Is Chaos the New Normal?

Yesterday I met a couple who is expecting their first child in a month or so. My boys and I were in the waiting room at my OBGYN’s office waiting for my 32 week appointment. The boys were ‘circle racing’, and the couple watched with wide eyes and raised eyebrows as the boys ran around in a tight circle. I asked them if the boys were bothering them. They quickly responded with, “Not at all! We have to get used to it sometime!”. They laughed and we talked about how much energy little boys have. When we left the office I tried hard to remember what the waiting room had been like before I had two rambunctious toddlers in tow. Did my husband and I watch other kids and try to mentally prepare for the changes that were to come? Would it have been possible to expect and prepare for these two (very different) boys?

Becoming a parent comes with a lot of ‘adjusting’. For me, it has come in many forms: on the job training, prayer, reading, utilizing my ‘village’, self-care, mentoring, and learning from other parents around me. Our oldest is three and a half, and I have learned an important lesson about myself almost everyday of his life. The truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever “get used to” my role as a mom. There is no job description, no set of guidelines for raising each child. Each of my boys is so incredibly unique. They have come with their own sets of parenting challenges and joys. One thing that I have gotten used to though, is the chaos.
This may not be a popular opinion, but I believe that chaos is a part the new normal. Chaos doesn’t have to be bad though. Chaos, or a lack of order and understanding, can be a beautiful and manageable thing…most of the time. And when it’s not manageable or beautiful, we learn from it. Chaos has been a huge change for me. I like to feel like I’m in control. I like for things to be the way that I want them. I like being able to do what I want when I want, and not having to give into my environment.

My older son has recently become aware of how uncomfortable chaos can be. He has started shouting “Everything is out of control!!” when he notices chaos. This initially bothered me a lot. As his momma, I want him to be comfortable and non-reactive (because it makes my job a little easier). I didn’t realize how good recognizing chaos could be for him.

When the characters on sesame street were running around snatching things out of each other’s hands (the key symptoms of mineitis- the sickness that results in an inability to share), he shouted “Momma! Everything is out of control!!” He got super upset and started crying. I calmed him down and resented sesame street for making my big boy cry. He shared like a boss the rest of the day (and ever since, really). He and his brother have played with fewer conflicts and much less shouting. Momma has even been better at sharing since we saw how chaotic not sharing can be.

Chaos is unattractive, but it’s not all bad! Chaos is unpredictible, but it’s not unmanageable!

Managing Chaos

Picture this: An obviously pregnant young momma pushes a whale of a shopping cart toward the sliding doors into target. Her list includes milk, bath salts, mascara, sunscreen, pull-ups, wipes, and a sugar free decaf iced vanilla late. Big brother and little brother (who have been briefed on momma’s expectations of the short shopping trip) eagerly await their check-out treat (because bribery). They are almost through the sliding doors when little brother screams that he wants to “play red balls”. Momma, who is in a hurry to get in and out in time for brothers to nap on schedule (LOL!!!), tells little brother that if they have time they’ll stop at the red balls on the way out. Little brother agrees to these terms and they head inside.

The entire shopping trip is rushed by little brother, who is still very eager to “play red balls”. In fact, he “neeeeeed” red balls now. Momma has finally made it to the diaper aisle, their last stop before checkout and starbucks. She parks the cart, expecting brothers to continue to chomp on their free cookies and laugh at each other. She walks over to the pull ups and sees that there’s a discount on up and up pull up training pants with the purchase of a case of up and up wipes. She weighs the possible pros and cons of this deal. Pros: She spends almost $8 less than she would on her usual huggies wipes/ pull ups combo. Possible cons: wipes and training pants are less than adequate, which results in wasted money and an extra trip to target. Then momma slips into her thoughts and gets stuck somewhere between ‘Why are we still using pull-ups?’ and ‘Why can’t I control everything?! I’m a failure as a mom!’

All of the sudden big brother screams, “Momma!!! He’s out of control!!!” Momma turns around to find little brother holding a super expensive package of burts bees baby wipes. He’s already pulled out about 32 wipes, and tossed them over his shoulder. Big brother is shaking and crying, still shouting about little brother’s shenanigans. Little brother begins to shout, still pulling wipes out and tossing them. Momma is frozen.

(Before I became a mother, or even before having a toddler, I would have swiftly judged this momma and her kids. I would have tossed around thoughts like, “I can’t believe she’s letting him do that!” “Why did she put the cart so close to the wipes?” “Isn’t he old enough to know better?” I was the worst!)

A sweet momma wheels over to the chaos and removes the boxes from mommas hands. She chuckles and tells momma of their recent chaos in the target bathroom. He daughter had just turned the restroom into a ‘winter wonderland’ of toilet paper while she’d been on the phone with her friend. This sweet angel of a woman takes the wipes from little brother and picks up the wipes all over the floor. She doesn’t let momma (who is totally me, by the way) bend over to pick up a single wipe (super pregnant, remember?). She motions to big brother as if to encourage momma to deal with that chaos while she finishes the clean up.

Momma and big brother talk for a moment and big brother calms a little. He continues to be very upset that little brother was ‘out of control’. Momma reminds big brother that sometimes little brother’s aren’t super aware of appropriate behavior, and that’s ok, because little brother’s are still learning. Big brother finally calms enough for them to get to the check out line and head home. Momma never gets her vanilla latte, but you win some, you loose some; and this was , overall, a huge win!

Later that day I overheard big brother reciting pieces of our conversation to his little brother. He said, “I don’t expect you to be perfect, and I want you to ask for help when you need it.” I remembered saying something along these lines to big brother while we were at target. The context is lost on me now, but the message that stuck was so so valuable. Big brother retained the fact that momma doesn’t expect him to be perfect, and he remembered that momma is here to help! Our target chaos resulted in more security for big brother. The chaos was manageable, and it led to good things!

So, chaos kinda is the new normal…or at least a huge part of it. It’s not all bad, though. Most of it is really great. Chaos has changed me for the better. It has made me more flexible, more able to think on my feet, more adaptable. Chaos has made me a better wife and friend, it has stretched me in ways that have grown me. Every chaotic situation is new and unexpected, but I’m becoming more and more able to handle chaos with each new situation.

If you’re a soon-to-be parent, or a new parent struggling with the chaos, know that it’s ok to not be in control of everything all the time. Embrace the fact that parenthood is an adventure. Be open to personal growth. Know that you will face the unexpected, and prepare to be unprepared.

Parenting has been the greatest adventure of my life, and I hope that it never ceases to surprise me. I hope that my boys continue to know that momma doesn’t expect perfection from them, and she’s always going to be here to help when they need it.

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