Reactive Parenting

I had a great conversation with a friend of mine today. She was sharing that she is feeling as though she is stuck in a pit of mommy guilt right now. She has all these huge goals and values of things that she wants to be doing with her kids this summer, and while she is meeting their needs fabulously, much of their free time is being sucked away by chaos in their lives in this season. Watching other families live a super carefree summer is killing her. She is beating herself up over all of this. One phrase that she said totally stuck in my head. She said, "I feel like I am just reacting to stuff. I am trying to be proactive, but any plans I make or ideas I have in that regard just do not happen. I am just too busy reacting and it is a vicious cycle to always feel like I am behind the ball."

Wow. Have we not all been here? Is that the story of your life too? I know that it so often is mine!

It is so incredibly easy to fall behind in so many areas. There are a few areas of my life that easily can turn into total chaos if I am not really working at staying on top of them daily. Here are some examples:

1. housecleaning - if I do not stay on top of keeping my house "tidy", it is a very quick downward spiral. I feel like I pick up the same piles of toys multiple times each day. If I don't, the clutter from my kids would literally morph itself through the entire house and I think that I would start twitching. Seriously, I am greatly impacted by the space around me and if my house starts feeling really messy or cluttered, I actually start feeling mentally scattered.

2. nutrition for myself and my family - I know that meal planning feels like a lot of work, but if I don't plan ahead (based on our weekly schedule and grocery shopping) then it never fails, and 5 o'clock rolls around and I have not even thought about what we are doing for dinner. I then have two options: take out (which we cannot afford to do very often), or throwing something together last minute [which means less healthy for everyone and more stressful for me]. I really value good nutrition for my family, and if I am lagging in this area, I will start to feel very guilty and frustrated with myself.

3. laundry - (groan, I know!) Is it just me or does the laundry seriously have a life of its own? Do you remember learning about the fruit flies in high school biology class and how they just keep multiplying and growing? That is what laundry is like in my house. I have finally gotten myself into the habit of starting a small load of laundry nearly ever single night, right after I get the kids in bed. I almost always have enough to do a medium or small load of colors or whites (I have water level settings on my washing machine so doing small loads is not unkind to the environment, and actually, the clothes dry much faster in the dryer with less in there, so I am using less energy). It makes laundry so much less of a chore because it is just a quick load. I fold it all into piles on my dining table and put it away in the morning after everyone is up and at 'em. When I let this habit slip, and I let the laundry pile up for more than 3+ days, it then feels like this HUGE chore that I have to devote a whole day to. I will seriously then put it off until we are nearly out of underwear.

4. discipline - I remember a friend of mine encouraging me in my early days of parenting to "Start as you mean to go on." She had kids in high school and has this amazing perspective on parenting. She has been there, done that, and she has been there and done that well. So, when she speaks, you listen. Her advice was to really think about decisions that you are making in your discipline and in the habits that you cultivate in your children. -Do you want to buy your kids a treat every time you go to the grocery store? Start as you mean to go on. Do you want your kids to listen to you the first time that you say someting? Start as you mean to go on. Do you want the bed time routine to be long and drawn out every night with tons of whining and getting out of bed, etc.? Start as you mean to go on. Do you want your kids sleeping in your bed until they are 6 years old? Start as you mean to go on.

This advice is like gold to me. Because once a habit is in place we are always reacting to it. -We are either reinforcing the habit, or we are trying to break the habit. In the world of "reactive parenting", or even "reactive living", it is really easy to see that if we could sit back and figure out what we want first, then we could be proactive towards that goal, rather than having to be reactive towards what we do not want. I think this is what our "mama manifestos" are all about. We feel so incredibly passionate about trying to encourage mothers to carve out space to think this one through.

So, if you are feeling like you are in a "Reactive Parenting Rut" or "Reactive Living Rut", this is for you:

1. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and begin to write out your goals and values for yourself and your kids. (Think of nutrition, recreation, spirituality, community service, family time, education, etc...) This is your MANIFESTO, your vision statement for what you desire life to be like in your home!

2. Then, do an honest evaluation of each of those areas. Identify the "noise" in your life that is getting in the way. If you have stuff sucking up time that does not fit in your manifesto, think seriously about cutting it out or minimizing it.  We have the power to choose every day ... how we spend our time ... how we spend our money ... what we feed ourselves and our family ... how we speak to our loved ones ... what we do with our "free time" ...

