Take A Parental Sanity Check
Parents, you have permission, and the advice of health professionals: take some time for yourself.
Think back, if you can, to what the days looked like before you had kids. Can you even remember what you did with all that TIME?
Remember watching an entire movie (or two) in the middle of the afternoon? Reading a magazine cover to cover? When hitting the mall, meeting friends for brunch and trying out a new facial mask constituted a “packed” day? So now you have more than one person (besides yourself) to feed/clothe/clean/comfort/educate/motivate/protect/worry about/shop for and entertain. Your new definition of “packed” may be more appropriately defined as “bulging,” to the point of being sent back to the gate to check your baggage. Problem is, we’re so busy trying to keep everyone’s bags together, guess whose inevitably gets lost, or left behind, whizzing uncontrollably around the carousel? That’s right… YOURS!
No question, this parenting gig is beyond a full-time job (and you’ve probably got one of those, too). And if you’re doing it on your own — or feel like you are — carving out a day, an afternoon, an hour for yourself can seem like a guilty pleasure you just don’t have time for.
But if guilt is your game (guilty here!), here’s something to think about: it’s not just about you. Studies have shown that parents’ stress can put children at risk for behavioral, emotional and learning problems, as well as health issues such as allergies and asthma. A 2013 study in the journal Child Development suggests that it can even impact a child’s DNA, which lasts into adolescence and can affect genetic expression later in life. (So great, we can feel guilty about that, too!)
People who practice self-care can maintain a balance, tending to the feelings or needs of those around them without totally denying their own need for rest, relaxation, nourishment, and fun.
Unless we look at it a different way. Expert psychologists Anne Dunnewold and Diane Sanford, authors of Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide, put it best: “People who practice self-care can maintain a balance, tending to the feelings or needs of those around them without totally denying their own need for rest, relaxation, nourishment, and fun. Self-care means self-preservation, not selfishness. It is what allows us to thrive in our lives, not merely survive.”
And with as much as we’d all like to slip away to the beach or the mountains when we’re having a rough week, taking an hour here or there is sometimes all we can manage. So here are a few ideas to help you take a parental sanity check, even with kid(s) in tow.
Re-invent “Date Night.”
Although Date Night (couples only, out on the town) is a great concept passed down through the generations, the reality is it just doesn’t happen often enough. So our way around it, to secure some kid-free time even at home, is to draw an imaginary parent/child line down the house for one evening out of the week. Or month. (We’re working on it.) It basically goes like this: Mom and Dad upstairs, kids downstairs. Or vice versa. For the better part of the evening.
Do the kids like this arrangement? Not really. Is this how they would like to spend their Saturday night — solely with each other? No. Did we ask what they think? Heck no. But we did discuss the importance of having time to ourselves, as a couple and as individuals. And how sometimes, kiddo, we appreciate each other more after we’ve spent some time apart.
Blank out some space.
At the risk of disagreeing with the great T-Swift … “I’ve got a blank space, baby,” but I’m not rushing to fill it with anyone’s name, or anything else. Sometimes we sabotage our own free time and fall in the habit of filling it before it’s ever let loose. Sure, lunch with a friend can be a great escape on its own — and often it’s just what we need — someone in the same boat who can share advice and a good laugh. But why not try leaving your free space wide open once in a while, and see what happens? Free from phones and Facebook. Free from friends and family, where you ask everyone for a block of time, even though you have nothing on the books. Keep some of it open to get your bearings. Curl up with a cup of tea. Or in the fetal position. You know, whatever comes up.
Self-care is about more than a great workout, or a new pair of shoes. Sometimes it comes from acknowledging and dealing with stress, rather than trying to escape it.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up.
Self-care is about more than a great workout or a new pair of shoes. Sometimes it comes from acknowledging and dealing with stress, rather than trying to escape it. As much as we all want to be (and show the world that we are) model parents, there is no parent out there who hasn’t lost it behind closed doors. But when our children test us, psychologist Shefali Tsabary says in The Conscious Parent, “the development of patience can be a spiritual practice, challenging us to take life at a slower and more conscious pace.” When we’re constantly moving, it’s harder to be aware of what’s going on inside — what’s really triggering our frustration, our impatience. Am I really that upset that my child can’t remember to feed the dog, or was it my mother’s disapproving tone this morning on the other end of the phone? Taking a moment to sanity check amongst chaos takes practice. The more you do it, the more aware and compassionate you become both to yourself and others, and can help show your kids how to do the same. And it can mean the difference between beating yourself up for losing it and awakening something that’s been stirring in your soul.
Pull up a closet cushion.
It seems I can’t watch or read anything lately without hearing about the benefits of meditation. From reducing stress to lowering blood pressure to improving concentration, it seems like a modern day cure-all. So I’ve finally forced my butt down into crisscross-applesauce on a floor cushion, usually in the early morning before the house wakes up. (But if they are awake, a closet makes a great hiding, ohhmm space.) And you know what? I find by doing this I don’t feel the need to tear my hair out after all. It’s dark; it’s quiet. Sure, my mind can wander to an anxiety-ridden string of to-dos, but usually, eventually I start to catch my breath, relax and remember why I’m so stinkin’ grateful to be someone’s mom.
So take a sanity check, Mom. Escape to your own cozy, quiet cranny – and think or don’t think. Daydream for a spell. Find your happy place. Maybe it’s the mountains, or maybe it’s that new career idea you’ve been telling yourself is out of reach. Maybe it’s back-to-back movies in PJs and a facial mask. Then get up, think of your child, and go grab it while you can.