I am a massive Type-A personality. I struggle to just sit still, doing nothing – I like achieving, improving and streamlining my life. (The only exception is when I am with my twins, Sausage and Bean – I could sit with them for hours, just intentionally being present.)
I get inspired, I love grand projects and often burn the midnight oil to work on them. (This blog being a case in point). I delight in researching and implementing new ideas into our day-to-day routine, and feel it very keenly if they don’t work out. It’s one of the reasons I am so keen to Unschool – I don’t want my children believing their worth is wrapped up in grades & achievements etc.
I am working to change my ways! But it does mean that I am a bit of a productivity junkie, and find it really tough when my ‘progress’ is halted. I am also at risk for depression and anxiety – although I have been recovered for 3 or 4 years now, I am hyper-aware of my triggers and usually feel like I need to ‘fix’ something if I have a low mood, for fear of ‘going back down again’.
I don’t remember where I originally came across the meme ‘Chuck it in the f*ck it bucket’, but (despite being a bit crude to repeat in front of the kiddies) it has really altered my life for the better. Something about its catchiness, its devil-may-care attitude, or the image it conjures up – I find it really freeing!
I think it sums up (albeit not in his idiolect) the timeless advice that my late Godfather, John Richards, gave me. He told me that on those days when life feels like wading through treacle, you should listen to your body/mind and take it slow. Just do the bare minimum and be gentle on yourself. He said this will naturally free you up to be super-productive on those days when you are inspired and fizzing with action!
I have taken to calling those treacle-wading times ‘Bucket’ days. (Well, the obscenity is implied, since I have toddlers who will soon be parroting everything they hear!)
Now, when I am ill or tired or overwhelmed, or it’s star week, instead of fighting to be the perfect mum/wife/person, I say F*ck it. Chuck it. I declare it a Bucket Day.
We can read about so many parenting and lifestyle models, and dream of implementing them consistently. Like if we could just stay calm 100% of the time, life would be so much better. We fear that to fail in our pursuit of our ideal parenting style is to fail our children. But perfectionism is exhausting, and, ultimately, hurts our families as much as it hurts us.
When I am trying to summon up energy that isn’t there, or am trying to achieve stuff during the time the kids are usually playing, but they are having a mummy-centric day, it can feel like hitting my head against a brick wall. And I feel it very keenly. I want so badly to run a smooth household, to parent perfectly, to get it right, that it can feel like they are deliberately thwarting me. Or that the world is against me. Or that I am just not good enough. And I can end up taking it out on those closest to me.
It’s then that the Bucket Day comes into its own. Now, if we are having a really hard day, we’ll chuck it in the bucket. We’ll have cuddles on the sofa and a TV day. Okay, ideally we wanted to avoid screens before 18 months, but it’s not like it’s every day – and it’s better than a Mummy melt-down.
Or, if the children are super-tired and clingy for some reason, I might decide to give them an Aldi pouch on my lap, in our cuddles armchair, instead of insisting on going through the whole production of dinner time. Hey – they are still self-feeding, since they suck it directly from the pouch, and are in complete control of the speed and quantity they swallow. (Trust me, when they have a flavour they don’t want, or they are full, they don’t eat it! More on why I believe occasional pouches don’t necessarily negate BLW in a later post). Of course they get extra boob on days like this, but I still like to give them the option of some food.
And I think it’s more gentle/respectful to let them eat something quick and easy than insisting on sticking to an arbitrary routine when they aren’t feeling up to it. Don’t we all gravitate towards comfort foods in bed/on the sofa when we are sick/upset?
I think of Bucket Days as being a bit like Mental Health days. Days when we give ourselves permission to stop striving, to ‘fail’. And kids need mental health days too. Permission to say, “This is all I have right now, and it’s enough.” If I claim to be truly child-led, and responsive to their cues, shouldn’t I relax the ‘rules’ when they are struggling?
I don’t advocate giving up on the ideals that you have chosen to shape your parenting. This is not me choosing to give up on healthy, home-cooked meals, or the belief that children thrive best in an environment that is calming, or on my preference for encouraging open-ended play. I think the phrase ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby’ can be really misused and lead to convenience parenting.
However, I am advocating the path of least harm – if striving to achieve too much on a tough day is going to lead to prolonged distress for either yourself or the children, perhaps it’s best to cheat a bit?
After all, tomorrow is a new day, you will likely all feel refreshed in the morning, and can get back to the pursuit of excellence, whatever that looks like for your family!
Do you have Bucket Days? What are your coping mechanisms when times get tough?