Parenting 101: Carve Out Space for YOU

Parenting 101 is a series of posts that I have written to help out new parents by teaching them little tricks and tips to make this whole journey a bit easier.  They are not Earth shattering revelations, and they do not follow any certain parenting philosophy.  They are simply tips to make life with children a bit easier for everyone.
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When I had one baby, it was easy to ignore my own needs.  I held a baby instead of eating.  I could go hours on end without peeing.  That was probably because I rarely drank anything.  We had just moved cross country, so I had very few friends.  I spent all of my free time focusing on my baby.  When she slept, I would sit down at the computer and socialize with other moms who were going through a similar set of circumstances, and research things that I had never thought to research before.  I didn’t have hobbies anymore, although I’ve always been crafty.  The closest I came to doing something for myself was when Sofi was old enough to play by herself for a few moments and I would sew her a few dresses.

But at the time, that was enough.

When I had another baby, they rarely slept at the same time.  Their needs almost always seemed to overlap.  If Sofi needed me to play, Walter needed me to be quiet   If Sofi needed a nap, Walter needed a diaper.  If Sofi needed me to be cooking, Walter needed me to be nursing (and he would NOT hang out in the sling to do so).  Sofi went to bed at 9:00. Walter went to bed at 12:00.  Sofi woke up at 7:00.  Walter woke up at 10:00.  Finding time to do what I wanted to do seemed impossible.  I couldn’t even sit down at the computer during nap time, or after I had put the kids to bed, because there was always still one kid awake; or else I was too exhausted by the time they both went to sleep at night.

And that was one of the hardest, darkest points in my adult life.

Learning that it was vital for me to carve out time for myself, teaching my kids to cooperate with that time, created my ability to parent well.  Until I learned that taking care of my own needs – and not just my basic needs – was an actual necessity, I was not as capable of a parent as I am now.  When I learned to carve out time in each day to do what I WANT, what makes me feel whole, what calms me, it changed the way I viewed my job as a parent, and my worth as a person.

But it can be REALLY overwhelming to figure out how to meet a mama’s need for enjoyment, satisfaction, or creation when she has very young children about.  I actually still struggle with it sometimes.  In fact, two or three weeks ago I started down a path full of obstacles to some much needed down time in my day.  When I was almost in tears because the big kids had waken the baby much too early from a nap, and he wasn’t going back down, I realized that I had been neglecting my own need for some calm in the day, and that I needed to figure out how to get it back – quickly!  Several friends suggested TV, videos, Netflix, and the like.  But we don’t own a TV.  My kids are really not into TV like most kids are, because they don’t remember ever having a TV at our house.  They will pretty much only watch a TV if they can’t come up with ANYTHING else to do.  And, I kind of hate TV.  So, that one doesn’t so much work for us.

But, I set to work strategizing, and came up with some good ideas that have worked out for us.

Taking an opportunity to knit for a few minutes while the kids are busy playing on Christmas Eve.

1. Get a hobby!  A nice, portable hobby that is easy to grab at a moment’s notice is nice.  For me, that is knitting.  My knitting resides in the basket beside my chair or in the bag on the back of my chair.  Elliott can’t get into it these places, and the bigger kids know not to.  I can grab it up and start stitching at a moment’s notice, and I can set it down again 5 minutes later when the baby falls and bangs his head. Books, hand sewing, crocheting, a little bottle of lotion for a quick foot massage, a phone for a play or two of Words With Friends – these are all quick hobbies.  Whatever you can come up with, latch on and remember to grab it up as soon as you have a minute of time with no one demanding your attention!

2. Figure out how to prioritize things that are important to you.  For instance, my poor, neglected blog here.  I LOVE blogging!  I love sharing my experiences with the world.  But blogging, for me, requires concentration, uninterrupted time to work, and a computer with a keyboard.  After my PC died last spring, I had a hard time working out all of those things.  But the realization this month that my blog is something that I’ve sorely missed helped me to prioritize it back to the top of my list, instead of something that I would get to if all of the stars lined up correctly.