3. In each of your categories, give yourself a couple of actions steps that are realistic and proactive that will help propel you towards your goals. So, if you have a value for your family to have better physical fitness, then two proactive steps would be to plan healthy meals and to take a family walk every day. Or, maybe they could be to minimize video game time to X number of minutes and to institute a rule that in order to get to sit and play video games, you first have to get moving for X amount of time. Or, if you have a desire to teach your children about community service, your action step could be to find a local non-profit that you can volunteer with once per month. If you have a value for being a close family that has fun together, then perhaps a weekly game night after dinner would be a great first step. Or, if you feel like you are not getting enough time with each of your kids then maybe one night per week the kids rotate whose turn it is to have "Special time with mom". It is kind of fun to go through your list and get creative with how this can happen. In baby steps. :)

4. Get into the habit of re-evaluating. Just check in with yourself and your manifesto on a weekly or monthly basis. Use it as a guide to help you cut out clutter and to move forward. We all know that each year flies by and we think, "Man, where the heck did this year go?" If we do not intentionally pursue this kind of self-motivation and examination, we will be left doing it only on December 31st and forgetting about it by January 15th.  

5.  Mama Retreat. Most companies have "reviews" and "retreats" and "conventions" for employees to hone skills and review their performance from that year.  Who says that Moms should not take a day or two away to reflect, evaluate, dream, plan, get re-inspired for the toughest job on earth? Try to set up a yearly getaway that is intentionally set apart for thoughtful reflection on your own life and your family life.  Make sure you celebrate the ways that you have succeeded in your role as Mama!  It is so much easier for us to see all the ways we are failing or falling short of our own expectations.  This time away should be about recognizing where we feel we are not doing our best, but also recognizing where we are growing and where we are doing a damn good job!  Even a few hours away will fill up your tank.

6. Mama confessions.  It is a very powerful thing to be able to share these highs and lows with our friends and fellow mamas out there. I know that for me, if something is bothering me and I am feeling totally less than as a mom, if I can say it out loud to someone, usually just getting the words out of my head helps me to see it a bit more clearly. Hopefully, we can all rally together and encourage each other and help each other find solutions to these low points WE ALL HAVE. I am all about other moms sharing their ideas with me when I am feeling like I just cannot get my head in the game. I don't think there is any other way, really.

As for my dear friend that I mentioned earlier... In the midst of our conversation, we were able to come up with a great plan for her family. They are going to sit down as a family and each write down two things (realistic) that they would like to do as a family before summer is over (picnic at the park, bowling, sleepovers with buddies, surfing at the beach, family board game marathon, etc...). Travel is kind of out for them this summer and before the summer dwindles away, they need to brainstorm some fun ideas that would give them some fun memories this summer. Then, they are going to throw them all into a jar and set aside one day each weekend for the rest of the summer for "Family Day". They are going to make these days sacred and choose the thing that they will be doing out of the jar a day or two before the Family Day so that Mom can plan ahead and make sure it can happen. She feels really good about this plan and it totally matches up with her value for her boys to get to have some fun this summer in the midst of a chaotic summer due to some crazy stuff in their lives. She is ready to kiss that Mama Guilt goodbye.

Got some Mama Guilt you want to confess? You are safe with us. 

Anyone in need of ideas for something that is frustrating you right now? We are listening...  

As always, we stronger together than we are on our own!


  1. I love the idea of "start as you go on". That is some good parenting advice, because kids remember everything, and a habit can be born out of one instance of mamam giving in to something that doesn't fit her values. (i.e. I fed my kids a hotdog at Target in a desperate moment, and now they want one every trip).

  2. This post is pure gold - thank you so much for putting that all into words so perfectly!

  3. Such good ideas. So important. It really does fly by and I so badly want to start as I want to go on....

    I can get overwhelmed by all the different aspects that need improvement, but this idea of writing it down, reflecting on it, and having retreats is just the ticket.

    Thank you.

  4. Maybe we can come up with a monthly mama challenge ... where we find an area we want to fine tune and work on it that month. We could be each other's cheer leaders and accountability!

    We will work on this!



We love comments! No need to log in, just talk to us . . .

Enter your email here to sign up for our weekly recap, the Mama Memo.
Related Posts with Thumbnails