Updated: Aug 25, 2022
The shortest answer is no, it isn’t. You are not the only one yelling, stomping, and crying. You are not the only one with a messy house and take out for dinner. You are not the only one with children that don’t seem to listen and do what you have asked even though you may have initially asked nicely, kindly, respectfully.
Let me back up here…so this past weekend I had the privilege of sharing my meals and recreation time away from my family and my everyday life in exchange for a group of women I first met when we were only 15. We were counselors-in-training, CITs, at a summer camp in rural Vermont, Camp Farnsworth, “Where Girls Grow Strong”. In the throes of adolescence ourselves we went there with a belief that we wanted to be counselors. That we could learn to not only take care of ourselves, but that we had the strength of character that would make us good at taking care of others. We had a desire to share the magic of camp and all the value that it could bring to any childhood. Well, with the support of some other amazing women who had walked the path before us, we grew into these people we imagined. However, not without some struggles along the way. All of the challenges of adolescent girls were front and center in our CIT program: self doubt, self-consciousness, eating disorders, mental health issues, and difficult family life. Yet the structure of the program pushed us to face these issues head on as we bonded on paddling or hiking trips, adventure courses, and first aid certification. We learned about girl-guided discovery, how to lead a “cool-chat” to discuss difficult issues with campers, how to plan for meals over fires, and lead overnights within camp and beyond.
I provide this context for two reasons:
First, we all had the benefit of working with children before becoming parents. Which you think would at least provide a leg up in the parenting department as compared to others who did not have a similar experience.
Second, so that you understand that we created a bond together that is strong, so strong in fact, that to this day we can meet together after a long time apart and let ourselves be vulnerable.
The second part is particularly key here, for it is when we are vulnerable that we can begin to see ourselves and our situation in a new way. It is an opportunity to let someone else into our world who may be able to support us.
So, back to the original point. Sitting around at dinner on the first night of our weekend, we had already moved past the more formal check-in stage of conversation, and slid into the ridiculous and exasperating stories that we all have about parenting. After a round robin of stories where 4 of the 5 of us had all mentioned moments where either we or our children were not at our best, the last member of our group says, “Oh…so it isn’t just me?” Cue hardy laughter and overwhelming support! We all assured her that not only have we all had these difficult moments, but that it does not mean we are less as mothers.
Let me say that again, bad moments do not make us bad mothers (or parents more broadly). No matter who we are, raising children is challenging.
This leads me to another comical story. Last week we made a plan to visit with some friends at the beach and the dads are talking somewhere behind me as I watch our youngest jump through the water. Without really hearing the conversation I jump in and state, “did my husband mention, he wants to go do something hard?” (I meant he wanted to climb something difficult, have a big day out.) The other dad’s response was nearly perfect, “You mean besides parenting?”
As we teach our children the skills required for emotional regulation, we must be able to harness it ourselves, which means we need the self care that is required to function at our best. You see, my husband had recently realized that he is better at emotional regulation when he is regularly faced with challenging situations, particularly in the climbing and adventuring context, where he must stay calm in order to stay safe. Climbing is part of his self-care.
So what does holistic self-care really look like? Of course it will be a little different for everyone, but there are a few basic pillars that hold up your house of sanity: 7-9hours of sleep on average, healthy eating that fuels our body and mind, exercise to boost our endorphins and regulate our hormones, individual down time such as forest walking, meditation, reading, writing, yoga, etc. to reunite with ourselves, and camaraderie, friendship that builds us up, keeps us laughing and helps us feel like we aren’t alone.
You may say, well, I don’t have time for nearly any of that…between work, the house, parenting, and being a partner, my self-care is in the trash bucket. I do not disagree! I have been working for the better part of a year on all of these items and it is hit or miss in any given week if I truly achieve any of them except healthy eating, which my body gives me no choice about.
I guess we should all just throw up our hands then? Not exactly. I clearly do not have all the answers, but I know a few things.
Find/reunite with a community of parents that you like and respect. Trade stories, be vulnerable, have some laughs, share resources. You can do this online, on video calls or at playdates.
Check out your local library, parks and recreation department, hospital, or community center for parenting groups being offered.
Be social at the playground and soccer sidelines.
Join an online social network of parents with similar values. There are many available both on Mighty Networks and Facebook.
I am part of the Child of the Redwoods: Constellation network on Mighty Networks and very much enjoy the support and stories from all the parents I meet there.
Stay away from open groups that may have individuals likely to insult your parenting choices. This will not be helpful.
Good friends make everything better, always. So spend a moment each week staying in touch. Send a ‘thinking of you’ text, use Marco Polo or another asynchronous video messenger, make a plan to do something together even if you have to schedule it weeks in advance.
Check out this article about friendship and longevity if you don’t believe me
Build some new habits that you feel good about and do it slowly, not expecting to change every aspect of your life all at once. Consider using a gratitude journal, a habit tracker or some other method of reflection on your day.
You may want to check out these books for some really practical advice:
Go outside everyday, alone, with a friend, walk a dog, take the whole family. Time outside has been proven to provide a grounding effect on your day.
Put your self-care needs on rotation. If you only have 15min a day or 1 hour for self care this week, pick one area to focus on and then make an action plan to ensure you follow through.
Remember, it is not just you, there are many of us out there raising small humans and there is so much common ground in our experience. Be vulnerable, ask for support, and listen to others.