Parents of small, medium or large children? Not a parent at all? This is still for you. Why?
Because we all have to parent ourselves! And for everyone, it’s been a hard year.
I am a parent and have spent the last year and a half, along with my partner, juggling two small children, online school and full time work – all inside the same household! Our city has had the longest lockdown in North America, so the burnout was very real, along with all the feelings: guilt, frustration, fatigue and dipping into parenting habits I always swore against.
One of the core concepts we explore in Training in Power is the Divine Law of Self First. Essentially it speaks to the necessity of taking care of yourself before you can help others. Self First doesn’t mean being selfish, it speaks to being accountable to your own needs so you are filled up and ready to share with others, rather than being drained.
Simple right? Well, add pandemic to the tricky balance that parenting already demands on your time and energy and well…you’ve got an opportunity for growth. During this time when Self First was both impossible and essential, I gained some very important lessons that I know will serve me into the new world of what’s to come. Here’s what I learned:
1) Don’t wait until everyone else is happy for you to take care of yourself.
There is no worse feeling than your kids (or anyone you love) being unhappy, especially when you can’t fix it. In the deep winter of the pandemic, there was no escaping the depression hitting my kids and no amount of workbooks or video calls with friends could make it better. I found myself hyper-extending myself in all directions trying to make them happy, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t make the struggle go away.
The truth is, I wanted them to be happy, so that I could feel better.
Boy did I have that backwards.
I realized that If I didn’t start making moments for myself to calm down and re-center, that the cycle of anxiety and depression would only continue.
And I’ll be honest: sometimes it frustrated my kids that I needed to take a moment for myself. Sometimes I had to set a firm boundary to do so. Sometimes it meant 20 minutes more screen time in an already screen-heavy day. But in recognizing how essential self-first was to my ability to hold steady for myself and the household, I had to start treating it as important as getting dressed in the morning, as feeding them breakfast.
Which brings me to lesson number 2:
2) The essence of parenting is modelling behaviour.
It’s easy to forget how closely kids watch you, until you overhear them parroting back your exact words to each other when they are playing a game!
While we share lessons with them, set rules and expectations, we also need to practice what we preach. Does this mean we have to be perfect? No, because then we are showing them that they have to be perfect! But it does suggest that if we want them to learn coping strategies or to be emotionally healthy, we have to live it ourselves.
Despite my first instinct being to always be there for them, sometimes, stepping away to take care of me was showing them something more. By taking a moment to call a friend, I show them that I am a whole person that needs support too. By setting boundaries to take personal space and meditate, I show them that I have needs just like they do.
If I can’t motivate myself to take care of myself because I deserve it, sometimes I remind myself that modelling self-care strategies is still parenting!
But how do you do that when you are working full time with two kids at home? Enter point number 3….
3) While you might not have time and space, you always have inner space.
During Toronto’s brutal winter, I was cramped inside my home with my family, without anywhere to go. I was forced to find space for myself somewhere else. I’ve learned from my own practice that while my external world is limited, my inner world is endless. If I am willing, my inner self is ready, waiting for me to explore.
In a storm of busyness, there are moments. You just have to be in the moment to find them.
They get into a game or activity. You sit by and watch. Close your eyes for a few minutes, take some breaths. Allow yourself to feel.
Bring out some arts and crafts. Participate! Colour and cutting paper can help you drift to the other side of your brain in amazing ways.
Turn on some music! Dance! Find the joy in your body. It’s easy for them, if you reach for it, it can be there for you too.
You’re washing dishes. Slow down. Feel the water and soap suds. Take a breath. A simple activity can be the way to deeper thoughts.
I’ve transformed this year and finding self-first for myself has been a huge part of this change. I’m more steady as a parent and less afraid of messing up. By valuing my own self care, it’s made me more available to my family and less stressed when confronting the daily challenges. Self-first is a must!!!
Have you too found personal growth through these troubled times? Please share in the comments below!