Self-Care for Parents

 

 

Last week I wrote a pretty open post about the challenges I’ve been living with for the past few months (everything from massive sleep deprivation to potty training), all while fighting this ridiculous inner battle between being “perfect” and what I was actually, physically and emotionally, capable of.

And I realized I wasn’t quite done.

See, while I came to the realization of screw being perfect, there’s still more to the story.

Like how the heck I handled my own self-care when I wasn’t sleeping (and hadn’t been for like five plus months… or to be really honest here… ever since I was pregnant with Eric).

See, I wanted to focus forward. I wanted to improve my life. How I was feeling, my body, my health, all of it, and yet there was only so much I could add to this overwhelming full plate I was living.

You see, my life has, pretty much, been in the hands of my kids. Every waking and sleeping moment was controlled and dictated by them. I had zero say in the quality of my sleep, how long or deep. I didn’t even have a say in the amount (if any) of quiet time my poor introverted self required for me to continue to function as a halfway-decent human being.

Heck, showering by myself? Pooping without someone bursting in and crying or wanting an apple cut up right at that moment?

Yeah. Nope.

Also, I was frustrated with the weight I’d gained from the holidays (and Eric’s birthday, and my birthday, and Sean’s birthday… and, you get the idea). My poor body, with its massive amounts of sleep deprivation that had gone on for months, was pretty much acting like a diabetic so any time I ate sugar or sweets (things that I absolutely love), it would Freak. Out. It had no idea how to handle it, my insulin and hormone levels and all that, just kept going bonkers.

And yep, you guessed it, I couldn’t lose the weight.

I recognized my issue was one of sleep and that yeah, I needed to be eating as healthy as possible these days. But how could I get back on track with my health? My sleep? The only things I had control over were exercising, what I ate and the quality of the food, and my own thoughts.

That’s pretty much it.

Instead of spiraling down in depression and negative thoughts, I asked for help.

I explained to my health coach, Kevin Geary, the situation I was in. And, what was really cool, was he got it. He understood what it meant to be a parent. He understood I couldn’t devote crazy amounts of time and energy in making these super-healthy meals that took you know, like 30 min or more to prep (as if I had that kind of time dedicated just for prepping lunch — HA!). See, Kevin had been living his own life with lack of sleep due to a young child, in trenches himself, so to speak. He didn’t offer me advice that was just plan silly.

Instead, he offered me something that I could well and truly handle.

Here’s what Kevin Geary offered:

Focus more on food deposits than withdrawals (meaning, put in the good, healthy food and eat fewer of the sugary goodness), keep my thoughts positive (which I was already doing), and finally self-care. He asked me to identify three things that were the utmost importance to me, when it came to self-care, and to prioritize them.

This, this right here is the part my last blog was missing. Or not missing per say, but needed adding to.

If you’re living any kind of situation I had been, you need tools to help you through it. Tools to help you survive your situation, your momentary life bump, until things, finally, finally start changing. (This is especially true when you’ve got zero control over what’s even happening to you.)

Here’s what I did:

I came up with my three things that would help me feel whole and happy, each day. I didn’t need to do all three in one day, and some days I did none, but I could recognize those days that had a ton already piled on, and make time in the evening, or definitely the next day. That flexibility really helped.

For me they were: writing (not fiction, since that required a rested, working brain, but writing these blogs), learning (dear Lord do I love to learn, and this could be anywhere from researching history to craft learning for fiction), and finally, play. Play was video games or reading books or watching a favorite TV show.

Before, I had regulated play to: “can only play when your work was done.”

Which, wasn’t necessarily a problem. Unless you’re like me, who has a never-ending to-do list.

I’ve since corrected that line of thinking.

Play is vital to my health and happiness. Some days I’ll play video games first thing in the morning, with my cup of coffee, a kid cuddled up on either side, while they play on their iPads and we’re just hanging out together. Or it’s during Eric’s nap. Or, it’s at the end of the day when they’re both in bed.

Sounds really simple, right?

Totally wasn’t. I mean, if it was you’d think I’d have figured it out before now. But I couldn’t even get to this place until I shifted my way of thinking; that play was important. That play was a part of my own self-care and happiness, and not just this reward for getting through my day or checking off all the boxes on my to-do list.

