly from the hot flushes!) for a while but even that catches up with you after the baby is born and your hair falls out and you’re left with these mad sticky outy bits all over your head while it grows back to normal again…!! Aaand breathe…! So no, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant for the most part. Appreciative, yes, and lots of it I did love and cherish – the feeling of Bump moving around or kicking, but not really any of the rest of it.

Anyway back to the point… so I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was tough. I felt guilty about that because of our IVF and I thought of all the women who would swap places with me in a heartbeat because I used to be that woman too. And of course the moment they’re born you’re guilty all the time, am I doing this right, did I do that wrong?

When I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave, the guilt was immense. How could I leave him every day, why was I working for a major chunk of my wages to pay someone else to see all of his ‘firsts’? And it only got worse, after I had Alex I thought I would be prepared for how it would feel to go back to work, but in fact it was worse again because what I wasn’t prepared for was Rian being old enough now to ask me, after a year of being home, ‘Mama, where are you going? Why won’t you stay here with me?’

It was very hard. I questioned myself a lot at the return to work last year. Why am I doing this?? Oh yes, then I remembered, I just don’t have the choice.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Is there a way to come to terms with this guilt or are we just destined to never be happy whatever the situation is – whether we give up work and stay at home, or if we choose not to stay at home?

I thought a lot last year about whether I wanted to give up work, assuming we could afford it and I could stay at home. It would be tight, but I think if we cut back enough we could probably get by on one wage. And is it even fair to assume that it would be me who stays home, what if their Dad wanted to stay home? I admit that thought didn’t even occur to me at the start. But even if I did stay home, I think the guilt would still find me anyway, and make me think about other things – can we afford to save for their college fund? Can we afford to give them all the things we want to?

And the other thought is – really the main reason I don’t want to give up my job – what will I do when they’re older and not as dependent on me? What if I want to go back to work then, when they’re off to school, and I have a five or six year gap on my CV – it’s hard enough going back after maternity leave,  your confidence is shaken a lot, or at least mine was. So a big gap, for me, would be very intimidating. So is it selfish of me to not want to be in that situation, to not want to sacrifice my career? Does that mean I’m a bad mother? And the guilt factor starts again.

Being a working mother, it sneaks up on you on a regular basis. When a work commitment clashes with an event at their creche or playschool, and we’re faced with missing it. Guilt. At Rian’s playschool Sport’s Day back in June, I took the day off work. Within the first ten minutes, three other mothers had mentioned to me that they hadn’t realised that our childminder, who they see every day dropping off and collecting Rian, wasn’t in fact his mother. Ouch.

Recently, our childcare situation  changed, and I was forced again to consider all of these points. I really struggle to come to some sense of peace with the fact that I’m gone all day from them. Today was their first day in a creche – Alex in particular has never been minded outside his own home until today – and I wasn’t there to drop them off. Guilty. They’re fine of course – the staff are amazing and sent me little updates and photos of them happily playing away, but my guilty mind goes into overdrive and I wonder what will they think of these decisions I’m making now when they’re all grown up? Will they think I’m selfish? Will they resent the fact that I ‘chose’ to leave them with someone other than me while I ‘chose’ not to give up my career? Ultimately, I suppose I’m thinking – how will they judge me? Am I ruining their childhood?!

I don’t know how to make the guilt go away, but I have decided to make some rules for myself.

  • I am not a bad mother. I am doing my best, along with everyone else. Yes, I go to work for myself because I enjoy it, but also of course so that I can give them everything I possibly can not just now but later in life too. I’m doing my best, and I have to tell myself that my best IS good enough.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives – instead I will focus on the times I am there. Their little faces when they see me coming through the door each evening, and the fun we can have all weekend. It makes me more grateful and appreciative of those times.
  • Most importantly of all: I make it my mission that they know they are loved. I know they know. And once they know that, I know I’m not failing completely.

Whatever way I look at it, mother guilt is here to stay, no matter what type of mother you are. There’s no point in questioning why we beat ourselves up over it, but in the end all I can suggest is that we get off our own backs, get off our own cases, and make the most of whatever situation we’re in. Guilt is not a choice, but how we deal with it certainly is.

7 Ways to Distinguish Between Your Toddler and a Drunk Person

{This post also features on MummyPages Ireland & MummyPages UK}

Here is a simple guide in how to spot the difference between a 1 year old and a drunk person.  Why, you may wonder? Because they are not all that different, that’s why! Follow these steps and learn how to differentiate between whether that object moving around the room is in fact your toddler, or just a random drunk person. Let us examine the evidence.

Alex

  1. Movement

It’s not so much movement in itself, more so HOW they are moving. Are they walking as if they’ve just gloriously filled a nappy, or look as if they’re about to? Are they staggering in bits and pieces? Both types of people will do this. Approach the subject. Can you smell something that isn’t alcohol? Yes? It’s probably your toddler. Assume position; change nappy. Release child back into the wilderness of your house. Repeat inspection in an hour or two.

  1. Coordination

Closely connected to movement, but still not the same thing. Are they lifting objects or pieces of food towards their mouths but hitting their eyeballs instead? Yes. Are they trying to grab your nose but punching you in your eyeball instead? Yes. Closer inspection required. Approach subject. Are said objects squishy or squeaky rather than vessels for various beverages? It’s probably your toddler. Resume normal activity.

  1. Speech

Both suspects will display slurred speech. Also, both will babble a lot, maybe cry a bit. Both intend telling very important and long winded stories except it’s as if they have their own language. Both may drool while telling said stories. Nod along with them knowingly, and approach. If subject appears smaller and gummier on closer inspection, it’s probably your toddler.

