First, let’s just state the obvious: parenting is much harder work than any of us ever imagined. For so many reasons.
In The Current Situation for Parents, Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting's founder, lays out why parenting is so undervalued and yet so important.
And yet, here we are. Called to the profound work of nurturing children as we create a better world for them and all of society.
We are activists.
We are revolutionaries.
We are warriors.
And we are tired.
What's wrong with “Put your oxygen mask on first?”
Then we are told, “put your own oxygen mask on first.”
As an exhausted single adoptive parent, if I've heard that expression once, I've heard it 100 times. And each time I've heard it, I've wanted to hurt the well-intentioned person who was saying it.
What oxygen mask?
They mean well, I know.
Put on an oxygen mask. Do something for yourself! Take a break! Write a daily journal, take a dance class.
I don't know about you, but when i'm at my most tired, when parenting takes every last drop of energy I have, the idea of a dance class, or even a bubble bath, is far too much of a stretch. It isn't a treat or a delight – it's another to-do. And ludicrously out of reach.
But if there is no time or energy to put on our own oxygen mask or fill our cup or do “self-care”, what can we do?
What to do when ‘doing more' feels impossible, lighten the load
Instead of “doing” something like “self-care”, let's stop doing some things.
Let's lighten the load, rather than add to it. It can help to re-track.
We all come to parenting with a vision of sorts. With ideas about how we want our family to be. What we want for our kids. What we want for our home.
Explore that vision and wonder how much of it is really yours? How much of it was handed down from parents? And how much of it is imposed by our community and the world?
There is an old story about a pot roast.
A Mom was cooking a pot roast. As she cut the ends off before putting it in the pan, her daughter asked her, “Why do you cut both ends off the roast?” The Mom replied, “I don’t know. I cut the ends off because I learned this recipe from my mom and that was the way she had always done it.”
Her daughter’s question got her thinking, so she called her mom to ask her: “Mom, when we make the pot roast, why do we cut off and discard the ends?”
Her mom quickly replied, “That is how your grandma always did it and I learned the recipe from her.”
Now the Mom was really curious, so she called her elderly grandma and asked her the same question: “Grandma, I often make the pot roast recipe that I learned from mom and she learned from you. Why do you cut the ends off the roast before putting it in the pan?”
“I cut them off because the roast was always bigger than the pan I had back then. I had to cut the ends off to make it fit.”
Are there too many “shoulds” in your day?
- I should cook from scratch every night.
- I should have dinner on the table by 5 pm.
- I should fold the clothes as soon as they come out of the dryer.
- My children should take a bath every night.
Why not try? Ask yourself, “What is one ‘have to’ that I can let go of today?”
You may declare – “No baths tonight. Let’s hose everyone down.”
“No cooking tonight! We are eating carrots, grapes and cheese on paper plates.”
Or maybe, “We'll skip the folding clothes this week and we’ll wear them right out of the laundry basket.”
It's a simple, fast way to lighten the load.
Where could you show yourself more love?
Be easy with your past
We often say we get “triggered” by our children when they are off-track, can’t think and can’t cooperate. A trigger is anything in the present that activates a feeling from the past. That feeling starts with a sense of powerlessness that might bubble up as anger or frustration.
Powerlessness actually comes from those times when we were small and we were disregarded. When we were not seen, not held and not listened to. You can listen to this recording to learn more about how parenting can trigger past hurts. Listen now.
Carrying around old messages that, somehow, we are not good enough and not doing enough, is exhausting.
We can heal those early childhood hurts when another adult listens to us today, in the present, without judgment, without advice. This safe space gives us a container to cry hard, laugh, tremble, and even sweat, and in doing so, we release the hurts that we so often tamp down and ignore.
You get to have your own temper tantrums in a safe space where your Partner holds the truth, “You are good. You are good. You are good. And you are figuring things out”
You get to lay that burden down.
Release those messages.
Lighten the mental load.
We might not have time or energy to go to the gym or even meditate.
We can write down one thing we appreciate about ourselves. We can kick one ‘should’ to the curb. We can do a silly dance. We can lay down on the floor and quit.
And we can ask to put another warm human on speed-dial when we would like someone to listen to us. Even better, we can lock it in. Make it regular, so it isn't an effort to set up.
Think with me now. Where is a moment in your day or week where you could fit in a little Listening Time?
Simple ways to lighten the parenting load
- A TO-DON’T list
- An Appreciation list
- A few minutes of Listening Time to help you Lighten Your Load
Most of all, when parenting gets hard, as it inevitably does, be easy with yourself.
You are good!
You are more than enough!
You are worthy of support!
And we, at Hand in Hand, are here for you.
Like this? Kathy answers your questions daily in Parent Club, Hand in Hand's online community for parents. See all the calls, support and training you can find in Parent Club.