Can you turn the kids off please?

 

ASK THE EXPERT:Feeling tense amid the chaos of family life? Relax, you are not alone, writes DAVID COLEMAN.

IS IT wrong not to want to spend time with your children? I have four children and they are exhausting me. I feel like I spend my whole day at their beck and call. I don’t consider myself a slave or servant but nonetheless I spend hours cooking, cleaning and washing clothes.

I know they are not bad kids; they do appreciate the work that gets done for them. But it is just constant noise in the house: arguing, loud music, bad tempers, excited games, racing around, tumbles, injuries, claims of starvation, even laughter starts to grate after a while. I feel I have no break from them. I am delighted the Christmas holidays are over because I might finally get a bit of peace as the older three are back in school. Have you any advice on how to make the day go smoother and calmer? I do love my children but there are lots of times when I don’t like them.

FAMILY LIFE can be frenzied indeed. It is the nature of children to be active in the world. That means that they are exploring, creating, relating, destroying, playing, fighting and lots more besides.

The last thing you want to do is to switch off their creative energies, but similarly they can’t be left entirely to their own devices. Your house sounds lovably chaotic but chaotic nonetheless. Maybe you don’t function well in chaos?

It is interesting that you are pleased to be back in school-time. I have no doubt that some of the pleasure is derived from the “rest” you get from the relentless attentions of your children. But I would guess too that some of your pleasure comes from being back in a routine.

Routine brings an element of predictability. Most of us like to know what is coming next and so we tend to be a bit more relaxed when we have a clearer idea of what to expect. This is certainly true for children.

Importantly too, some of their energy is being absorbed by school work and friends. What you probably experienced over Christmas was an excess of energy, over activity, accompanied by extra chocolate and sugar rushes.

So in answer to your opening question, I think it is perfectly understandable that you would have some occasions when you do not want to spend time with your children. Indeed, what that feeling might actually be telling you is that you need to spend more time on yourself.

I am a strong believer in the maxim that we must mind ourselves if we are to mind our children. You do need opportunities to rebuild and recharge your own energy in order to meet any of the needs of your children.

So for the new year, see if you can plan at least one morning a week when you get some time to yourself, time that you can spend as frivolously and selfishly as you like. You may have to “bank” any wellbeing that this generates as you will still have the many tasks of parenthood that you describe to attend to in between these times.

Engaging the children’s help with the household chores will also give you a sense that you are not a lone worker. It might take a bit more effort to get them into a habit of helping but it will certainly pay off in the longer term.

I wrote about children and chores in response to a query on December 9th last year – so there are ideas to kick start this there.

This applies to their dad as well, assuming he is around and available. Certainly it would be helpful if he took on some family tasks, even it seems just a show of solidarity with the effort you are putting into the family.

Calmness is not easily achieved in bigger families. You will get periods of calm but it isn’t always sustainable.

When children get together their energies sometimes appear infectious.

The most exhausting thing for us parents is to try to dissipate or redirect this energy. So sometimes it can be nice to just go with it and join in the wildness and fun that your children are creating.

They are much more likely to remember with fondness the day you danced on the sofa with them than the warnings you might give about someone getting hurt when bouncing on the same sofa.

You might also find it helpful to think about your children in a different light. For example, if you think in a predominantly negative way about your children, you will definitely be more conscious of, and attentive to, any “bad” behaviour.

So if you flip this around and focus on the good things they are achieving, it might help you balance things out. Essentially, you will start to think of them in a positive way and recognise instead that there are just occasional blips in that positive vibe.

What you are aiming for is to be able to re-phrase your final sentence as “I love my children but there are times when I don’t like their behaviour”. That is a sentiment we can all relate to!

  • David Coleman is a clinical psychologist and broadcaster with RTÉ television
  • Readers’ queries are welcome and will be answered through the column, but David regrets he cannot enter into individual correspondence. Questions should be e-mailed to healthsupplement@irishtimes.com