Helping a little one grow doesn’t mean we should stop growing ourselves, says Ciska Thurman
But parenthood isn’t a profession: it’s a way of life – a choice to sacrifice much for (initially) seemingly little. It is full time, unrelenting and all-consuming. It shouldn’t, however, be about depriving ourselves. Quite the opposite – a good parent is a well-functioning, balanced adult who knows their limits, and makes sure reserves are in place for those times when parenting gets really tough. And that includes, most importantly, putting the parenting partnership first, as well as making time for ‘me’ and ‘we’.
‘Whenever we place another’s needs above our own, it comes at a cost to our energy reserves,’ says relationship and life coach Shelley Lewin. ‘Looking after children demands physical, mental and emotional input. We all need time out from the father/mother or husband/wife role to replenish and rejuvenate, and to be able to reconnect with the artist, sports fanatic, intellectual or activist that lives within us.’
Feeling disconnected from the roles that previously defined us can lead to bitterness and resentment. These roles represent a side of us that often feels abandoned and dormant – and we can end up feeling less fulfilled because our new identity seems so inextricably tied up with being a caregiver.
‘Taking a break and reconnecting with other parts of ourselves that we were once passionate about is a good way to return quickly to wholeness and find inspiration for the routine of daily life,’ advises Shelley.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Self-deprivation occurs, ironically, when parents over-involve themselves because they’re afraid of ‘the wheels falling off’. But it is this deprivation that can invite intolerance, a short fuse and impatience. And, actually, it is the ritual of taking back some time that prevents those wheels from falling off.
Shelley adds: ‘Time out, in whatever form, is crucial to one’s emotional and physical well-being. There is power in the rhythm of routine, as it adds some stability to our lives and helps us feel more secure when we are feeling out of control and overwhelmed.’
The timing, duration and nature of your time out depends on a number of factors, for example:
• The age of your child(ren)
• The support of a loving partner
• How depleted you feel
• How quickly you’re able to recover
• What purely-for-you activity you’d like to engage in.
Also decide on whether you’d like regular, built-in me-time opportunities (a quiet cup of coffee before the rest of the household wakes up, a quick jog twice a week during breakfast drill), or
a less-regular but lengthier chance to pursue a hobby after work or on the weekends. Be realistic about what is reasonable and schedule it. Disengage any guilt and, before you embark on your me-time, make sure your partner has something similar in the pipeline.
It is just as important to spend some time reinvesting in your relationship. Reconnecting with your partner is key to a happy family life. Shelley reminds us: ‘Date night is successful when you hold the same intention or mindset you did when you were dating: look at one another with a look of love, talk about each other with the softness of love and act with the other’s happiness in mind.’ Rehashing family tensions is not productive; in fact, sorting out family schedules, issues and priorities should be left for another time and place.
A support structure is always welcome – Granny, a helper at home, a trusted babysitter. But in the absence of these, there still exist small customs and conventions that can be put in place to release some pressure and keep constancy. Shelley’s examples include:
1. Rise early to enjoy some solitude before the day starts.
2. Practise mindfulness. Do chores with an awareness of your breathing (breathe deeply), environment and movement to calm the mind.
3. Insist on bath-time bliss. Institute a calming ritual, such as reading in the bath, when the kids are in bed.
4. Find a support network. Alternate lift clubs/weekly play dates with a neighbour or friend.
5. Introduce family quiet time. Schedule time on weekends when everyone has to be quiet and entertain themselves. It can be for 20 minutes or even as long as two hours, depending on the age of your kids.
6. Delegate. Share some of your responsibilities with your older children.
7. Get moving, get your heart rate elevated and breathe in some fresh air.
8. Embrace nature. Nurture a veggie patch, grow flowers or visit a park or beach.
9. Pray or meditate. Regular spiritual practice maintains our sense of security.