Taking a little ME time
This morning I sat on my couch at 5:45am next to my child who had woken up 15 minutes earlier full of joy and energy. As I drank my coffee, wishing it was an IV drip of caffeine, I began thinking about my younger self. I thought about how I complained of being tired, stressed and at times overwhelmed in my early twenties and thirties. And truly, I was all of those things. I would never say that my own feelings or those of anyone else’s aren’t valid or true. At that time they were. But back then I was different. I felt all of those things, but my purpose and responsibilities were different. My stress, tiredness and feelings of being overwhelmed were no less important, but. . . I was different. When I became a parent being tired, stressed and sometimes overwhelmed became a state of being. Parents get through their days; they play with the kids; they take care of the things that need to get done; they work; they cook; they are joyful; they live. But along with all of that they’re often tired, stressed and overwhelmed. Parents may feel all of these things, but don’t often take the time to address or reflect on these feelings and states of being and how they impact one’s overall well-being.
When I became a parent I had already been working with kids and families for over 10 years. This was something I knew a lot about, something I was elbow deep in nearly every day. A world full of people I empathized with and supported and cheered on, often through their times of sleep deprivation, unimaginable levels of stress and hard times of feeling completely overwhelmed. I marveled (and still do) at their resilience and their ability to persevere. Yes, I had all this information and knowledge and up close, personal contact with the world of being a parent; but when I actually became a parent myself I was enlightened, because now it was no longer empathy for what parents do and go through, but a deep, direct knowledge of the fortitude, dedication, strength and stamina it takes to be a parent. There are days on end when parents may only get a few hours of sleep – no matter how old their child is. This is true of parents with typically developing kids, but even more so for parents of children with special needs (who frequently have sleep difficulties). There are days that pass when a parent doesn’t have a moment to themselves and are constantly moving and doing and thinking for others. So how do parents out there function? How do you keep going when some days all you want to do is lie down? How do you plow ahead when you are full of anxiety about what will be? A good place to start is with taking time for yourself. I know, I know – I hear your chuckle and comment of “yeah, when am I fitting that in?!?” But the importance of you cannot be minimized. Taking the time to see to your own needs only makes you a stronger parent. When you are full of strength, and feel good and feel calm you are a better parent.
Here’s a list of some self-care ideas, both broad and specific, to help you take care of you:
Sleep when the kids sleep: You may have heard this, but it is essential. Really. DO IT! Try to give yourself an early bedtime at least once a week to catch up on a little rest. As a parent, especially a new parent, there is so much more happening for you than just having a new person to care for. For new moms, there is physical healing to do, and for all new parents there is emotional change to process. As a parent with older kids there is always so much happening – activities, school stress, birthday parties, you name it. It is exhausting for everyone. Sleep allows the body recuperation time – both physical and mental. Sleep is healing to our bodies and our minds – it promotes resilience and clear, calm, reasoned thinking.
Exercise: I know this seems like the exact opposite of getting sleep, but it really isn’t. They are both about feeding your body and your mind. Exercise helps counteract exhaustion by upping your stamina. And along with many other benefits it decreases stress levels. I know that getting out of the house or paying for a gym isn’t always possible, but there are a lot of ways to get exercise in:
Walk/jog around your neighborhood
Do 5-10 reps of going up and down stairs
Do squats while vacuuming
Lift soup can “weights” while putting the groceries away
Apps and online videos*:
The 7 Minute Workout
Fitness Blender (via YouTube)
Mommastrong.com (low fee)
BeFit (via Amazon Prime video – add on subscription low fee)
(*I have no connection with these companies/programs and simply think they are good options for home exercise)
Turn your brain off: When the kids are out of the house or if there is a nap happening, take some time to veg out. The cleaning, cooking, laundry folding, etc. can all wait. You will survive with a dirty tub, wrinkled clothes and ordering take out. Take some time for you. Do something you like doing. Take care of a task only if doing so will make you FEEL better (if cleaning clears your head and allows you a moment of calm, then clean. But if it irritates you and leads to resentment then skip it!). Some other ways to veg out:
Get/give yourself a manicure
Watch that TV show you’ve been meaning to see
Play a videogame
Read trashy magazines or novels
Meditate (there are many apps for guided meditation)
Ask for time off: Reach out to your co-parent, take a day off work, hire a babysitter for a few hours -- whatever you need to do to give yourself a break. You are allowed a break. Being a parent is a 24 hours a day / 7 days a week job. It’s a wonderful job that many people want, but it is a tough, exhausting job. Without a break you start heading towards burnout and if you burnout everyone suffers. Take some time off at least once a week to sit and just be you.
Seek out friends: Being a parent can be isolating, whether you stay home with your children or go out of the home for work. As a parent your time is limited. Talking with or seeing friends or even your partner can be difficult. But being in touch with friends and family can provide much needed rejuvenation. It allows you a place to share your stress, hear you’re not alone and enjoy some much needed laughter (probably as you share anecdotes about your kids). It can be 10 minutes, a night out, or a few days away. No matter how long it lasts it’s nurturing all the same:
Grab a coffee
Have a 10 minute phone call
Take a walk with a friend (even if you’re pushing a stroller)
Meet at the park (kids run around, you talk and regenerate)
Make a date night with your partner: Being a parent takes a lot of time and energy. It is easy to feel disconnected from your partner. If you’re in a relationship having a date once a week or a couple of times a month helps you reconnect. It makes you a stronger, more solid team with a connected and consistent approach for your kids. Dates can be big or small -- it really comes down to just using that time and letting each other know that you value each other enough to reconnect:
Sit together with no electronic devices and talk about your day
Share the load (i.e. work together on cupcakes for tomorrow’s bake sale or getting the dishes, laundry, school lunches done – great conversations can be had over a basket of clothes or while loading a dishwasher )
Play together (board games, card games, Wii golf, etc.)
I know that writing about this stuff is a lot easier than DOING any of it, but with practice I hope you’ll start seeing how important your own needs are. Being at the head of your “To Do” list every now and then doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you smart.
If you are finding yourself concerned with your levels of stress or feelings of being overwhelmed please reach out to talk.