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Parenting in the 21st century is a privilege, but oh boy, it can be challenging. Never before have we had so much competing for our attention and getting in the way of our relationships with our children. In this never-enough society the dangers are that we will get caught up in the performance-driven culture which results in us over scheduling our lives; packing more into a day that is humanly possible, and expecting our children to perform at levels which are detrimental to their physical and emotional well-being.
So, how do we do it then? How do we balance the needs of us and our children and that of the society in our efforts to raise caring, happy children?
One of the ways is to look at ourselves. Joseph Chilton Pearce writes: What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.”
In being, I believe we need to be intentional about looking after ourselves. The flight attendant who tells us that in an emergency we need to put our own oxygen masks on before assisting others, is a good reminder that looking ourselves are vital. Merely holding your breath and coming up for air from time to time is not sustainable on this parenting journey.
We need to nurture ourselves. That doesn’t mean going to a spa every other day or ….When my children were small, we lived in a small house in England and I didn’t have much help. I remember throwing a blanket over my head in the middle of the kitchen and telling the kids that is my den and for the next few minutes nobody is allowed to come into my den and disturb me. Then, I would take out my favourite chocolate and enjoy the smell, taste and texture of every little bite without sharing it with anyone! On another occasion I locked myself in the bathroom at noon, lit the candles, put my favourite playlist on and told them they could watch TV for a whole hour (my kids could not belief their luck!).
Nurturing means being kind to yourself, loving yourself and believing that you are good enough. It is only when we love ourselves that we are able to love our children and connect with them in a deep and meaningful way.
- Focus on the basics
- Eat healthy, never skip a meal and drink enough water.
- Get moving. Find a way to build exercise into your day. Walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, pilates or dancing releases feel-good hormones, organise our brains and bodies so that we feel more regulated, it stabilises our mood and keep up focused and attentive. Find something that fits your unique sensory profile and your lifestyle, but do something every day.
- Sleep enough (easier said than done, especially in those early days). Learn to take short power naps. The dishes and washing can wait. Lock out of Facebook and put your phone on silent. Short power naps provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
- Be realistic
Kids keep us busy. In reality we don’t get half the things done we did before we had kids. If we set unrealistic expectations, feelings of frustration, resentment, guilt and shame may set in, which affects our self-worth and our relationships with our kids. Change your “To-do-lists” to “I-would-like-to-lists”. In those early days, realistically all you’ll get done might be:
- Get the kids dressed and brush their teeth
- Get the kids to eat at least one of their five fruits and veggies for the day in their bodies
- Give them each a hug and say “I love you”.
That means that everything you get done over and above those is a bonus, i.e. your “I-would-like-to-list”. You can get into the bed at night and give yourself a high five. You did it!
- Be real and give up perfection
We strive for perfection. We want to be the perfect parent and raise the perfect child. But what we don’t realise is that we are actually better moms and our kids are better off if we don’t parent them perfectly. According to Donald Winnicot (paediatrician and psychoanalyst) we are better moms when we don’t meet our baby’s every need instantly and when we show our children that we can have a bad day and make mistakes. Our children learn most when we show them that we make mistakes too. They learn that this world is not one where everything also goes to plan. We need to let go. It is okay to have a bad day, it is okay to make mistakes and it is okay if things get messy. There is no such thing as a perfect child, a perfect parent and a perfect world. It is about having the courage to push through difficult times.
- Stop comparing
The dangers of our never-enough society and performance-based culture is that for us to find our self-worth as parents we look to our left and to our right. We constantly compare. No two families are the same and comparison only result in resentment, unrealistic expectations and anxiety. Rather embrace your unique temperament styles and decide on values that define who you are as a family. Practise respecting your friends’ differences and honouring their choices and parenting style rather than feeling that you are being judged or judging them.
- Live in the moment
Our parenting journey is filled with ups and down and characterised by different seasons. Embrace these! Stop wishing for this or that to pass. When we do this, we are less engaged with what is going on in the moment. Your child needs a mom who is present, attentive, warm and engaging in the now!
By Lizanne du Plessis