Not too long ago I had an epiphany – and it has changed the way I do motherhood.
This is no exaggeration. It has changed the way I spend time with my children, it has changed the dynamic in our household, it has changed the way I react in difficult situations, and it has given me more confidence to turn things around when they’re not going my way – which as a stay-at-home-mum, let’s be honest, is several times a day.
Like when the witching hour rolls around and the girls won’t eat their dinner and they’re fighting and one is yelling and the other is crying and there’s mashed potato on the walls and Barbies in the Ketchup and two hours until bedtime and all I want to do is scream.
Or when we’re at the park in the searing heat of the day and the toddler refuses to leave and there is sweat running down my back and I know the only way I’m getting back home is to carry her kicking and screaming.
Or when my five-year-old develops a sudden irrational fear of having her hair brushed and insists she doesn’t need it to look neat for school.
Or when we’re on public transport (or a trans-Atlantic flight) and the littlest is flexing her climbing muscles, refusing to sit down for longer than three seconds in a row unless it’s on my head or somewhere else equally inappropriate, and I want to jam her into her seat and hold her there – or better yet, run away and pretend she’s nothing to do with me.
Before my little epiphany, if I were to throw a metaphorical rock into the melee of motherhood, I’d hit something that would make me angry – something that would make my blood boil and that could drag me down into the behavioural gutter right alongside my toddler, leaving me acting as badly as she does, even if I can only see that after the fact.
And then I had this realisation that has completely changed my life. The realisation was this:
I set the tone.
Mama, YOU set the tone.
Dr Greene said it to Dr Carter, and Dr Carter passed it on to Dr Morris (e.r. diehards, you’ll remember what I mean), and nowhere is this advice more applicable than in the trenches of motherhood. I never thought of it this way until recently, after a Very Bad Day which had capped a series of other Very Bad Days, and as I sat crying into my glass of Sauvignon, telling myself that tomorrow is another day but not really believing it, these words came back to me like a miraculous whisper from the past: “You set the tone.”
I had one of those AHA moments Oprah talks about.
I’m the mother. I really do have the power. If I take responsibility for my own actions and – vitally – reactions, I have the power to set the tone in our home. If I demonstrate calm, if I demonstrate kindness, if I demonstrate the eating of vegetables, those things will be reflected back. Or perhaps sometimes they won’t – but there’s at least a chance, which there would not be otherwise.
And as I thought more about it I realised that there is a real, honest-to-goodness superpower right within my reach.
I set the tone.
If I remain calm in the roughest of storms, if I reach out with love instead of anger, if I approach things from their point of view instead of my own, I unlock a whole new way of interacting with my family. And we are all happier for it.
I set the tone.
The job of mothering – with all it’s joys and fulfilment – is a hard one. Even on the days when things go completely to plan, it’s hard. It’s physical, it’s an exercise in logistics and organisation, it’s full of negotiation, explanation and compromise, and to be done even half-way right it requires us to give all of ourselves without reserve for anything else. There are so many opportunities on any given day to see ourselves as failing that I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for the things we do right and this makes us underestimate our influence.
Crucially, we underestimate our own power.
Mamas, WE are the anchors of our families. No matter what our jobs outside our homes, between these four walls WE are the CEOs and the COOs and the CCOs and the rocks of the families. We are the mothers.
WE set the tone.
Let’s own that. Let’s wear it like a badge of honour. Let’s use it as our own personal superpower. I think we’ll be amazed every day by what happens when we do.
If you liked this post you may also enjoy reading This is Two.
Feature image taken by my talented friend Clare Louise Thomas.