When Parents Have a Bad Day

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Stressed woman on telephone
02 Nov 2017

Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Call it bad karma or say that G-d has a sense of humor; whatever the cause, we all have them, and what we’ve learned from Alexander, is that they even have them in Australia.

The kind of day that starts off when your kids are moving like sloths in the morning and now you are late to school and work. The bad day follows you to work, as you find yourself dealing with one frustrating situation after another. All the important timely phone calls you are waiting for, aren’t returned so it’s hard to move forward on any of the timely projects you need to finish. When a person enters the doorway of your office, you know before they even open their mouth  that they are the harbinger of bad news (and you’re right) because it’s just one of those days.

Yes, this was me this past Tuesday. And just when I was about to get to my longed-for couch with ice cream in hand, I remembered that it was the night of Halloween. This date is not usually in my frame of reference but working in a community school, it’s hard to escape when it’s a main topic amongst many of the students. And being one of few kids in the school who don’t dress up and go trick-or-treating after school, it’s a hard day for my children. While I don’t think my kids have ever thought about celebrating Halloween or even particularly wanted to (except for maybe getting to eat candy), I know that it is hard for them when most of their friends are out having fun and they feel so different. I knew this was not a night I could just crash. We had to do something special as a family.

So faking energy that I did not have, I scratched together dinner (Baruch Hashem for Wacky Mac) and after they did their homework, we pulled out the Rummikub set. My kids were thrilled, partly because they beat me, but mostly because they knew how wiped I was and appreciated that I made special time for them. Funny how when we see the need, we are able to find the energy reserves and do what we have to do.

But after escaping all of the frustration on Tuesday night, I woke on Wednesday morning with a sense of dread of all the things I had yet to deal with as the result of my bad day. And with a million stressful thoughts running in my head, my daughter took one look at me and said, “You know, Imma, when you’re having a bad day, it makes me have a bad day too”.

Sometimes the greatest mussar comes from the mouths of our children.

Much has been written about the difficulties of being a working parent and the challenges of trying to balance it all but the focus is usually on the difficulties of managing time. But what isn’t discussed as much is the challenge of managing energy. The reality of our after-work selves is that we return home after a long day to work a second, and more important job of being the parent; a job we enter with depleted energy and patience levels worn thin from everything else we’ve dealt with during the day. It’s not always about how much time we have to do everything, it’s about how much energy. And by the end of the day, I’m often on empty. I imagine I’m not the only parent who feels this way.

As I thought about my daughter’s words, it reminded me of an obvious fact that I’d neglected. That kids have their own struggles throughout the day: memorizing multiplication tables and spelling words, social concerns on the playground, sibling rivalry issues, etc. Although on the grand scale, their concerns aren’t as impactful or stressful as mine, in their world’s, they are every bit as real and important. Starting off and/or ending off their days with a crabby Imma, no matter how justified she is to be crabby, has just as much as an effect on their day, as crabby kids who are fighting in the car on the way to and from work, have on mine.

And so I made a commitment: to find some way to separate my two lives: either to take a walk after school to cool off steam, take a five minute nap to recharge or on bad days, to hit that ice cream. Because despite how justifiably exhausted I am by the end of the day- on a bad day- or just a regular one, I owe it to my kids to ensure that my bad day doesn’t become theirs.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.