On the last day of one of our summer vacations, my family planned to have a nice breakfast together. I put a lot of effort into finding a restaurant we’d enjoy, choosing a small family-owned bakery/cafe with a Sunday morning brunch and good reviews. I made the reservations, and got us all out the door on time. (Almost.)
At the restaurant, my husband had a moment of frugal conscience and suggested that we order off the menu rather than get the buffet. I love me some buffet, but it’s unlikely I’d actually consume $11 worth of breakfast food. And our little kids aren’t big enough eaters to justify $7 worth of pancakes and bacon, either. I saw his logic, so I reluctantly agreed and found something on the menu that I wanted to eat.
Then at the last moment, my husband and two older sons changed their minds and decided they wanted the buffet after all. I went ahead and ordered the French toast for myself, and eggs and pancakes for the little guys to split.
As my older sons and husband returned from the buffet again and again with delicious-looking stuff – and I sat with two whiny little boys who couldn’t understand why everyone else was getting to eat while they had to wait – I found myself getting annoyed. Eating from the buffet was my idea. The whole breakfast at the restaurant was my idea. Why wasn’t I eating that homemade mac and cheese and a pastry and fresh fruit? Where were my sausage links?
Finally, the food arrived for Owen, William and me. After getting the little guys situated with their pancakes and eggs, I eagerly cut up my French toast, reached for the syrup, and…
instead, poured the hot water for my tea all over my food.
Suddenly, I went from annoyed to enraged. My breakfast was ruined! All ruined! The French toast, soggy! The bacon, damp! And because I didn’t get the buffet, I couldn’t even go right up and trade it in for a new plate of food! RUINED!
I sat in my seat, seething, staring at a plate of watery, ruined food. For a moment, I actually thought I might cry. Or throw a fork.
Of course, the most natural target for my rage was my husband. He’d been the one who suggested we eat off the menu, after all, and then changed his mind. All. His. Fault. And isn’t this just a perfect metaphor for motherhood, my mind went on. Everyone else gets exactly what they want, and Mom’s left holding the plate of soggy bread.
I’m not sure what my face looked like, but the rest of my family started looking worried and talking to me v-e-r-y carefully, as though they thought I might do something rash with the breakfast meats. And then… I realized that I was actually close to tears over a plate of fried bread, and I started to feel silly.
I could either decide that no, dammit, being angry about getting screwed out of my French toast was not silly at all and hunker down into that anger even more–hold on to it, roll around in it, get really deep into it, and let it color my reactions to my kids, my interactions with my husband, for the rest of the trip.
OR, I could recognize the choices I made that led to that plate of soggy food and not-satisfied belly, and the choices I was still continuing to make.
Once I realized my control over the situation, I could decide to make a choice I could live with. By this point, I decided it was too late for me to ask for a new plate of food: everyone else was done, and it wouldn’t have been very much fun eating a whole new breakfast while four kids grew restless in their seats and the baby squirmed.
But I could walk over to the bakery and order myself a cherry turnover to eat in the car. And I could give my husband and kids a break and realize that nobody set out to ruin my breakfast. And I could even laugh about the water-mistaken-for-syrup.
And I did. And it was good.
Throughout my marriage and life as a mom, I have often found myself at that crossroads where you have to choose to either stay angry or let it go. There comes that pivotal moment where the initial event–whether it’s a soggy plate of food or a child’s misbehavior or the spouse who forgot your anniversary–isn’t enough to fuel the anger anymore.
“And isn’t this just a perfect metaphor for motherhood? Everyone else gets exactly what they want, and Mom’s left holding the plate of soggy bread.”
At that moment you have to make a conscious, intelligent decision to feed the negativity. And I am convinced that a huge percentage of marital discord and parental bitterness comes from people making a choice to stay angry or disappointed or disgusted or resentful. I know because I’ve made that choice myself, many many times, especially early in my life as a mom and wife. And it has never, not once, made my day better, improved a relationship, or given me any real, lasting satisfaction.
Now I go out of my way to make the other decision: the decision not to nurture the annoyance or resentment, to forget about the self-pity. Like anything else, bad feelings need to be fed in order to thrive. If you starve them of attention or focus, they have a way of shriveling up and going away.
Imagine how much happier we’d all be if we let moments of anger be just that: moments. And then went on to embrace the humor in the unexpected, the love of our families, and the freshly-baked cherry turnover.
Have you ever made a conscious choice to either feed or starve bad feelings toward your kids or spouse? What happened?
As a mom of five and blogger, author and writer, Meagan Francis spends the bulk of her time trying to balance kissing boo-boos with meeting deadlines (sometimes doing both simultaneously). But while life with kids is often chaotic and frustrating, Meagan believes a mother’s life can be rewarding and fun—and that all moms deserve a little more happiness. Her book The Happiest Mom: Ten Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, will be published in partnership with Parenting magazine in April of 2011.