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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy March 13, 2014 07:32 AM
The other day I was working from home and had a lot to get done. And, of course, in that Murphy's Law of Working Parenthood way, it was an early release day for the kids. They were home at noon. I was doomed.
My first idea was to tell them sternly that they needed to entertain themselves and do it quietly, and to not bother me unless a fire alarm went off or stitches were necessary. And then I had a different idea: Movie Afternoon.
They were a bit dumbfounded when I told them that they could watch a movie. In the afternoon. On a school day. With popcorn. (This is not like me; I am a real stickler about screen time, especially on school days). They quickly accepted (I think they were worried I would change my mind), watched Planes, ate popcorn--and were remarkably quiet and left me alone.
Sometimes, as the saying goes, life gives you lemons. Clearly, there is only one solution: lemonade. And yet, we sometimes don't think of it.
I learned about making lemonade the hard way, unfortunately. Our third child was born very disabled, and only lived a year--a year that while blessed and wondrous in so many ways, was also very hard. Our older two children were only 4 and 3 at the time, and it was a struggle to make life semi-normal for them with a baby brother who had lots of seizures and needed medications and suctioning and help with breathing.
So I got creative. My husband worked a lot of night shifts, which meant one of us was always home, but also meant we did a lot of solo parenting. In the evenings, if Aidan was too sick for me to supervise the two kids in the bath, we did "Ten Second Tidy" (stolen from the PBS show Big Comfy Couch): I stood each kid up in the tub and literally dumped water on them, scrubbed them up and dried them off, being fast in a silly way. They loved it.
And if Aidan's seizures got in the way of dinner prep, no problem: we had "Silly Supper." You could have anything you wanted: cereal, peanut butter sandwich, leftovers, frozen dinners--as long as it could be prepared in less than five minutes. I'd announce it as if it were a treat, and we'd rummage through the cabinets and refrigerator together.
Now, those are extreme circumstances. But it taught me that just because things are going wrong doesn't mean that you have to act, or feel, like things are going wrong. Over the years I've met some amazing lemonade-makers--funny, wise people who navigate life with more grace than I ever will--who have taught me so much about keeping both perspective and a sense of humor.
Yes, as parents we should keep rules and routines. We should limit screen time, serve healthy home-cooked meals, get everyone to every practice or class, read stories, keep the house and children clean. But sometimes it doesn't work out--whether because of work, sickness, stress, forgetfulness, or whatever--and what we mostly do when it doesn't work is get cranky and make the people around us cranky.
Instead, when we can, we should make lemonade. Like Movie Afternoon or Ten Second Tidy. Or slumber parties in the living room when the electricity goes out. Or games of I Spy during traffic jams. Or special mother-daughter shopping trips when the expected party invitation never arrives. Not everything can be solved by turning it into a game or reason to do something indulgent; some things and moments really are bad. But sometimes, with just a small shift of perspective, we can make things less bad.
As parents, not only does this make life easier (I got my work done that day), it teaches our kids important lessons about optimism, flexibility, and finding joy.
We still do Silly Suppers (for less dramatic reasons). I like having scrambled eggs.
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About MD MamaClaire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »
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