Juggling Hot Potatoes
Updated: Sep 25
Have you been juggling a lot of hot potatoes recently? And I don’t mean just around the bonfire!
I read a LOT of parenting books and articles (for work but of course they apply personally too). Essentially they all tell me the various ways in which I can be a better parent- how to be more patient, more attuned, more playful. And I take tips from all of them, and on a good day they can definitely help me feel more competent. On a bad day, like today in our household, when big emotions are flying left right and centre, they can just become new markers for me to fail to reach, more boxes I couldn't hope to tick.
In the daily struggles, when kids are kicking off, there are thousands of ways to turn things around, but often little time to try them out or even remember them. Especially when you're in survival mode and all the tantrums are telling your brain there's an emergency going on.
Here are some tips to help when the daily grind of parenting kicks in ……
My big tip for the ‘juggling big feelings’ is not to take on all the big big emotions for yourself. Our kids will try and give us their emotions all the time. They don't want them -and they're too difficult to hold on to. But we don't need to take them on.
You can think of big feelings like a steaming hot jacket potato straight out the campfire (this is my dad’s analogy!) People will try and chuck them at you because they can't hold on to them. If you catch that hot potato you'll either explode with heat yourself or you'll pass it on to someone else (snap at your partner for example).
But if you accept that they are hot but they will cool down, they can bounce off and sizzle out on the floor. I'm not saying ignore the potato, but just acknowledging it, accepting it and letting it be, means it doesn't have to be ours. (And actually, when it’s cooled down, you can share it!)
But what do you do when there are too many potatoes......??!
When you've got a screaming baby and a tantruming toddler and a sulky child? It is incredibly hard not to hold on to those potatoes, to avoid letting them heat you up and explode into a potatoey rage.
So, what's going on when you simply can't let the potatoes drop?
When someone is shouting at you, or your child is moaning, or your baby is crying, your brain goes into high high alert. The amygdala- your brain's alarm system- gets triggered and says you've got to fight or flee. Your body thinks you're under intense threat (and at that moment it really can feel that you're under major attack) and you either shut down or shout.
This means that your job in those moments isn't to engage with the kids, instead it's to let your body know that you're safe and that everything is ok. Easier said than done I know!
Here are three ideas you can try: 1. Just breathe. A breath in through your nose and longer out through your mouth. This cuts through the adrenaline coursing through your system and lets you know you're safe.
2. Take on a curious, observer position. Recognise that your blood is boiling, and that's ok, that's a normal reaction but you don't need to engage in it. You can do this with the kids too 'wow you've got such big feelings about that', or 'you really didn't want that to happen' - just observe with no attempt to understand or fix. It can help your kids to have their feelings recognised and help you step back enough to shut down that alarm.
3. Lie down! In my early days of motherhood someone told me- when things are getting too much- just lie on the floor and shut your eyes. The kids get such a shock it usually brings them out of their tizzy, and you get a much-needed rest. It usually ends up with the kids jumping on you but it certainly changes the mood!
Later on, you can think about what happened and talk it through with your kids, but when hot potatoes are flying all over the room the best thing to do is to DUCK.
Emma Svanberg is a mother of 2, a perinatal clinical psychologist, a hypnobirthing teacher and #makebirthbetter campaigner. Emma’s passion is supporting mums and dads through the transition into parenthood – from pregnancy and birth, up to the challenges of the toddler years. She believes that if we give this time in our lives the attention that it deserves, it can be a transformational time of growth and change.