This is part of a series aiming to help us all go easier on ourselves and make our parenting lives more enjoyable and satisfying. The whole series list is here and more links are at the bottom of the post. [Update: 2.5 years later I’ve revised this and added some stuff in. Feel free to suggest more!]
Making Parenting Easier?
Making Parenting Easier. If that title doesn’t get parents reading, nothing will.
But this week’s discussion on the importance (or not) of obedience – and the conversation in the comments thread is still going strong – has raised some questions that are fundamental to this Sacraparental community:
- How can I parent thoughtfully and sacramentally when I’m so exhausted?
- How can I feel like I’m doing a good job when my performance is so different from my ideals?
So here’s a new series, giving us space to share ideas for how to make things easier.
I’ve made a list of ideas that’s too long for one post, so how about I get the ball rolling, you chime in with your suggestions, and I incorporate them into further installments?
I’ve only been doing this for a year.
Or, rather, I’ve been doing this for a whole year!
I also spent quite a bit of time as a pastor having these kinds of conversations with people, so I’m drawing on that and this past year to offer some thoughts on how we can feel better about our parenting and enjoy it more, on the days (/weeks/years) where it feels overwhelming.
This isn’t about how to be a better parent, in the sense of raising our standards and learning new skills and tricks. It’s about how to be a healthier, happier person in the middle of the most challenging thing many of us will ever do.
It’s aimed at people who spend lots of hours and days with kids, and especially parents of young children, when life is particularly intense, or parents in difficult circumstances.
Some ideas will resonate with you, some will be from another planet. Try things that appeal and let us know what you find. Offer your own ideas: imagine you’re talking to a brand-new parent. Or imagine you’re talking to us.
One last caution: just pick one thing! This series is not a To Do list with twelve more items to stare at you accusingly with their unticked boxes. It’s a set of pick-and-mix options that you have control of.
And there are lots of parenting-on-the-beach photos to help us feel like life’s a beach, ok? Send me yours if you like!
Be Kind to Yourself
Alex’s mother asked the right questions: Do you love your children? Do they know that? Do you spend time and energy caring for them?
Before you perfectionists start prevaricating, let me answer that for you. Of course you do. Of course they do. You’re reading a parenting blog
So I think we can all agree that you are brilliant and amazing and you need to cut yourself some slack. Celebrate the good stuff you are doing, and let the self-appreciation moments outnumber the self-flagellation ones.
If this is an unfamiliar landscape, here are some ideas for helping yourself to feel better about the great job you are doing with your kids. Remember, if any appeal, just pick one or two and test them out. It’s not a To Do list to make you feel like you’re behind. Let us know if any of it is helpful.
1. Remind yourself you are Brilliant and Amazing
Either as a blog comment for us, or just for yourself, write a Brilliant and Amazing list of at least five reasons you are fab. Full directions and space to write here. You are brilliant and amazing, so don’t forget it!
2. Ask someone for encouragement
Ask a friend, partner, your Mum or someone else who knows you well to write down five things they appreciate about your parenting. Stick the list to the bathroom mirror so you see it every day. Be encouraged.
3.Get out the photo album
Look through your favourite photos of your kids. Remind yourself that they didn’t get that wonderful by accident. You are doing a great job.
4. Check out a God’s-eye-view
Read Psalm 139 for a poet’s perspective on your importance to the God of the universe (though I concede that a few verses near the end are a bit weird).
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
5. Address your perfectionism
Imperfect is the New Perfect #1
Imperfect is the New Perfect #2: Born Perfect, on how perfectionism shows up in our parenting
Imperfect is the New Perfect #3: Vulnerability, Shame and Courage, featuring the work of Brené Brown
6. Practise gratitude
Thank God for your imperfect parents and all the good things they poured into you.
Thank God for your opportunity to be an imperfect parent, doing what you can to love your kids.
Thank God for your imperfect kids who drive you up the wall and draw love out of you like water from a deep well.
7. Laugh and cry and let it go
Find a hilarious parenting writer and laugh until you cry BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.
(Re)read Glennon Doyle Melton’s famous Momastery post, Don’t Carpe Diem, to snort, giggle and cry about the tensions of ‘enjoying’ parenting.
Read everything that Emily Writes has ever written. Like this, about how to get your baby to sleep (just don’t read it while your baby is asleep near you – I have woken my baby up THREE TIMES while reading Emily’s posts):
Some people say look for tired signs but actually you should look for signs that they might be about to do tired signs. Before there are tired signs make sure you put your baby down to sleep. Immediately.
Try to connect telepathically to your child – ask them: Are you tired but not so tired that you’re showing tired signs?
Tired but not too tired signs are varied. They generally sound like cooing, screaming, crying, blowing raspberries, strong language, and singing R&B classics from the 90s.
[Read more at Emily Writes.]
What? You can’t see them?
Me neither, but I have been putting them to bed, making them dinner and putting the little buggers on the naughty step for the last couple of years.
