My husband was getting the kids ready to take them to the park for the afternoon, and losing his everloving mind. The clothing, shoeing, jacketing, and STOPPUNCHINGYOURSISTER'ing of prepping three kids for anything outside our front door in sheer insanity.
Full of empathy and desirous of this being a good experience for him so it happens for me more, I took him by the shoulders, looked up into his slightly panicked eyes, and revealed to him the secrets of surviving--nay, of thriving--through an outing with children.
These secrets I now hereby reveal to you. They work 55% of the time, so your odds are slightly better than a straight crapshoot.
Look, I'm assuming you've covered the basics like not taking your children places during naptime unless you're utterly desperate, stocking your car/diaper bag/stroller/pockets with enough snacks to survive an apocalypse (Lord knows the Cheerios will make it even if we don't), and purchasing five identical "dinosaw shits" so that your child can always wear a clean dinosaw shit.
Inevitably, somebody will spend the entire ten minute drive to the park, the fun magical place they've been begging to go to since yesterday, whining because you didn't insist she bring her jacket and now she's too cold for words. Somebody else will not like the park you chose. Somebody else will fall and scrape his knee in the first thirty seconds and insist on being carried. Somebody else will remember they had to go pee since early this morning and NOW it is urgent.
At the end of the day, you just can't control your kids' attitudes, and you can almost guarantee an inverse relationships between your need for five calm minutes at the park and their need for you to fix. it. now.
This is where expert level parenting takes over. Expert level parenting is a combination of not giving a rat's ass about things that really don't matter and focusing all your energy on the things that do matter. Like installing a limousine window between the driver's seat and the passengers.
Really, expert level parenting is a mad dash at keeping your patience in stock before it's utterly depleted and any fool could do this IF SAID FOOL HAD GOTTEN A FULL NIGHT'S SLEEP.
1. Weigh Your Options Very Carefully
Nobody--nobody--likes getting kids ready to go. It's hell. Let's call it what it is, and let's keep this in mind carefully when we make plans to go somewhere. Ask yourself, is this playdate worth going through hell? Is this drive to Dunkin Donuts for 99 cent happy hour iced coffee worth hell?
Depending on your percentage of introvert and how cold it is (jackets are hells times infinity), you might very well decide this is not worth hell. At this point, cancel your plans. Your friend will understand. If she's an extrovert who felt like hell was worth getting through today, invite her to you dumpster I mean house. She won't mind. If she minds, get a new friend.
2.Treat yo' Self
Do you know what a commodity is? A commodity is a thing of value that is traded. Usually, it's limited and important. Rice is a commodity. Pork belly is a commodity. Patience is a commodity. That's not economics; that's parenting. The factory that replenishes the patience commodity is self-care. The biggest, baddest self-care factory is the one that cranks out things like Whole30's and regular exercise and therapy.
When those factories are offline, it's the smaller factories that come through for us--the coffee and a scone at the drive thru before going to the park factory. The favorite podcast on headphones factory. The stash of mint chocolate Lara bars in the car factory. The cup of delicious green tea in a travel mug factory.
Outings with children are frank reminders that they have a lot of learning to do before they're nice humans other people want to be around, so whichever factory you need to turn to--you pull that lever and get those assembly machines moving. Your happiness means a nicer parent, and this is good for everyone.
4.Speaking of Happiness (this might be a rant)
Look, woman/man: you are NOT the world's worst parent. It's so great that your kids have needs and wants and are communicating/whining their needs and wants to you, but you will never be able to meet all their needs and this irrevocable fact of life will become increasingly true as they grow older.
You can feel guilt over this thing that you can't control, or you can realize that part of growing into a stable, healthy adult means learning to take responsibility for your own happiness. This is true for me--my happiness doesn't depend on my husband, my kids, my friends, or my dog; it depends on me--and this is true for my children. The only way they learn that they can chose happiness even when they're not getting what they want is by practicing it. A lot.
And failing at it. A lot.
This is where we come in. Our time as parents is spent helping our children learn to find their own happiness, regardless of what they're getting or not getting. This is probably a more painful process for us than it is for them, though their screams often indicate otherwise, but in the midst of dramatically failing their expectations at every outing, we can pat ourselves on the back and remind ourselves that we are AWESOME parents who are helping our children grow.
Through this misery.
5. Manage Your Energy
I work from home (with my children) and you know what I don't have after I've finished a big project? Energy. I don't have the energy. You know what we don't do after I finish? Anything that involves making me more tired. This is usually challenging, because usually at this point my children are losing their minds after being semi-ignored for hours.
But first, I take a shower. I put on a show and I lay in a dark room and stare at the ceiling. I listen to a podcast by myself.
I am tired, my tank is empty, and because I AM NOT A HUMAN ENERGIZER BUNNY, I put on a show for my children and I chill.
See what I did there? I looked at my patience meter and I saw that it was empty. I can't parent on empty. So I fill my meter, and then I parent. See that? Now I'm a nice mom, not a mean mom, and all it cost me was my kids watching another episode of science stuff on Netflix. SOUNDS LIKE A WIN TO ME.
6. Know Your Triggers
Searching for clean clothes for three children is a trigger for me. So, I go to great lengths to avoid this. Searching for shoes sucks, but it doesn't set me off quite like digging through piles of clothing for something clean sets me off.
Whining sets me off; hearing my children whine/cry (it's called whrying) about being hungry sets me off. We takes snacks everywhere.
Being hungry, myself, sets me off. I buy my special protein bars religiously, even though they're so expensive we might not be able to feed our children next week.
I don't berate myself about my triggers, I just know them and I avoid them.
My husband took my advice, and after loading the kids in the car, he swung through the drive thru to grab his favorite coffee. "Babe," he told me when he got home, "you might be the smartest woman I know."
Guaranteed success, baby.