Staying Playful When Sad

Recently, a parent asked this question in the comments of one of my posts:

“Do you have any hints on how to get yourself to meet [silly] behaviour when your energy is at a constant low? I’m really struggling at the moment and I have a feeling I’m in a sort of downward spiral with my kids. I’m no fun to be around, they act out (and I understand this on an intellectual level, but it triggers me) and I try to be patient, but can not often de-escalate things quickly enough before *I* snap and act out.”

There are quite a lot of factors here. I gave these answers in brief in my original response comment, but I’m expanding them a little bit in this post.

1. Set yourself and your kids up for success. Without knowing a specific person, specific kids, or a specific scenario, this is hard for me to be much more detailed about, but here are a couple of examples:

Putting a young child in a scenario where you have to say “no” all day long is not setting you or them up for success; you’ll get tired and they’ll get annoyed. Playing outside or in kid-friendly spaces, playing in unstructured ways (i.e. not requiring as much adult intervention), for the majority of the day or at least “first” before having to do things like run errands etc. Or find ways to do those things without the kids. (obviously only applicable sometimes, or with creative thinking)

Sometimes I’m so exhausted that I feel like not getting my kids and myself out of the house, because it feels like such an effort to pack up a backpack, get everybody’s waters and snacks, get everybody dressed, get everybody’s shoes on, get in the car or stroller, go somewhere… The energy it would take to do all that feels like too much. But time and time again I find that if we stay at home and the kids are bouncing off the walls and exploring everything in the house I don’t want them to get into, it might feel like I will “get” to sit on the couch because we’re home but I actually don’t get to, I’m busy stopping them from opening cabinets and unfolding laundry and climbing on the windowsills and throwing things at each other and and and… Versus if I can just get us out there, and then I can read a Kindle book or listen to music or whatever and be available if they need me, while they play at the park or nature preserve or wherever.

2. Try to fill your own cup. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Again, creative thinking may be required to figure out how to work with the particulars of your life circumstances. Adults have way more resources than kids in that regard…ask in a FB group, google stuff, may have money to spend on self-care or solutions to things, may have transportation, etc (in ways that kids don’t)…in order to figure out how to get their own needs met. Yeah, sometimes there are short seasons of life where it’s impossible and everybody has to power through as best as they can. It’s tough. It takes other people (doesn’t have to be a spouse/partner, I just mean in the sense that it’s impossible to do everything alone!)

3. You will spend the time regardless. You will spend the time exhausting yourself correcting them or picking up after them or yelling at them or whatever — or connecting with them first. Either way, you spend the time. Sometimes, the logic in that is enough to help me be able to muster up some more energy. Sometimes, no amount of logic can outweigh exhaustion or sadness. Sometimes it’s helpful to have connection methods that give space for chronic pain or grief or depression or whatever thing it is we’re dealing with…connection doesn’t always have to be wild and roughhousing, it can be slow, small caregiving moments too. I spent a lot of time with my daughter the other day and I was laying completely flat on the couch and she was sitting on my stomach and we were making faces at each other. Totally connected, totally doable even with sadness and tiredness in play.

4. Parents do well when they can, too. Guilt/shame spirals aren’t helpful. (A mantra I heard somewhere and held for myself a lot early on in this journey was, “If beating yourself up worked, it would have worked by now.”) You might be able to “collaboratively problem solve” with your own self by asking your own self questions about what’s getting in your way to do X and what might solve that. It can be hard to sit with yourself long enough to listen to yourself without the objections and defense mechanisms that you’ve used your whole life. But if you can manage to make that space, it’s well worth it.