Parents should be pessimists

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Mess pessimism

because-I-said-so-goldI consider myself a positive parent. I enjoy spending time with my kids — laughing, smiling and playing. I like having their cute friends come to our house to play. I look forward to going places with them, whether it is the amazing new kids’ museum by our house or the low-key local pool. And as long as I’ve gotten in my morning workout — hello, free therapy! — I like to think that I usually have a smile (or at least a pleasant look) on my face.

But there is one thing I do every day that is decidedly pessimistic. And I’ve decided to share my deep, dark secret with you because, truthfully, it’s kind of been a game changer for me. Are you ready? Here it goes: Every morning, at the beginning of the day, I tell myself that something will go wrong today. No matter what we have planned — doughnuts for breakfast! All-day trip to the zoo with BFFs! Surprise trip to Disneyland! — I remind myself that one or possibly all of my kids will likely throw a fit, have a meltdown, fight with a sibling, create a fantastically huge but entirely preventable mess, turn their nose up at dinner or freak out at me for no reason. Or, if it’s a really bad day, they’ll do all of the above.

For my first, oh, seven or so years as a parent (read: up until very recently) I operated under the premise that as long as I remained Pollyanna-ish, every day would be great and go smoothly. But the problem with expecting everything to go smoothly is that it doesn’t. I don’t mean that in a depressing, woe-is-me way. I mean it in a practical, humans-are-unpredictable way.

Especially tiny humans, who meltdown and roll around on the floor (usually my toddler), yell at their siblings (usually my oldest) and scratch people when they are mad (usually my daughter). I can cross my fingers and hope these situations don’t happen, but honestly they are just part of life with kids. Because, you know, they’re just kids. And they’re learning how to navigate their emotions and feelings and friends and the world and, well, basically everything.

Even though I know they’re only kids, these situations would still frazzle or frustrate me because I wasn’t expecting them. Then I read this genius tip in a book called “A Joyful Mother of Children” by Linda Eyre. Eyre, a mother of 11 kids and a well-known parenting expert, suggests reminding yourself every morning that something will go wrong at some point. When you do this, these daily disturbances no longer derail things because they go from being unexpected to being part of the plan.

This little mind trick has made a big difference in how I react to the inevitable meltdowns and low-blood-sugar moments. Instead of thinking, “Why is this happening?” or “What on earth is going on?” I can tell myself, “You were expecting this!” and “You’ve got this, mama!” I can better anticipate problems before they bubble up when I’m on the lookout for them. I find it easier to diffuse and keep problems in perspective instead of blowing them out of proportion. Bottom line, I react much better to unknown situations when I’m at least expecting the unexpected. And when I react better, things go better, period.

So if you’d like to be a more resilient, positive parent, take my advice and practice a little bit of pessimism daily.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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