Kevin’s suggestion worked because it kept things simple.

Three things.

That’s it.

And even me, with my tired, exhausted brain, could still hold those three things. In my head. At once. I didn’t need to look at my list. Or my calendar, to remember. In fact, at any moment during the day I would stop and ask myself: have I done one of my self-care items yet?

Easy to remember.

Easy enough to accomplish.

Most of the time.

But it really worked.

I chucked everything else that I “needed” to do. I focused on my kids and what they needed (like baths — at least every couple a days — you know, stuff like feeding them). Anything that wasn’t essential was put on hold. Trying to do more, even the designated speech play our speech pathologist wanted me to do, I just put it aside. I would get to it.

Once I started sleeping.

And you’re not going to believe this, but I’m starting to. Sleep, I mean. Actual real sleep. It’s actually and truly happening. Anywhere from five hour stretches to gasp! Eight hours.

Okay, eight hours was only once but I definitely don’t want to jinx the upwards progress we’re making here.

If you’re curious (and if you’re living in your own child-induced sleep-deprived-nightmare), two things made it possible. First, we moved Kate and Eric into the same room, and for whatever reason, it was like magic. Magic. They love being together. Apparently, her presence is soothing, even if she’s talking and playing while Eric’s slips into toddler-dream-land. The dim lamp light and the noise machine helped too, I think.

The second big thing is because Eric’s out of our bedroom, and dear mommy isn’t so accessible, Sean can take the first shift if Eric wakes up before midnight. He can get to Eric before he gets to me, and Eric… doesn’t freak out. That’s right. He doesn’t see Mommy, which is like a bull seeing that big-ass waving red flag, so now he’s okay with Sean helping him back to bed.

And me?

Me, I get to sleep.

Wow is it glorious. And as I regain sleep I’m picking up other parts of my life. I’m writing fiction again (first short story of 2017 finished, go me!). Eric’s two-year-tantrums are easier to handle because I can pause and be present with him (compared to wanting to scream and yell right back). I’ve added our speech play back to the list, which I really just call ‘connection.’ Times where I focus and play with my kids. It could be a short game of tickles and running into my arms, or sitting down and doing a puzzle or a board game with Kate.

Bit by bit, I’m adding more back in.

And every day I’m feeling richer and wholer.

I’m still far from being perfect, and I have zero desire to be that perfect parent. No thanks. I like living in happiness, where some days my dishes sit until the end of the day before I get to them. If it means I’ve given myself some “me” time or connection time with my kids, I’ll take it.

Besides, it’s not like the ants have discovered the house.

Yet, anyway.

The more I move forward, bit by bit, day by day, just doing what I can… life is actually improving. We’re coming up for air again and things are coming together. Eric and his potty training has had some big successes this past weekend. He actually went up to Sean and tugged on his leg, before Sean put him on the potty and he actually pooped. I know, some of you probably can’t understand the big deal, but for some reason, with these late-talkers (at least mine, anyway), this bridge… of needing to go and communicating this need… it’s huge. Huge. It’s a super big step for them, one that just takes longer for the pieces to click together.

Well, the pieces are clicking. It just took our own (and really, mine) stubbornness and patience, but hey, we’re getting there.

Progress.

That’s what matters.

So if you find yourself stuck in the crazy intense times with young kids (or… older ones for that matter, you’re just not going to have the poop issues I have), start prioritizing your self-care.

What can you do to take care of yourself?

And make it a priority.

Fit it in.

Somehow.

Some way.

We’ve got to start taking care of ourselves if we want to remain present and patient as parents. Not only that, but it’s an amazing lesson to teach our children, that taking care of our own selves is important.

For me, I’m able to really enjoy life and being a parent again. I’m able to take deeper pleasure and just plain joy in my kids, seeing their smiles, hearing the new words and phrases Kate is putting together every day with these amazing leaps and bounds. And I’m seeing my little Eric grow as his language comprehension starts expanding.

And sometimes, often, it’s just sitting on the couch, with Kate tucked against my one side and Eric sprawled completely on my lap, and just… enjoying them.

Enjoying this moment.

Every day, as parents, we do our best with what resources we have. Let’s remember that,  let’s forgive ourselves for not being perfect but doing our best anyway, and instead, let’s just focus on the joy.

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