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First World Problem? 

Emma Grey

People keep apologising to me for their problems.

They have a bad day at work, or the kids drive them to distraction or they have an argument with their partner, and they start telling me about it, then apologise, and say, ‘Sorry! It’s nothing like what you’re going through. First World Problem …’

Yes, it is. Because we live in the First World. 

It’s often true that there are worse things that could happen. It’s true that sometimes we whinge about things that don’t really matter, or make situations more difficult than we need to. 

That said, sometimes our ‘day-to-day’ gets on top of us. Our ‘equilibrioception’ gets out of whack. That’s a fancy name for our sense of balance, which I picked up during a show at a science centre over the weekend, right before I comprehensively lost my patience with my kids. 

It was hot. I was tired. I have a sinus infection coming on. I’d spent eight hours on Saturday decluttering and cleaning the grout in the bathroom on my hands and knees. One of the kids wouldn’t do what he was told and another was trying to get the car into reverse and kept stalling, then getting frustrated, and I snapped at her — completely unfairly, in a way I’ve never done before while teaching a teenager how to drive. 

Looking back on the morning, the frustration began when our coffee and hot chocolate order was accidentally picked up by someone else and when I explained this to my six-year-old he growled loudly. A woman nearby glared at him, and frowned at me. It was all I could do not to go up to her and tell her his father had died recently, but I didn’t need the extra drama. 

One minor thing after another was piling up, on top of some major things. It’s coming up to the four-month anniversary of Jeff’s death and we’ve just had a week of Year 12 and Year 10 exams, which would have been stressful at the best of times.

It’s often not until we’ve lost the balance and we’re in the act of falling over, or losing patience with the wrong kid, or dropping an important ball, that we twig that something’s off. That’s when it’s time to really wind things back and be kind to ourselves. 

So, I texted two friends who we’d been going to meet up with in the afternoon and postponed our plans. Even social things with people you love can be too much sometimes. 

It’s all right not to get through everyday life elegantly all the time and it’s okay to get frustrated by things that aren’t major problems. Coco Chanel advised women to look in the mirror before they leave the house and take one accessory off. It’s a good idea to look at our diaries too, and remove one thing …


Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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