Nowadays, becoming a parent is a time loaded with expectations, both, our own and those of the society. We often expect to feel unwavering love that will carry us through any challenging times. Some people think that days and nights of partying have prepared them for the sleep deprivation that is likely to follow. Many people have a very rosy view of holding their smiling and sweetly cooing baby in their arms, putting them in their cot and baby sleeping through the night from day one. There are plenty others, often unrealistic, expectations and I have explored those in one of my previous blogs, but it gives you an idea what I am writing about.
The society expects us to parent as if we don’t work and work as if are not parents. The society expects our children to be seen not heard, the boys to be brave and strong and the girls pretty and good. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how your child should sleep, eat, go to toilet, when they should walk, talk and how well they should do academically. We often absorb those expectations and place them onto our children ourselves.
In order, to meet all these goal posts and mile stones, we twist ourselves in knots without regard for our own well being. We believe that to be a worthy mother, parent and human we must be perfect at it all. We must be able to work full time, be there for our children, don’t allow much or best no screen time, feed them with food cooked at home fro scratch, preferably organic from the local market. Don’t forget we are also meant teach our children to read and write as well as count and preferably speak second language by the time they start school, while maintaining busy social life and many friendships. Of course, all this is after you’ve cleaned the house top to bottom, planted all those veggies you’ll be cooking later in your garden, recycled your waste, did the laundry. In your spare time, you are meant to engage in self care, which is meant to achieve making you look presentable when you are in contact with the outside world, like doing your nails, having a hair cut, beauty treatments, bath etc. Mostly, all this pressure to be perfect applies to women. Although women are resilient, strong and simply incredible creatures, there are limits to what they can bear without suffering the consequences later down the line, often in the form of burn outs, autoimmune illnesses, cancer and mental health issues.
Although hot baths, massages and having your hair done might be a form of self care on occasion, what is really needed is daily acts of kindness to self. If every day, you can take action to fill your well being cup, you can be sure not to run out. What is needed is likely to vary day to day depending on your present circumstances. Start by writing down a list of things that fill your cup. Make sure those things are simple, free/cheap, easily accessible and do not require much for them to be actioned.This might be sitting down with a cup of tea, listening to music, having a little dance, doing few yoga moves, singing, giving someone a long hug, sex/intimacy, meditation, chat with a friend, listening to podcast etc. Make sure those things are not likely to drain you, emotionally or physically and they do not contribute to disconnect (like TV or scrolling through social media can). I’d recommend not using any screens for these activities, but whatever it is , it should help you feel connected to self, calm, grounded and joyous. It might be a good idea having the list somewhere prominent to remind you of what you can do when you start running low.
To get your cup to be actually overflowing, which is the optimal state of it for you to be able to be there for your kids and loved ones in your full capacity, some more robust actions must be taken. We are talking weekly classes (whether it is dance, yoga or art), walks in nature, play time with kids and/or animals, exercise, therapy, time spent on your passions and hobbies, basically whatever makes you feel joy, enthusiasm, excitement, peace, fulfilment, satisfaction and most importantly, it makes your soul sing. If parenting itself is all this for you, then that is great, but it is also great if you need something outside of your parenthood, away from the kids and your partner. As long as the motivation is not to get away, but rather to enrich, it’ll have positive effect not just on you, but everyone around you.
Prevention is best policy here too, meaning avoiding things that empty your cup whenever possible. Taking time off screens, not watching the news nor reading the papers, reducing the time you spend on the phone or in person with people that suck your energy and tire you or that are constantly negative, avoiding stimulants and foods that make you feel unwell or sluggish, etc. Make sure your mental energy is well spent on things that actually matter and really need to be thought about, instead of thinking about thing for the sake of doing so. Adapt mindfulness practices into your everyday life, to reduce the chatter in your mind, which often has little function, yet cost a lot of energy and can bring up uncomfortable emotions unnecessarily.
Finding time for some self care, whatever that is for you, is often difficult when you are a parent. When babies are little they have many needs that only we can answer, so doing all these big things can be challenging, however as the kids grow naturally into greater independence, there’ll be more and more time for good regular self care without the feelings of guilt for taking time away from the family. Until such time arises, there are those little things you can do daily to keep yourself going and keeping your well being intact. You might need to be a little creative in how to make those few minutes available, but it’ll be worth the resulting peace and serenity.