Little Earthquakes

As much as I enjoy parenting, there are moments when it’s quite stressful and it just leaves me feeling miserable.

As I’m writing this, a moment like this just passed. I was trying to get my three children ready for bed, but instead they chose to run in opposite directions. While focusing on my youngest child, trying to convince him to get undressed for his bath, our oldest child decided to turn on the shower in the master bathroom and use the hand-held shower head to spray water on his sister – and all over the rest of the bathroom. While dealing with all of this, my daughter decided that the smart thing to do fifteen minutes after her shower was to get out her markers and start making extensive purple, pink, and black art all over her leg.

I was frustrated. The last thing I wanted to do was to read them a bedtime story and go through the normal parts of our routine. I just wanted out of there.

After they were all tucked in, I had a few minutes to decompress while working on the master bathroom a little more. I felt really empty inside, as though one of the things I enjoyed the most about a typical day – the bedtime routine with my children – was somehow destroyed.

It’s supposed to make me happy – but it isn’t. It’s making me upset

Moments like these are ones where you feel the values of your life upended. Something that you’re supposed to take solace in isn’t providing that solace right now – it’s actually making things more stressful than usual.

When this happens, I feel desperately out of sorts. I feel like part of the bedrock of my life isn’t right. Most of all, I want things to get better right now.

So, in that mindset, I’ll find myself looking for a quick fix, something that I’m sure will bring me a burst of happiness to get through that moment. It’s in that moment, right there, where I’m seeking that burst of happiness, that I tend to make really stupid mistakes.

I’ll buy something I shouldn’t, usually when I’m hiding out in front of my computer. I’ll take out my frustrations in a poor way (usually by going out into the garage and hammering something) that can really worry the people in my life. I’ll undo a bunch of positive work, like the time I became overly frustrated with a novel-length piece of fiction and just wiped out the whole thing.

When the things in life that are supposed to be your bedrock and are supposed to bring you happiness fail you, you find yourself on unsteady ground and you’re likely to trip and fall.

I could go on and list a bunch of stress management techniques that are really useful for getting through this bump. For me, it’s basic meditation – I find a lot of value in just sitting somewhere by myself, focusing solely on my breathing for about five minutes. Breathe in, breathe out, ignore everything else.

There’s one thing that matters far more than those tactics and this one thing applies to all of us.

You have to recognize when your bedrock is suddenly shaky.

When you’re going through a moment where you’re upset with someone you care about or a normally peaceful event is upsetting you or the basic routines of your life have been tossed aside, the single most important thing you can do is realize you’re on uneven ground and you’re in danger of tripping and making a mistake.

That simple realization goes a long way toward keeping you from doing something stupid, something that will likely peel money out of your wallet and potentially damage your relationships.

Whether you emotionally respond to that situation by being sad or by being angry or by feeling utterly defeated, you’re in a place where you can easily make a big mistake.

Find a way to keep yourself from making those kinds of mistakes. Something different works for everyone – as I said, meditation helps for me. For others, simply extracting yourself from the situation can help. I have a friend that uses a large punching bag in his garage – he channels those feelings into a workout.

You just need to do whatever it takes to keep yourself in a sturdy place, much like a smart person finding a doorway to stand in when an earthquake is happening.

Where will you stand when your life is shaking?

(A final note: Little Earthquakes happens to be the debut album of Tori Amos, an amazing singer-songwriter. I chose the title of this article in tribute.)

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