Taking Time For You

I’m aware that I’m in danger of this sounding something like a self-help column this week but I want to write about self-care and about taking time to nurture yourself. With Mother’s Day just gone, it seems like a timely reminder that Mum’s (and indeed everyone) need a bit of a break regularly, not just once a year in an avalanche of flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. But we are not passive in this, we need to claim space and time for ourselves.

It’s easy in life, especially as a parent (but not exclusively to those with small folk), to get so bogged down in the day-to-day tasks that need doing and meeting the needs of everyone around us that we forget about our own needs. Self-care is the buzz term for this but really, it just means remembering that you are a human with your own needs and wants and recognising that it’s not selfish to take some time to meet them. Mother’s especially can be prone to playing (unintentionally) the role of martyr, running themselves ragged looking after those in their lives and getting all their work done, constantly juggling tasks and appointments in order to keep their families ticking over. But the problem with this is that more often than not, we end up feeling burnt out, tired and resentful.

Luckily, the solution is not a hard one. Self-care doesn’t mean jetting off for an all inclusive spa-weekend once a month (although once in a while wouldn’t go amiss!) Rather, it means adopting a practice of remembering every day, to honour yourself by doing something that’s just for you. That might be taking the time to go for a run or to an exercise class, to sit down with a tea and a book or trashy Netflix show for an hour, it might be choosing to take some extra time to prepare a nutritious meal to better fuel your body, it might be simply going to bed early rather than spending an extra two hours tidying and tying up the loose ends of the day.

And the thing is, if we regularly make time to honour ourselves, we’ll find tension dissipating in other areas of our lives. We’ll have more patience and energy to deal with the demands that life throws at us. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to say no to a request to play by the kids or to turn down extra hours at work. It’s OK to put ourselves first once in a while. I remember reading something Dr Sears had written when Sophia was just a toddler, he wrote that the sun does not rise and set on one member of the family but rather that everyone in the family were of equal importance. He wrote that sometimes one person’s needs will be more pressing than others but that in the grand scheme of things, a family should equally look after each other.

I’ve come a long way in the way of self-care and now make sure I take time daily to do something for me (usually go to the gym or eat separately from the kids so I can eat something yummy I know they won’t touch!) and the difference is noticeable. I find that I shout less and that as a general rule, our house is calmer. I’m not going to lie, we still have stressful, grouchy days but there are less of them. So if you had a lovely Mother’s Day but wished you were given the opportunity to focus on yourself a little more, don’t wait another year. Adopt an attitude of daily self-care and take some time (even if it’s just 10 minutes) for yourself, you won’t regret it!

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Fitting it all in (everyone needs a super Dad)

I woke up feeling glum today. I have been a lot recently. I don’t really know why, perhaps it’s the adjustment to having three (although I don’t think so), maybe it’s my itchy feet and mind, feeling a bit stagnant, maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the knowledge that it is simply impossible to fit in everything I need and want to do. The housework needs to be done (at least to a basic degree of cleanliness), meals need to be prepared, laundry washed/dried/put away, I need to follow our chosen curriculum, if only loosely, in order to satisfy Sophia’s desire to learn, I need to spend meaningful time with Isaac, I often need to feed Elijah, I need to take them out to our groups several times a week. On top of this I want to be able to workout (cardio and weights) 3-4 times a week, I want to keep on top of regular posts for this blog, I want to express milk for a lady who I promised some to, I want to knit, to read, to bake, to play cello. I want to spend time with Dan where we’re not just sat in front of the box watching shows on netflix. I’d like to make time to get involved with local politics (especially after the election results – but I’ll save that for another post). But there is absolutely no way I can do all of that, even a fraction of it, to the standards that I’d like to. It seems unlikely that I will ever be able to meet the needs of everyone to the extent that they need and I’d like.

I was feeling it all getting on top of me and asked Dan if he’d drop Sophia to dancing and take the boys to the park. As they left the house and the silence descended, I physically felt the waves of relief wash over me. I immediately felt guilty (mother guilt eh!) before deciding what was a priority for this stolen hour to myself. I knew I needed to get some exercise, that it would help to shift the gloom. So I popped on my running gear, locked the door and escaped. It was only 25 minutes but there’s nothing like running by the river at high tide, feet pounding, birds singing, heart racing, to clear your head. I arrived home feeling, if not happy, at least more focused and less grumpy. After a quick shower, I  managed to whizz the hoover round before getting dinner on. Amazing really, the power of a mere 60 minutes of solitude and of getting some exercise. No wonder everyone keeps banging on about it!

But the thought that struck me mostly was that this wouldn’t have been possible without Dan. And I do take him for granted. I’m not one for slushy posts but I do feel like he’s taking on Super Dad (capitalised and everything!) status this year. From the final weeks of pregnancy where I couldn’t get around much and he snuck in park trips and little outings with the kids in every spare window of time he could find, during my almost complete bedrest immediately after Elijah was born when he took over childcare, house care and wife care completely to these early months where he is always there to take one, two or even all three children off my hands in order to facilitate some time for me to get some things done. I am beyond blessed to have him as my other half in life.

And it was him that dished out some wise words when I was bemoaning my inability to do everything I wanted/needed to. That it wasn’t all on me, that we work as a family together. That the needs of everyone don’t have to met solely by me. That we should all pitch in together and hopefully that way, we’ll get by and even find time to enjoy ourselves.