  1. Logic

Neither suspect has any notion of impending danger. Both will happily place themselves on the edges of things they can fall off, or sometimes deliberately try and fling themselves off of various things thinking they will be able to fly Buzz Lightyear style. But as Woody gracefully puts it, it’s just falling with style. Regardless of whether this is your toddler or a drunk person, it’s probably worth saving them from themselves anyway.

  1. Embarrassing behaviour

Both types may enjoy playing silly games. Peekaboo, ‘I’m going to steal your nose’ type of things. Random outbursts of emotion can be common, going from ecstatically happy to devastated over the colour of their bottle and crying uncontrollably. Neither are afraid to display a range of emotions in public places, and the more you try and calm them down, generally the worse they get. Approach subject. Are they easily distracted by puddles, sticks, things in the sky, or something like their soother? It’s probably your toddler. Drunk people care not for sticks and puddles I find.

  1. Puke

Yes, unfortunately, puke and plenty of it is part of the package with both types of people. At least, though when your toddler does it, they look at you with their little faces and do something cute, smile and cuddle into you, making you melt, and tricking your brain into thinking that in actual fact, you really don’t mind being covered in random bodily fluids! Puke from a drunk person definitely doesn’t have this effect. Are you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside when said object gazes up at you? It’s probably your toddler.

  1. Random Sleep

Both subjects may be partial to randomly falling asleep in weird places. On the floor, in their high chair, hanging upside down in the middle of a game of swings for example. Approach sleeping subject. Are they drooling? More definition needed. Is one particularly cute and angelic looking while they sleep – again tricking your brain into thinking this is how life always is with said subject – ? If so, it’s more than likely your toddler. Drunk sleeping people tend to look like they’ve just done a few rounds with Conor McGregor. Approach- but for the love of God, whatever you do –  DON’T WAKE THEM UP!

 

The Making of Memories

{Featured on MummyPages.ie}

Someone asked me recently what my earliest memory was…the very first thing I ever remember happening. It is a memory from when I was around 3 years old, and I only know I was that age because I remember being in the kitchen of the house we lived in at the time, which we moved from when I was 4 . There were blue walls I think, and I was sitting at the table eating breakfast. The sun was coming in through the window and I can see my Mam at the kitchen sink, I remember she was wearing a long skirt and she’s singing a song. I want to say it’s ‘You Are My Sunshine’, but honestly I’m not sure if it was that, or if I just think it was because that’s what I sing to my two boys. Maybe that’s why I started singing it to them… that bit has got mixed up in my mind but anyway, that’s the memory.

And now that Rian is almost three, it dawned on me that any of these days might turn into his earliest first memory that will stick with him. So I suppose it’s kind of like when you know there’s a speed check up ahead, and you want to be on your best behaviour in case you get caught. What if his memory decides to pick the day I’m cross with him, or the very moment I crack under the pressure, lose my patience, and shout?! So I’m trying extra hard to keep it calm and channel my inner Mary Poppins (although, side note, I adore that film, but I’m not sure why we hold Mary Poppins in such high childcare esteem when you think what she actually did with those kids. Jumped into paintings, entered them into a horse race without even a helmet in sight, floated to the ceiling in some random old man’s house, managed to get them lost in the middle of London on their own chasing after a homeless woman feeding pigeons, dancing on roofs and leaping up and down chimneys…but who am I to judge!)

So it’s kind of a big responsibility. Not just the first memory, but all the core memories. We’re responsible for the childhood of two people…that’s a serious responsibility. You don’t really think of these things on a day to day basis, most of the time it’s just getting dinners cooked and kids washed and hoping we all get a night of uninterrupted sleep and things like that. We make an effort do do things with them, things that involve investing time. Playing games with them, making things with them, involving them in the cooking and baking things, going for walks and all those sorts of activities, nothing unusual there.

As a full-time working mother, or as I prefer to say, an outside-the-home working mother, I’m plagued with constant guilt and always questioning myself about whether I should be leaving them. Missing little day to day things, the things that  inevitably add up to big parts of who they are. It’s not easy, but it’s something I just have to deal with. So I ask myself, how can I make it work? How can I make sure that the memories they have that will stand out won’t be of the days when I’m at work?

All I can come up with is to make sure that the time we do have together is full of fun and happy things. Of course there’ll be the day to day things, but I want them to grow up and remember things like us all baking something together. Or reading books together, or painting pictures. Going for walks to hunt for the Gruffalo (in our house, this seems to be the most fun an almost three year old can have!) The more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m no different in wanting these things just because I leave the house to go to work. Does every mother have the same guilt regardless of whether they work outside or if they stay at home and work there every day? Probably. We all just want those core memories to light up yellow (ever since I saw Inside Out this is how I picture it!), and stay stored in a cosy little corner of their minds and hearts forever.

And some days, I know it’s working. Recently my heart almost exploded when I saw Rian playing with ‘Sniffy’, his favourite can’t-sleep-without-him soft toy. Sniffy got flung to the other side of the room, presumably trying to fly, but he landed kind of awkwardly. Rian went over, picked him up and asked, ‘You ok Sniffy?’ Then tucked him into his neck as if Sniffy was a tiny baby, stood there and sang to him ‘You Are My Sunshine’….

I get it wrong a lot of the time, I know I do. But when these little moments appear that show me that sometimes I’m also getting it right, at least getting it the way I’ve chosen, well, there’s just nothing better. Maybe it is possible to work away from the home and not see them all day every day, and still create those all important core pieces of comfort, happiness, security, home…love.

 

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