A fellow mum asked how I prepare my five kids to transit into their next phases without being a helicopter mum. “I teach them to pilot their own helicopters!” I quipped, as I winked at her puzzled expression. While raising independent children is something I am now renowned for, there are so many behind-the-scenes challenges that few know about. One of these was the ‘Morning Madness’ that exasperated us for many months.
(See also: Are You A Helicopter Parent? You Could be Hurting Your Infant)
Unleashing Morning Madness
“Hurry! You’re always so slow. We’re going to be late!” My eldest would roll her eyes while Primary Two would be crying because she could not find her bus card. At the same time, Primary 4 would be snoozing on the couch, still in her pyjamas, and oblivious to the din. Mornings were a chaotic experience, full of angry words, protests, and explosions.
Imagine starting each day on such a negative note. Everyone was slumbrous because of a lack of healthy bedtime routine. While we all knew sleeping early was good for physical growth, mental alertness, and emotional poise, we would busy ourselves till late because there was always something we wanted to do!
So, Morning Madness was the consequence of those late, unstructured sleep schedules. My grouchy mood would unleash its fury on any uncooperative child and be quick to snap at my helper for her lack of initiative, all the while inwardly seething at my husband’s passivity every dawn.
(See also: Should Your Kids Share a Bedroom?)
One day, it boiled over. After a tantrum episode and sending the children off in tears, I sat down at the now quiet dining table and cried. I was so exhausted and full of anger. Then I experienced deep sadness. I was tired of shouting and frustrated over not regulating my emotions better. Exasperated at how each of us was changing into short-fused angry individuals with little self-control. The impact of this awful routine was clearly taking a hideous toil on everyone. No one was spared.
As I allowed my fears to surface, I imagined neighbours gossiping about how horrible we were every morning. Shame washed over me as I listened to my inner critics. Guilt sneered at how lousy a mum I was. Inadequacy reminded me that I was never going to be good enough. Insecurity whispered that I was a failure.
With tears welling up, I closed my eyes, and then as I exhaled profound sadness out, I decided. Today would be the last day I allow our Morning Madness to continue. I was done playing the victim. It was time to turn things around because I knew that mornings were an extension of my emotional state.
I was exhausted from giving so much that resentment was sabotaging the very relationships that mattered the most. I knew I had to top up my own cup. It was time for me to be happy again.
(See also: “How Can I Be a Happy Mother When I’m Always Tired?”)
Creating Delightful Mornings
Wiping my tears, I resolved to be the catalyst for a positive emotional space. In five days, the entire negative atmosphere shifted! Each child was now getting themselves ready, eating their breakfasts, and calmly going to school.
By the second week, there were smiles and mornings were a joy!
You can apply the five steps I used for this transformation to any life transitions. What do you want to shift?
Step 1 – Decide to be the change you want to see
Most exhausted human beings tend to blame, complain, and wait for someone else or circumstances to change, instead of taking personal responsibility for things that do not work.
It’s not pretty to admit, but playing victim meant I woke up annoyed and oh so justified! I was nursing my youngest son then, which was the perfect excuse to stay in the spectator stands of my room, begrudging my husband, children, helper, and neighbours!
Surprisingly, the simple choice to assume full responsibility for the state my family woke up to empowered me to effect change. Taking responsibility did not mean it was my fault or that I was to blame. Rather, it was a stance, a pro-active decision to be the thermostat in the house instead of a thermometer. I would set a new standard for morning experiences and raise everyone from their emotional lows to match my vision.
Repeating the mantra “If it is to be, it’s up to me” in my head, I sat down for the next step.
(See also: Do you have Parental Burnout?)
Step 2 – Dream of what you want
Instead of passively waiting, I got excited about the prospect of waking up to something different. How would you want your mornings to look like?
With a pen, a piece of paper, and my coffee in front of me, I fantasied. I invited my imagination to conjure up a list of things I would love to experience in the mornings.
“Delightful Mornings” was my heading, followed by a bullet-point list of specific outcomes:
- Greet each other with positive affirmations
- Ideally, a water flush detox
- Do morning stretches
- Have a nutritious breakfast
- Each child getting ready independently
- Each girl tying their hair by themselves
For each outcome, I worked backwards. What is one new action I could take to achieve the new outcome?
It was then that it hit me. None of these could happen if I maintained my existing state! If I was not excited about waking up, it was no wonder mornings were a low experience for all.
Step 3 – Co-create with those involved
A mistake many parents make is being the sole leader. Realistically, to jumpstart a successful transformation, everyone needs to play a part. So that evening, I communicated my vision for Delightful Mornings over dinner.
“I am so tired of scolding each of you every morning,” I began. “I would love to start the day happy but I need everyone’s help. What would you want to wake up to?”
Each took turns to share their version of Delightful Mornings as I attentively wrote down their suggestions. My initial spark ignited spontaneous suggestions, as each aligned themselves towards a common family goal.
One child suggested having music in the morning. Another proposed wearing her uniform to bed. Yet another chimed in to say she’ll watch her temper. We laughed as one imitated her sister’s sleepy gaze and another mimicked her sibling’s harsh tones.
It was such an energising session. With everyone on board, Delightful Mornings were becoming a reality.
(See also: How to Get your Children to Tidy Up by themselves – and Enjoy doing it)
Step 4 – Delegate each their parts
“I’ll start a playlist of our favourite songs!”
“And I’ll prepare everyone’s water bottles the night before.”
“I’ll go to sleep earlier!”
Hearing each commit to a new action meant there was individual ownership towards our commitment towards something different. Everyone knew we played an integral part in slaying the towering goliath the next morning.
To set them up for success, I first gave the children a sobering visual of what we were up against. I warned them that our default modes would take over, so we had to be determined about our new actions.
Mine was to wake up 15 minutes earlier because waking up at the same time put me in a frenzy. I would dance to a song I liked while brushing my teeth, intentionally shifting my mood from the automatic irritability that everyone mirrored.
Step 5 – Set the routine by repeating the new actions consistently
The next morning, only two of us took new actions, while the other two fell back into their old routine. Instead of chiding them, having clarity of vision and purpose meant I reacted differently. It was almost an easy choice to lovingly remind and coax them into taking their promised new actions. The other children took my lead and began to exercise patience.
We celebrated the win at dinner that night and discussed how we could improve. By now, the old atmosphere of blame had shifted to that of ownership. I was impressed at how quickly children modelled after my language, simply because I decided to take full responsibility for transforming Morning Madness to Delightful Mornings.
Instead of pointing out where they fell short, I affirmed the new actions they took, no matter how small.
“I am so proud that you were the first in bed last night instead of the usual last,” I beamed at my youngest girl. “Leadership is about setting an example to have sufficient sleep regardless of your age.”
“I am so thrilled that you tied your own hair this morning!” I gushed. “Even if it was a bit messy, I am so proud you are learning a new skill, sweetheart.”
“Sunshine, you chose to eat Mum’s ham omelette instead of laze on the couch. Excellent habit to start the day with a nutritious breakfast!”
“Ling, I heard your morning conversation as you were helping your sister to tie her hair. Thank you for making the effort to connect, instead of being on your phone.”
(See also: 4 Ways you can Empower Your Daughters)
Morning Madness No More
“And Mummy didn’t scold us this morning! I liked how gently you woke me up instead of rushing me up today,” came my validation.
As the laughter subsided, I smiled at my personal growth. The bedrock of socio-emotional resilience starts with me. It only takes one person at home to decide to take full responsibility for the family’s emotional state to effect change.
Will that person be you?