I know I’m not the only one struggling. So I wanted to write this short post not because I wanted pity, or because I’m being smug about my wonderfully supportive husband. No I wanted to write this to remind myself, to remind you, that we are not capable of doing it all. And we shouldn’t have to be. So don’t beat yourselves up over messy houses, missed workouts, the opting out of some educational or fun activity for the small people because you’re just not feeling up to it. Remember to take help when offered, to ask for help when needed and to accept, that the well being of our family does not rest solely on our shoulders. For a family to be successful, everyone needs to put in and take out. A mother does not a family make. And man, what a relief that is to realise. So do what you can without pushing yourself too hard, prioritise the essential and most desirable. And then relax. And be happy.

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P.S. Thank you again Dan. Love you!

On sleep deprivation and one upmanship

I started this post yesterday but managed to delete it so thought I would rewrite it today. There’s a certain amount of irony in the timing of this post and what happened last night which can’t go unmentioned. For the last week Isaac has been sleeping from bedtime until 6am without waking up. By my reckoning, this is the first time in 5 years that I have had uninterrupted sleep for more than a night or two at a time. Of course, having typed that yesterday, last night Dan and I were up tag teaming from midnight until roughly 3am settling a very disturbed young man who then ended up in bed with us a few hours later anyway. But such is life, hopefully it wasn’t a freak stretch of sleeping through and he’ll return to that habit tonight! Anyway, I digress…

If you had told a childless me that I would be facing 5 years of disrupted sleep and varying degrees of sleep deprivation I simply wouldn’t have believed you. Society today tells us that babies should be sleeping through the night by 6 months and I certainly didn’t think that I’d be up regularly in the night with a 2 or 3 year old. But turns out, what popular culture likes to tell us is how things should happen and the actual reality of those expectations are miles apart. Having said that, to those that regularly sleep 8 hours without interruption and are feeling horrified at the prospect of that being disturbed for so long, sleep deprivation and disrupted sleep are two very different beasts. Neither are pleasant but the latter is definitely manageable.

The sleep deprivation that comes with newborns and times of illness, teething or developmental spurts is tough, no two ways about it. When it’s your first you can sleep when baby sleeps or at least rest but it’s not so easy when you have older children to care for. This sleep deprivation can leave you surviving on caffeine, with headaches, feeling depressed or unmotivated and falling asleep on the sofa by 8pm. Although I am so excited about baby number 3, I’m seriously a bit worried about how I’m going to manage in the early days with two very boisterous older children at home! I last experienced this sleep deprivation in  July when a nasty tummy bug had me up numerous times in the night  and barely sleeping for three weeks as first Sophia, then me and then Isaac suffered. At the end of the three weeks I told Dan that I was pretty sure I might have antenatal depression. I had no patience with the children, no motivation to do anything, felt no positivity towards anything or anyone, felt run down and was just absolutely exhausted. Dan gently suggested that it could be sleep deprivation. I was annoyed with him for not taking me seriously but a week later after some much improved (but still disturbed) nights I felt a million times better. I had energy to do my workouts and take the kids out, I felt enthusiastic about things and was generally all round brighter. It was then that I realised how much sleep deprivation can affect us.

In contrast, I personally find disrupted sleep annoying but doable. Up until she was almost 4 Sophia woke at least once (often twice) in the night, she would settle quite quickly but still required attention. Up until last week Isaac (coming up to 3) was waking between one and three times a night. Sometimes he wants water, sometimes he has fallen out of his (very low) bed, sometimes he wants a cuddle or to come into my bed and sometimes he’s obviously had a bad dream. Although it’s no fun dragging myself out of bed to go and soothe him, I find that as long as I get to bed at a reasonable hour, my sleep duration isn’t affected and although I’d much rather sleep straight for 8 hours, it doesn’t affect me too much the next day.

(An aside, when Dan is home he often goes to comfort Isaac in the night if he wakes first but he is away 1-3 nights most weeks and given that he is constantly managing his ME and is our wage earner, I think it makes more sense for me to get up where possible as at the end of the day, let’s face it, if I’m knackered in the morning, I can stay in bed reading books with the kids, cancel plans and if needed, resort to a bit of iplayer downtime!)

One of the things I hate though is the one upmanship that can come into play when it comes to sleep (and just about everything parenting related!) I remember talking about being tired when Sophia was a babe to have several mothers with more than one child telling me how easy I had it and to just wait. Just wait until you have more they said. Now I’m not saying they were wrong (!) but I am saying that this kind of comment is not in the least bit supportive or helpful. Neither is judging someone else’s lifestyle and how they could ‘solve’ their sleep issues (unless of course they’ve come to you asking for ideas or advice). Lack of sleep affects us all differently but it does affect us all. It doesn’t matter if we have one child or four, we’re still allowed to talk about how we’re feeling without it becoming a competition as to who is the most tired.

As parents we should be building each other up, supporting each other and sympathising through the tough times. Not telling us that it will just get worse or that we’re making too much of a big deal of it or probably worse of all, that somehow it is our fault. A cup of tea, a hug, a gentle reminder that this too shall pass. This is what is needed to parents who are suffering under the strain of not having enough sleep.

I’m not really sure what the purpose of this post is other than to maybe try and help eradicate the myth that babies should be sleeping through the night from a ridiculously young age. If your baby is still waking at night, it’s not your fault. I know there is a lot of research and articles out there looking at what natural sleep patterns are for babies and small children that supports what I’m saying but I’m not going to dig it all up right now. For one thing, it’s almost 9pm and I’m exhausted from last night and will be heading to bed very soon! But I just want to encourage anyone who needs it that this really won’t last forever, to go easy on yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. I could wax lyrical about how the sleep deprivation is worth it for their beautiful smiles, heart meltingly cute mispronunciations and general loveliness but that goes without saying. Not getting enough sleep sucks. End of. So snatch the extra minutes in bed when you can and do what you need to do to keep going. We’re all in this together.