As a follow up to my last post, here are five strategies to reduce negative moods that may accompany circumstances in the parenting season. These strategies are intended to help parents feel fulfilled and taken care of when the demands are high and the resources are low. Being a parent is a very special gift and an opportunity to experience beautiful little people growing and making their place in the world. It takes strategy and work, but the reward in the end makes every moment, even the challenging ones, worth it.
1) Wake Up Early
If you are not an early riser, do not stop reading. Most people are not prone to wanting to start their day before they have to. A book I was recently reading noted most birds wake up early and chirp themselves into their day, while robins work all day and chirp at night. Before children came along, I would say I was a robin. I worked hard, played hard, enjoyed the personal construction of my day, and then chirped about it when it was done. I keep trying to be a robin in a season of life with children and it is not working. I find myself at the end of the day still being called upon and unable to find even the slightest semblance of a joyful chirp. I would identify the noise at the end of my day as more of a growl than a light and airy tweet. For many years, I believed that this was the nature of parenthood, and my joyful attitude, in many ways, decreased as I lost the song I once sang.
It was when my second child was 2 that I was introduced to the idea of waking up early before the children or responsibilities arose. Though completely resistant to the notion of losing more sleep, I tried this for a week and experienced, for the first time, a freedom that I had not found in parenthood. It was the freedom to begin my day with quiet and without interruption. This freedom provided an opportunity to step into the day rather than have the day charge into me. I noted that although I was tired at certain points in my day as a result, my persona was less of a martyr and more of a mommy. It appeared as though a cheery attitude that got tired was notably better than a negative attitude that was fully awake.
Though situations like having a newborn or sick kids has forced me to take weeks or months of a break from this lifestyle choice, it is a key in my pocket that does not get lost and can always be resumed.
2) Accepting That You Cannot Do It All
There are so many opportunities in a day to feel like a failure when there are multiple demands requiring 100%. It is not realistic to have children with a one-dimensional view of success, as there are so many dimensions that require attention and time. Striving and hard work towards success in any aspect of raising, working or maintaining young people is not bad. It is the unrelenting standard of doing everything without some sense of defeat or failure that is unrealistic and not human. There are many times that a parent has to face the feeling of "failing" or "not being good enough." If one believes they are a failure because they could not do everything perfectly or do enough, a dangerous sense of defeat can invade one's thought process and a downward spiral of self-pity could set in. The reframe for this thought process is an acceptance that you cannot do it all, and no one can. If there was only one thing required, then it would be a lot easier to strive 100%, but the multiple needs of children, work and home life insist that there is no 100%. However, of more value than doing it all is the value of consistent effort and perseverance.
3) Balance of Rest and Movement
Every day, a parent wrestles with the need to rest and the desire to keep moving. When a baby is not yet born, the mantra "rest while the baby is resting" is repeated by every second person that observes the demands of a coming child. There are very few parents that I know who heed this advice, as perhaps it feels more appealing to move in those moments of quiet rather than fulfill the bodies craving for sleep. So, how does one settle the dispute between rest and movement when there are only so many minutes in a day to choose one or the other? Well, it is possible to achieve a balance of both with some creativity and cognitive reframe. Let me explain.
A lot of anger and resentment can occur if one feels like they do not have enough rest or movement in their day. It may feel as though it is impossible to get either, let alone a balance of both. This has been a long lesson for me, as so much resentment stems from no sleep or a sort of lethargy that comes from lack of exercise. The trick in this strategy is to look less to rest and movement the way they used to be viewed and adopt new ways for achieving them in this season. For example, my mother once said to me "listen to your body and rest if you are tired." I almost spit out the last sip of my 24-ounce coffee at this comment, as I sarcastically answered back, "Rest! I would love to listen to my body and rest. Do you want to babysit?" It felt, in that moment, that it was literally impossible to imagine rest in the way that I used to rest or wanted to rest. However, as I look back, I note that there were opportunities along the way to take a resting point, but it was not in closing my eyes and sleeping for hours. Rather, it was in those moments when the kids were playing that I could sit down and just be still. Or those times when waiting for a child's activity to end that I could turn off. If I was lucky, it was an afternoon of kids at school and baby sleeping that I could lay down and nap for 15 minutes, which is sufficient for a recharge. It is important to find resting points in the day.
It is equally important to find ways to move and exercise the body. This again might not look like it used to when you had a gym membership or could leisurely decide when to go on a jog. However, there are so many ways to maintain movement in the day that will lead to a feeling of personal accomplishment. Lifestyle exercise is a concept that encourages exercise in the course of one's natural daily activities. In the parenting season, lifestyle exercise might mean races with the kids, lifting weighted items during play time, parking far away from a store or walks with the stroller. Whatever it is, outline an idea of personal movement goals within your lifestyle and then work to achieve them. Put it in writing.
Having a balance of rest and movement in your day will lead to a more positive sense of being as it instills a control over self-care that is realistic in a parenting day.
4) Intentional Time for Relationships
Since a child's time is so full of routine demands, the random late night talks with a spouse or casual lunch dates with a friend may not be as easy to rely on to fulfill the need for personal relational growth. In fact, in the thick of child rearing, other relationships can be challenged as time and energy is of the essence. So, if the child's needs are on a schedule, then a parent's needs can be scheduled, too. It is so important to intentionally make time for your relationships. This might be a weekly phone call with a family member or friend. Perhaps it is a date night with your spouse. In the more difficult seasons of parenting, my husband and I could not get out for a date, but we intentionally set aside 15 minutes at the end of each day to catch up. Once a week, we made a special dinner for just us and hung out when the kids were asleep. If that time was not set up, the connection that was needed would not have been achieved as there are so many distractions and other demands. As the relational part of life is nurtured, one may begin to notice a little more water in a cup that feels half empty when undergoing challenging circumstances.
5) Counting Blessings and Prayer
Several months ago, I was approached by a friend who has three young children, dogs, a job and participates in other activities. She shared with me that she is getting in the practice of starting each day with counting her blessings. Sometimes she does it in her mind, and other times she writes them down. When she gets overwhelmed in a day she goes back to a perspective of thankfulness and resists complaining. This approach is one of many that brings the mind out from the state that it is in by shifting to a perspective that is bigger or beyond the current matter at hand. It is one that cannot be put to play in the moment unless it is set up or practiced outside of the moment. A context must be created that can then be accessed and returned to in stressful situations. This context may be counting blessings or perhaps relaxation techniques that allows a person the ability to rise above a situation with guided steps. I find that praying is the most effective way for me to let go and rise above a stressful circumstance. It is a place that I can submit my momentary concerns to God and allow Him to return me to a big picture context, while providing His perfect peace.