In my very first blog post I said we are all doing the best we can with the resources we have.
What happens when our resources are insufficient? Well, of course the usual course of action is compromise – how many parents have gone without something (sports car, luxury holiday … shoes without holes, dinner) in order to provide something for a child?
Not all our resources are material, however. When your first child arrives, you suddenly have to develop vast stores of patience, resistance to fatigue, tolerance of repetition, tolerance of repetition, tolerance of repetition, negotiation, imagination, innovation and good cheer, among other attributes. If you have more than one child then your powers of mediation develop very swiftly, too.
There’s no hope of compromise when your soft skills run out. The cracks inevitably start to show.
Maybe you forget to turn the bathroom light off. Maybe you fail to turn the oven on. Maybe your recycling doesn’t make it to the kerb on bin day. Maybe you mess something up at work – with any luck you merely neglect to attach the attachments to an email.
You’ll know when your resources are running low. I always seem to get a puncture on the pram when mine are running low – on a normal day I groan and repair it, but on a bad day it is All Too Much and I sob into the rubber glue.
I try to keep my "game face" in front of the children, because they’re only small and adult problems are often too complicated for them. But sometimes it’s the patience that runs out first, and they suffer the exasperated bark, or even the passive-aggressive sarcasm.
I do feel awful when it comes to that, by the way. If the outburst can be turned into a joke, I’ll try it. I don’t want to frighten or upset them, or anyone else.
Now, this entry isn’t just an outpouring. There is something I can recommend when one is reaching capacity/crisis. No real substitute for a full night’s sleep and a lottery win, or a doctor’s visit perhaps, but sometimes it can be the difference between being able to take a deep breath and carry on, and bursting into tears or yelling.
Behold: the Solidarity Hand Squeeze.
You need another human being who can empathise. Any parent will do, although I recommend choosing one you actually know. You don’t have to explain a thing: you just say, "I need a Solidarity Hand Squeeze". Then you hold hands with the other person (one hand each) and give a quick, reassuring squeeze.
Alternatively, if someone mentions that they’re dealing with something tricky, or seem a bit overwhelmed, you can offer a Solidarity Hand Squeeze.
The Solidarity Hand Squeeze says, "Life can be hard, but you can do it."
The Solidarity Hand Squeeze gives you more than it takes from you, whichever side of the transaction you start from. It reminds you that are not alone.
It’s no panacea, and I don’t want you to think I am minimising the very real emotional problems and mental illness that can go hand in hand with parenthood. But in that moment it can help. And any help has to be worth a try.
Take my hand: you are not alone, and neither am I.