Today was a long day. The kids are back to school and the early morning coupled with the restart of all of their activities means I spend a lot of time in the car.
In Houston, for me, the car means aggravation, frustration and a little bit of road rage (maybe more than a little bit, I might resemble Anger from Inside Out more often than I would like).
I realized a few years ago that I was angry and frustrated all of the time and a lot of it was because I was sitting in my car steaming over the driver who cut me off, the driver who drives 15 miles below the speed limit in the left lane, or the construction workers who manage to block off all but one lane of traffic during rush hour. I was in my car desperate to get to the next destination, frazzled, fists tight on the wheel, body tense and leaning forward, mouth turned down.
Fun mommy time for my kids in the car with me.
I realized that while I was probably right: the driver who cut me off was rude, the slowpoke in the left lane was oblivious, and that the construction was inconvenient, I was also missing the point. The point of getting into the car is to get where I’m going. The point of being in the car with my kids (instead of hiring a driver or nanny to haul them around or instead of insisting that they give up the activities altogether) is to spend time with them. To hear about their day. To enjoy their company.
SO, while my frustration was righteous and even felt pretty good at the time. It wasn’t effective at meeting my goals – getting to where we’re going safely and as enjoyably as possible.
I realized that I needed to use some of my hard learned dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) skills to get through the drive.
First, mindfulness. I needed to be aware of my anger before it got to the point that I’m muttering under my breath and driving faster than I should. Surprising as it sounds, I wasn’t always aware that I was annoyed – I mean, I noticed when I was muttering under my breath, but I wasn’t aware of it before then. I wasn’t just frustrated, either. I was ashamed and anxious. Anxious about being late to the next thing we needed to get to. Ashamed of myself as a mother for not being able to get where we were going efficiently and on time. The easiest way to be aware of my emotions, the easiest way for a lot of people, was to observe my body language. My hands gripping the wheel. That’s the first sign.
If I’m keeping a watchful eye on my hands, I can be aware of my emotions before they get overwhelming. I can head them off at the pass. First, I can loosen my hands on the wheel. Often, this just soothes my nerves enough to let go of the frustration. Second, I can remind myself that the other drivers might have reasons for driving the way they do and that I can’t know what those reasons are. Third, I can remind myself that, in the end, my ideas about needing to be on time aren’t really accurate and aren’t actually a measure of who I am as a mother. That I’m doing the best that I can.
Sometimes, though, the best way to avoid the frustration and aggravation is distraction. That’s where Disney comes in. I love a Disney podcast – trip reports, news, Disney Vacation Club information. I listen to them on the drive and they make it easier to sit in traffic because I don’t mind being in the car. I save them now, for when I’m running and when I’m driving. Doesn’t matter if they’re talking about things I already know, they’re entertaining and fun and allow me to dream of the vacations I’ll take in the future.
Distraction from our problems isn’t always a bad way to cope. We can’t live in distraction forever because it turns into avoidance. So, when I’m not in the car, I have to consider my doubts about myself as a mother and challenge my beliefs about what it means to be a good one. But in the car, when we just need to get happily where we’re going, distraction can be an awesome way to go.