Things are not stupendously awesome at this exact moment.
As I write this, we're sitting in the computer store at the mall – during the holidays, no less – because my laptop graphics card decided to call it quits.
There's a baby screaming in that stroller behind me and I need to come up with sustenance for him. But I haven't fed myself in a good 12 hours or so.
Oh, and Nate's suddenly developed some sort of flu-like symptoms.
We all have those moments, don't we? I found myself literally kicking a wall the other day. My own wall. I then had to go get a rag to clean it because I got scuff marks on it from my shoe. Who does that? Someone who's losing it, that's who. I had to force myself to snap out of it and remember that it's perfectly normal to feel helplessly out of control when you have four kids. And it's the holidays. And you're renovating. And everything is breaking. And. And. And.
We all have those moments.
Next time you find yourself in the middle one of those moments, take a deep breath and remember these two words: self care. My family knows these words very, very well. “I'm having a self care moment,” I tell them. “You need to wait.” Nate and I learned quickly that in this household, if the parents don't care for themselves, the kids won't get their needs met, and everything will inevitably fall apart. Over the years, we've both developed some serious self care strategies and implemented them like drill sergeants. These strategies help restore balance when things start to spiral. Now, it's just a matter of vigilance in referring to them and enacting them and making sure that they're a priority. Making sure that we're a priority.
Now, if things start to unravel, we usually soon realize we've gotten away from our tried-and-true self care tips.
How to Take Care of Yourself as a Parent
Have a Narrative
I have certain scripted things I say to my children when I feel like I'm going to snap. They're like “fall-back phrases” for times when you can't think of anything nice to say. I know that when there's a canned response waiting in the wings, there's less likelihood that I'll wind up in a shouting match. My kids get a constructive message instead! When my boys start throwing a fit, I jump straight to a tried-and-true line, “You're feeling frustrated, I understand.” If they see me struggling, I explain honestly, “Mama's having a hard time, just like you.” Talking openly about emotions will help you raise respectful, empathetic children.
Phone a Friend
My sister lives with us, and there are definitely times when I've appeared in her doorway looking desperate and disheveled as heck. “I need you to take the baby right now, I can't be around him for the next five or ten minutes.” Knowing who to call when it's time to wave the white flag is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE. Whether it's a friend, a relative, a pastor, a neighbor, a babysitter or a local pizza delivery service…source some helpful resources and don't be afraid to use them.
Wake Up Early
This seems counterintuitive, since many people would argue that parents need sleep more than anything else. That's true, but I find that life just runs better if I can get a jump on the kids. There's something truly empowering about being woken up by an alarm clock instead of by a toddler sticking his fingers up your nostrils. Plus, the mental rejuvenation that can be gained from a cup of coffee without a side of Sesame Street is absolutely priceless – and you can't really squeeze that in any other time of day.
Find a Quiet Space
For Nate, it's the bathroom. For me, it's the chicken coop. Designate a space that you can retreat to where nobody will bother you. Enforce it. Practice it. Make it get to the point that your family sees you in your space and they just know they'll be better off if they leave you alone.
Have Some Go-To Activities
I have an entire closet filled with knick knacks and new craft stuff that the boys haven't seen. If they come at me complaining, “I'm boooooooored!” right when everything is falling apart, I simply pull something out of the closet and let them have at it. And if that doesn't work, we bust out the tablets. And if that doesn't work, I pop in a movie. Kids definitely shouldn't be left to entertain themselves for hours on end, but having tried-and-true tricks to keep them occupied for a bit can help you regain some mental clarity.
See a Doctor
Your health matters. A lot. Nate and I have learned from a few unfortunate hospital visits that we absolutely can't let health issues fester. Nip it in the bud and go see a doctor before things start to get out of control.
What are your self-care tips?