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When you’re in the midst of chaos and it feels like you’re failing everyone

Sometimes it’s the crazy half hour before dinner – when you’re already running late, and your cranky toddler Won’t Stop Shouting, the baby missed a nap, and your older one just smashed a glass of the reddest smoothie you’ve ever seen all over the kitchen.

Sometimes it’s when you thought you’d had a great day, then without warning you find a minor disagreement over dinner turns into your tweens both in the midst of a major meltdown because of ongoing issues between them and you can’t talk to one without the other starting up the fight again.

Sometimes it’s a new baby, a move, or a relationship change, and everything has shifted and you don’t know where your centre is any more, or how to get it back again.

Sometimes it’s building work, or job stress, or a health crisis, and it’s been months and months with no end in sight. Your head is spinning with a million thoughts, you can’t remember when you last sat down and read with your kids, and it feels like it’s spiralling out of control.

Sometimes it’s all of them. Every day.

Sometimes, you don’t know what it is. Everything looks like it’s ticking along nicely, but it just doesn’t feel right, and sometimes you want to cry but you don’t even know why.

And you feel like you’re failing. You feel like it’s on you. If you could just be more organised, be more patient, earn a little more, inspire the children, take better care of yourself, get the dinner on the table, spend more time with each of your children, write the list and tick it off, support your partner and your friends, declutter, oh and write that novel you’ve always wanted to because you matter too. Then, you’d be doing OK. Whereas right now a good day is one when you manage to apologise after you reamed the kids out for bouncing off the walls.

Now, here’s what I want you to do.

First, think about what you’re dealing with. Don’t make a big list, or zero in on all the details, or remember that phone call you needed to make. Broad strokes. A wall of your house has been knocked down. Your baby girl is in hospital. You’ve got a toddler – or two, or three – that needs constant awareness, and you haven’t slept properly in years. You’re not sure if you’re making the best of the only life you’ll ever have. You’ve taken on the care and keeping of other human beings. This is big stuff. Some of it may seem objectively bigger than others, but we are so good at minimising what we’re dealing with when we see other people’s stories. Don’t judge your big stuff against someone else’s worst ever moment. Give yourself credit for the challenges in your own life.

Next, think about the ways in which you are coping. Did everyone get fed last week, even if toast was involved more often that not? Did you get the kids out to meet their friends when you really wanted to get on with something at home? Did you get a smile out of your teenager, just the once? Did you make it through, when you really thought you wouldn’t? Maybe you did this while also losing it over something minor (or major), and while your ten-year-old told you he wished the baby had never been born – still counts. You still did it.

And now we get to the meat of it. Consider that your cup of tea and a hug (or tentatively offered chocolate biscuit, because I am British after all and that’s basically code for ‘I really want to help but I might embarrass you by suggesting that I care, so here, have a Hob Nob’). Now it’s time for the gentle talking-to.

How are you really doing? Is this actually just a shortterm crappy time in an otherwise doing-OK situation? Are you basically alright, and a cuppa and a biscuit really is the answer?

Or do you need something to change? Not because you’re doing it all wrong, but because you deserve to feel more in control of your life, and your family deserve to see a little more of the best of you. If you really, truly know that you don’t want go on like this, then also know that you have it in you to make a difference in your own life.

Of course the hard thing is that some of it you can’t change. You can’t magically fix your baby’s heart problem, or your relationship, or rebuild your house in an instant. Those things are what they are, and what they are is likely pretty damn awful.

But what you can do is pick one little thing, and change that. It might be something to let go, or it might be something to hang on to, but make it something that you think will make a difference, however small. Only you know what your thing will be, because only you know where things fall apart and what holds them together. Is bedtime story one more pressure in your day to let go of, or is it the only moment when you feel stillness together, the one thing you need? Do you need to give yourself permission to grab McDonalds for the third time this week, or is the weekly meal plan the thing that would give you freedom to at least feel you’re doing that bit right? Would five minutes a day of maths practice be a touchstone that home ed wasn’t completely sliding away from you, or is it time to look around and see what learning is happening without you being directly involved (because knowing that life sometimes brings chaos, and you can get through it, with love – that’s a hell of a lesson, right there)?

Don’t try and fix everything, because that ain’t gonna happen. Just pick the thing. Make it something small, that you realistically might be able to make happen, and do it.

If it’s falling apart, and you need the change, make the change. You’ve got this. And if you stumble, that’s OK. I’ve still got the teapot and the Hob Nobs. The great thing about changes is that you can keep on making them. You’re not failing. You’ve just spotted a way to do things better. How awesome is that?

Do you have a change that you want to make? Have you been in a season of chaos and found something that helped? Share in the comments and we can support each other.

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