Morning struggles: Circle Stories From The Field

I struggle with mornings and yes, I know that is cliché. I confess I was perfectly happy when my husband had a job that required him to be to work at 4:30 in the morning, meaning that I could wake up and go about my morning, not interacting with anyone until I arrived at work a full 2.5 hours after getting out of bed. Fast forward 6 years, and we relocated, completely changed our occupations and schedules, and added a child to our household. So many wonderful changes, but I really struggled to be civil to the people I love most in the morning. I am aware enough to know it is my problem, and not actually anyone else’s fault, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I hate having demands made of me before I have time to fully wake up. And there is something about parenting that leaves me in a half sleep state for a few hours. Oh, right, it’s called sleep deprivation.

When my daughter was 3, we started to struggle in a very big way. It turns out she inherited my disdain for mornings. We’d have full melt-downs over what pants to wear, whether or not she had used the potty before leaving the house, or trying to keep her under 40 minutes at the breakfast table. And of course, through all of this my patience was at the breaking point from the time my feet hit the floor. Too many times I’ve had the experience of trying to force a planking kid into her car seat (I WISH I had her core strength!!). She would demand snuggles when we were both at the brink of tears, and knowing the Circle of Security, I’m not one to shy away from repair where it was possible. But I really longed to not have so many ruptures in the morning. It just didn’t feel good for any of us, and didn’t feel sustainable.

I tried to consider where she was on the Circle, and how we could start the day with a better tone. We tried snuggling in bed. This seemed like it fit our family, and I could make sure her cup was full before we got into our day. For a few weeks it seemed to help, then we just started sleeping and snoozing longer. It turns out she and I are both really good at going back to sleep when given the chance. And our “snuggle time” didn’t seem to count. I could point out that we’d been laying there for 15 minutes, but it didn’t make a difference when we were in the middle of arguing because she didn’t want to get up yet. We were habitually late. We went right back to tears and planking. But I wasn’t willing to just accept that our mornings were always going to be a struggle. We tried a few more things, and again, they weren’t right for us. We survived like this for a few years, because I could tag team with my husband and we could fumble our way through the mornings. But I had a big deadline looming, Kindergarten was starting. And our schedules were changing so that I would be solo parenting in the morning. Crap.

We had to figure something out that didn’t result in so much distress for both of us. I tried to think about the times we are both calm and enjoying being with one another. Reading. We have read a book together every day since the day she was born. We always read a bedtime story, so I decided to try a wake-up story. At first, it was in bed, but that was still too close to our bedtime stories. When we moved stories to the couch, it was a game changer. I set a timer (building in time for the “just a little more” request) and begin reading. I don’t have to consider how to be civil in the morning if I’m reading words already written for me. It helps me wake up. My calm tone and presence helps her wake up and start on the right foot. Most importantly it gives us a chance to enjoy each other, I get to genuinely fill her cup.

We’ve been reading our wake-up stories for a little over a year now, and it still feels like it works for us. It is predictable, and sustainable. When days feel stressful, like we are going in a thousand directions at once, and there is just too much to do, I realize now this is a way for us to slow down, and begin and end our days feeling connected.     --- Gretchen


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