Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
Last Monday, I woke up to find a pool of water on our kitchen floor because our refrigerator had decided to stop refrigerating overnight.
Instead it had thawed every frozen thing inside it, which is really the opposite of what you want a fridge-and-freezer to do. Not my favorite way to start a day, but you know what, these things happen.
I do understand that, intellectually.
I understand that sometimes things break. For example, two hours later, the cold water knob in the bathroom sink snapped clean off, spraying a geyser of water four feet into the air, overflowing the sink, soaking the counter and cupboards and walls, and creating a flood through the garage and all the way out to the street before we could shut off the water supply to the house.
What I don’t understand is why both things needed to happen ON THE SAME DAY.
The weekend before that, we’d done some serious spring cleaning and decluttering, so our trash cans were full before we even began pulling the sopping rolls of unused toilet paper out of the bathroom cupboards and emptying the spoiled food out of the fridge.
And of course the flooded garage needed to be emptied and dried out and sorted, before wet things had a chance to mildew.
And then there was the matter of figuring out how to make meals happen without refrigerated ingredients—for all of the days until a new fridge could be installed. (Keeping a cooler in the kitchen gave the room a fun camping vibe in the meantime, I guess.)
When I called a friend to tell her All The Things, she just listened. There wasn’t much she could do, given that the cascading flood was turned off and every towel we owned had already been used as giant sponges. I just wanted to talk about it.
“I’m here for you,” she said.
I’d had a hard day, and she said exactly what I needed to hear.
Most of our hard days don’t involve cartons of melted ice cream dripping down unfrozen freezer shelves.
Most of the time, hard days involve some combination of the usual-but-annoying:
the kids woke up too early and are cranky, we ran out of sliced bread just as everyone planned to make toast for breakfast, someone has someone else’s headphones, the floor is covered in Legos, the counters are covered in dishes, no one has clean socks, and I accidentally snap at everyone because all those Legos and dishes and laundry piles make me feel like I’m being smothered in stuff.
It’s not as dramatic as a fountain of water in the bathroom sink. But the right words still help.
What to Say to Your Kids on Hard Days
Whether someone is stuck trying to understand long division or whether everyone is getting on each other’s nerves, these are some of my favorite words for all those regular-hard-days.
I hear you.
This is pretty much what my friend told me. “I hear you. I see that you’re having a hard time. That is just terrible.” When nothing is going according to plan, we all want to feel seen and understood.
I know you can handle this.
Because they can. Even though I am always SURE I know the best solution to every dilemma ever, plenty of problems DON’T need my help to get solved.
We can figure this out together.
Because other times, they need to know they’re not alone.
What questions do you have?
This one implies that having questions is totally normal, expected, and not a problem.
I’m here if you want to talk.
I like this one better than “what’s bothering you?” or “tell me what’s going on,” because it empowers the kids to decide when and whether they want to open up.
What do you think your body needs right now?
Because nothing’s going to go well if someone is hungry or thirsty or tired, or needs fresh air and sunlight, or if the room is too noisy and bright, or if they’re ready to stretch, or if they need a hug. (I basically always need a hug.)
Tell me more.
I learned this one from Kelly Corrigan’s amazing book (afflink) When my kids do come to me with problems—or even just with stories—I try to make this my first reply. “Tell me more.”
Because while I might THINK I know what’s going on, there’s always more under the surface—and the next right thing to do may not be what I expect at all.
It’s possible that this is what I need to say to my HOUSE right now. Maybe it’s just trying to get my attention. What’s up with all the appliance drama, house? TELL ME MORE. (It hasn’t answered yet.)
What words help the most on your family’s hard days? Tell me more!
If you enjoyed this post, register now for Jamie’s summer book club, starting soon! It’s our Read the World Summer Book Club with a new, fresh twist, and your family will love it!