How to Identify Your Biggest Parenting Triggers

This morning, with my kids tucked safely away playing in their rooms with some Legos, I took some time to sit outside on my deck, coffee cup in hand and an actual, real, physical notebook (gasp!) to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time:

I wrote out all of the things that annoy the crap out of me as a mom. 

Yes, seriously. Because here’s the thing — call me a slow learner, but now that I’m nine years into this parenting gig I am starting to realize that there are pretty consistent patterns to those times when I lose my um, shiitake mushrooms, as a mom. You know what I’m talking about– those instances when you feel like your head is going to explode. When if one more kid whines you might seriously jump in the car and run away.

In those particular moments, I don’t shine as a parent. And seeing as I genuinely would like to be the calm, serene type of mother who does not, for example, yell things like, “The first person to talk to me has to clean the fish tank!” out of frustration, I really would like to figure out how to either avoid these particular meltdowns or learn how to sail through them like the patient, ever-loving mother I am in my head.

Those moments are the moments when I question if I am really cut out for this motherhood thing. And sure, we all have breakdowns and bad days and low moments. But when I started to realize that they were happening over the same things every day, I started to wonder if there was something I could actually do to change them. The first step to figuring out how to resolve my mom meltdowns?

Discovering why they were happening in the first place.

It might sound silly, but how many of us have ever taken the time to figure out what triggers set off us at moms? In my case, it took time to really take a look at what I struggle with in my day-to-day life as an at-home mom–  the things that I was consistently feeling stressed about, yelling about, or just grumpy out.

If you don’t feel like you have stressors, just think about it: what are the things that you absolutely dread about your day as a mom? What are the events that cause you to groan inwardly? What tasks do you avoid? What do you most often yell or grow inpatient about? If you truly don’t know, pay attention to your body for a day as a mom — those instances when you’re tense and stressed and exhausted may be your mom triggers.

For me, I discovered that my consistent mom trigger moments boiled down to four main areas:

1) Cooking lunch. I have no explanation for this, but I loathe making lunch every day. I dread it and hate it and accepting it was the first step.

2) Constantly cleaning my floor. Before this little exercise I was–no joke–pulling out my vacuum and full-on vacuuming my floors at least three times a day because my kids are complete slobs and every meal required a full vacuum just so I could walk three feet without stepping on food. So frustrating.

3) Picky eaters. Two of my four children are extremely picky eaters, to the point where it feels like it controls our lives and it’s a source of endless stress for me.

4) The after-school rush of madness. I work from home, so I pick the big kids up from school and coming home is a magical (ha) time of day when the kids dump papers all over me (literally), lunches need to be repacked, dinner needs to be started, and my work tasks are still not done for the day.

Identifying these triggers helped me realize that these four main things make me unnecessarily cranky and can ruin the whole tone of my day or evening. So what if I took the time to change them or avoid having them happen in the first place?

Let’s be real: these things are not impossible, insurmountable obstacles — they are small, simple things that were ruining my day for no other reason than that I was letting them. They were my “triggers” to less-than-stellar parenting moments, so I decided to make some changes and see if it made a difference in my stress levels. Here are the solutions I came up with:

1) Cooking lunch: I made the decision to let go of my mom guilt about cooking lunches and simplify. I made more room in the budget for a few lunches out every week, so instead of dreading cooking and cleaning, my little kids and I actually had fun together. I also made an effort to pack more picnic lunches and eat at the park, so the kids got out some energy and lunch was super easy.

2) Cleaning the floors: This one was a big one for me, so I took some drastic action. My birthday and Mother’s Day happened to fall on the same weekend, so I started preparing months ahead of time with some extra jobs on the side, saved up about $200, and shamelessly bought myself a Roomba vacuum as soon as it went on sale. And that thing has changed my life, I kid you not. Where I used to stress about leaving the house spotless so I wouldn’t come home to a messy house and be stressed that I had to clean it right when I walked in the door, I literally press a button and my house gets cleaned while I leave. I run mine at least twice a day and programmed it to run in the middle of the night too, so I wake up to pristine, sparkling floors. Game changer, my friends, game changer.

3) Picky eaters. This continues to be an issue in our family and I don’t have any real solution other than I took the mental load off my shoulders. All I can do as a mom is continue to offer healthy foods to my kids and realize that when their refusal to eat food is not a direct reflection on my parenting abilities. I realized that I see food as a love language, so I was feeling pretty rejected when my kids refused the food I made for them. But to them? It’s just food they don’t like.

4) The after-school rush. OK, here’s where I got pretty sneaky. Because this part of the day was making me crazy, I opted to just, well, skip it. Instead of going right home after school, I started delaying. I’d either go to the store, let the kids play at the park, run a few errands, or tote the kids with me to a workout. I joined a new gym that offered a class right after school and let me bring my kids, so they got in the habit of doing their homework at the gym while I fit in a quick workout. This gave us the added benefit of a happier, more energized mom, thanks to those endorphins, and I avoided my after school meltdown. By the time we got home, my husband was usually there and we were able to tag team the madness. Win-win!

I’m not saying that I’ve suddenly been transformed into a serene, saint-like mother by any means, of course, but I will say this: taking the time to identify what truly stressed me out as a mom — and brainstorming solutions to overcome those triggers — has really, really gone a long ways in my day-to-day stress levels and overall mental health. And let’s be honest: a robot vacuum is a big part of that and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

What are your main “triggers” as a mom? Are they anything like mine??

Chaunie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a young mom of four. She loves books, coffee, and cleaning up after her kids. Gotcha -- just making sure you’re reading this whole carefully-crafted bio. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.

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