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Filling Up the Mom’s “Nice Jar”

When a working mother is pushed to her breaking point (daily), she finds a way to stock up on “nice.”

When my nice jar is depleted, I end up yelling at those most precious to me.

I’m a married working mom with four kids and two dogs. I start each day optimistically and swear I won’t get angry or yell. After all, I have a good life. I have problems, but it could be worse. Even so, by the end of each day, my “nice jar” is empty.

One thing that saps the jar is our puppy, Chewie, an adorable 7-month-old wallpaper-licking throw-pillow-chewing undisciplined terror. But I confess: It’s not Chewie that makes me the angriest.

I get angriest at the people I love the most. At the end of the day, when my nice jar is depleted, I end up yelling at, nagging or criticizing those most precious to me. I could defend myself by explaining it’s never without provocation. And I might not yell as much as I think. Since no one else admits they end up yelling at their kids a lot, I’m not sure where I stand as a yelling mom. I hear a lot of moms claim they slow down for a second, take a deep breath and remember the love. They hug it out. A lot of non-yellers in the crowd.

But are they honest? Those who write parenting articles know they will never get an award for being a good parent if they are really honest. Because it’s a mess out there.

As soon as I leave work, I push it out of my head. But it doesn’t work that way with my kids. They’re always with me. I let a thousand things slide over the course of the day, and then one random comment, excuse, tone or action will send me over the edge and the person in front of me will be yelled at.

Today, my youngest daughter forgot her school ID and couldn’t get lunch. She said, “It was a terrible lunch anyway but that’s not the point. My ID was in my jeans and you washed them.” It was my fault, of course. And my teen daughter was talking at me, describing injustices like unfair teachers, friends who acted disloyally, rain on her new shoes and lost Lululemon pants. She’s is really a sweetheart who doesn’t rant very often, so I’m surprised at how good she is at it. Champion-level good.

I cook as many dinners as I can. I’m not a bad cook, but the supermarket stop is often squeezed into my day, and I grab items that are in my path. Then I’m surprised when I don’t have the right ingredients for the Crockpot recipe, and it’s too late to start a Crockpot dinner at 7 p.m. anyway. Who are these Crockpot whizzes anyway? I’ll bet it’s the Crockpot moms who never yell at their kids. And they probably cooked a healthy salmon stew in it and their kids eat it. My goal is one out of four kids likes what I make for dinner. Tonight I hear: “I’m not hungry.” “I already ate.” “I don’t like that.” “I’m a vegetarian this week.”

It takes a lot out of me to remain effortlessly cheery, and I’m starting to feel the weariness from my day creep in. Plus, I’m hungry and on a diet, smelling the food the kids do not want to eat. (I diet to stay the way I am, so I do not lose any more ground. With babies and age, not losing ground is a massive challenge.) They all take the perfunctory few bites, stream out of the kitchen, dump their dirty plates and glasses in the sink and ignore the pots and pans that need washing.

A sensation washes over me like a wave. I tell myself, “They are not happiness hijackers. They are children.” But it’s too much. “All of you come back here and help!” I yell. “I’m not your servant! And put your phones away!” They file back in, looking like sorry bunnies, and put their dishes in the dishwasher. I send them up for homework and showers. I pour a glass of wine and grow reflective.

My nice jar is empty, and the angry horse is out of the barn. But it doesn’t mean I want to stampede the bunnies. As I clean the kitchen, I focus on how I did with the goals I set for today. I’m sure I accomplished something, and this will bring me back to Nice Fun Mommy.

The goals:

1. Pee alone once, and that means no one talking to me through the door or yelling, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, MOM, MOM!” OK, that didn’t happen.

2. Finish my morning coffee in the morning. No, didn’t happen.

3. Drop my kids at school before 7 a.m. so I can get in an early hike with my friends and still get to work on time. I multitask these, as I don’t have time for both separately. Done.

4. Get one thing off of my massive work to-do list. Done.

5. Send a text full of heart emojis to my husband. Done. But he texted me back: “I’m either very intrigued or afraid I missed something.”

6. Watch one child do something he/she loves (piano, practice, sports game, art, whatever). So they feel my support and connection. Done.

This goal assessment cheers me up immensely, and my inner voice says, “It’s all a matter of perspective.” I remind myself that the glass of wine and my husband replacing the burned out light bulbs helps too. Then my littlest daughter challenges me to a heart emoji texting contest. “You better bring it,” I say. “I practiced on Daddy today.” And then my other kids want to be in the contest, each swearing they have the fastest thumbs. I stop and savor the moment as I feel my nice jar filling back up again, their happiness and affection leaking in. I know I can do it all again tomorrow, as it will be much of the same. Wash, rinse, dry, fold, repeat. And repeat. And repeat.