I don’t know all their names but there’s definitely a naughty Violet (bit of a gang leader who Audrey loves to tell tales on), Tulip, Juni (perhaps a imaginary version of Audrey’s real life friend, Juno), there’s also a Violet-Tulip and a Tulip-Violet, oh and an imaginary dog named Fliff. Fliff has been dead for one hundred years and scares away monsters.
The princesses are often responsible for drawing on walls and making colossal messes.
(Our house is about 150 years old and I did once think of playing a prank on my husband by mocking up a fake census from a hundred or so years ago that shows little girls called ‘Tulip’ and ‘Violet’ living here. Although actually, I hardly have time to make beans on toast let alone a falsified historical document.)
[Read more at Like Real Life.]
8. Be inspired about fatherhood
Read some of Jim Wallis’ and Barack Obama’s reflections on fatherhood as the best job in the world here.
Obama zeroed in on the heart of his message for Father’s Day: “Here’s the key message I think all of us want to send today to fathers all across the country: Our children don’t need us to be superheroes. They don’t need us to be perfect. They do need us to be present. They need us to show up and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives. They need us to show them — not just with words, but with deeds — that they, those kids, are always our first priority. Those family meals, afternoons in the park, bedtime stories; the encouragement we give, the questions we answer, the limits we set, the example we set of persistence in the face of difficulty and hardship — those things add up over time, and they shape a child’s character, build their core, teach them to trust in life and to enter into it with confidence and with hope and with determination.”
[Read more at Sojourners.]
Things are always the hardest when you haven’t done them before, especially when popular culture seems to ever willingly chide your methodology. My feelings swing from experiencing the beauty of waking with the snuggling cuddles and kisses of my precious child to the jealous desire to have my Lucy to myself, apart from this ever present little limpet. From feeling Ramona snuggled safely and cosily around me in a sling, to lazily wanting her somewhere else so I can enjoy the cool breeze. From wanting her to learn that I won’t always be there, to wanting her to know completely that I will. Unconditionally, without question or hesitation.[Read more at Lulastic.]
9. Keep track of your achievements
At the end of the day, take a few minutes in bed to write down what you’ve achieved today. Parenting is a job that’s hard to quantify, but a list like this example is a solid achievement:
2 loads of laundry
made two meals
cleaned high chair 6 times
read Where is the Green Sheep? 13 times
said ‘I love you’ a few dozen times
answered 53 questions beginning with ‘Why?’
had a shower…
If this kind of practice appeals, you might also like to look into the spiritual practice of the Examen.
10. Invest in some counselling
It can make all the difference to have defined space and time to get your inside stuff into the open, get some light on it, sift through it and move on as a more whole person.
Parenting is pretty pressurised, which makes it a good time to talk about things – your stuff is nearer the surface and easier to grab hold of.
It can cost money and it’s a considerable emotional commitment, but you are worth looking after in this way, so do give it some serious thought.
11. Give yourself a little treat – often
Think of a handful of little things that are treats for you, like: your favourite sweet treat; going for a walk somewhere nice; wearing your favourite perfume; listening to your very favourite music; going for a skate; curling up with a novel; going out for a coffee.
Talk with whoever you need to to build a few of these things into your week at a higher rate. It’s important for everyone in your household that you are well-nourished with things that perk you up.
Check out this not-quite-my-style-but-still-worth-reading list from Oh Baby! magazine: 100 ways to take time for yourself (beginning with things that take 10 seconds).
Here is the section with ideas that only take 30 seconds, but could change the direction your day is going in:
• Run a brush through your hair. It will stimulate your scalp and help you to feel refreshed.
• Adjust your bra straps. If your bra fits you well, your posture will be better, and you won’t feel so much tension across your shoulders and in your back.
• Scream! Go on, let it out. It will help release tension in your face and may help you simply let off some steam.
• Rub on some hand lotion.
• Put on a soothing CD or any of your favourite music. Leave it on in the background while you do other activities around the house.
• Laugh out loud. Even if nothing is funny, make yourself giggle, at least. Laughter is said to be the best medicine, and it’s an awesome stress-reliever, too.
• Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes. Stretch your toes out, then gently crunch them against the floor. Grab a ball and roll it around on the floor beneath your feet.
• Put on some lip gloss. Smile at yourself in the mirror!
• Close your eyes and place your ring fingers directly under your eyebrows, near the bridge of your nose. Slowly increase the pressure for five to 10 seconds, then gently release. Repeat two to three times.
12. Get some rest
I know, I know, get some what? But it can be done, even when you’re in the middle of the hardest parenting, if you want to make it happen.
Check out this post for a full step-by-step plan to being a better-rested parent.
Be kind to yourself, please
Listen to me, okay? You are doing what you can, and that will be enough. Be kind to yourself, please.
The last words go to Michael Leunig, from A Common Prayer:
God be with the mother. As she carried her child may she carry her soul. As her child was born, may she give birth and life and form to her own, higher truth. As she nourished and protected her child, may she nourish and protect her inner life and her independence. For her soul shall be her most painful birth, her most difficult child and the dearest sister to her other children.
Now it’s your turn:
- How else can we be kind to ourselves?
- What other things – anything at all – can make parenting easier? Let’s get a list going, and I’ll run with it for the rest of the series.