3. Don’t check out before you take care of yourself.  Prioritizing brings me to this note.  When I got so run down from not taking care of myself, I began watching videos on my phone whenever I did have a minute.  And sometimes when I didn’t.  I have always followed a few TV shows on the computer – Grey’s Anatomy is the big one, and the only one I used to watch.  Then I got a smart phone and I could watch while I was putting the baby down for a nap.  So, I started following Once Upon a Time, Revenge, and Castle.  So, a lot of days, I would watch one show while I nursed.  Then, I got so tired from not taking care of myself, I began watching anything with a new episode on ABC.  And THEN Papa signed up for a free month of Netflix and it was ON!  I watched Bones – all 7 seasons – in about a week in December.  Now, partly, I sit by myself in the evenings, after all of the kids are in bed (because they do all sleep simultaneously these days), while Papa is doing school online, and I am LONELY.  So, it isn’t unusual for me to plug in a show and have something to watch while I knit, by myself.  But, I had to realize that I wasn’t just watching a show for something to think about while I was otherwise non-mobile, anymore.  I had begun plugging in my one earphone and sitting in front of a screen as a means of escape from a routine that had become too difficult for me.  Changing that involved summoning up the energy to get past just sitting with my earphone, and picking my knitting back up, or blogging – even if it is the end of the day and I am tired.  What we do to check out doesn’t fulfill us.  But doing what we love re-energizes us – leaving us more ready to tackle the things that are actually wearing us out.

4. Be willing to take it in doses.  When Walter was a baby, I began working with the kids on entertaining themselves for short amounts of time so that I could do what I wanted for a few minutes.  I would lay Walter down in the baby gym at my feet, and say to Sofi, “Mama is going to knit now.  What are YOU going to do?”  It took a week or so, but she was able to start drifting over to the toys and finding something to play with by herself for 10 or 15 minutes.  That may not seem like that long, but that was about 100 times longer than I was getting to knit before that! We worked at it and it didn’t take long before the kids were able to play for half an hour while I worked.  Then, dinner time became a smidge easier, because they could play for a few minutes (some days!).  And then suddenly, they were old enough that they were attached at the hip and too busy to need much!  And THEN, I had another baby.  😀  So now I’m teaching him to let me have my 10 or 15 minutes here and there.  But the catch is that you have to be willing to TAKE that 10 or 15 minutes without resentment!  If you are busy being angry that you ONLY got 10 minutes instead of 30, you can’t appreciate the 10 minutes you DID get.  So, remember to just add up all of the minutes in your day to a respectable amount of time.

5. Set a timer.  When I really get to the point of wear that I NEED the kids to just let me have 30 minutes of calm, I will tell them how I’m feeling, and I will set a timer.  I will tell them, “Mama is just feeling really tired and overwhelmed right now, and I need a little bit of calm time to help me rest and feel better.  I’m going to set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes, and I am going to sit in my chair and knit until it goes off.  I would really love it if you guys could play calmly until the alarm goes off.”  And my kids, since they are used to having their own needs met, can usually respect this.  If I were doing it every day, I think it would become a power struggle.  But since I only do it when I REALLY need it, they are willing to give it to me because they know they are genuinely helping us ALL out in that moment.

6. Enlist some help.  We all need help some days.  And there are many ways to get it, even if you can’t think of any off the top of your head.  Is there a grandparent who would love to come play with your child, or take your child out for a few hours once a week or so?  How about an aunt or uncle?  Is there an older child in the neighborhood who just loves babies or young kids and would love to come hang out for a little while here and there and play with your kids?  What about a teenager or college student who might be looking to make a little extra money (if you can afford to pay a few dollars) by babysitting while you do something you enjoy?  What about Dad?  Can he take over bath or bedtime to give you some time to sit and be calm?  Or can he take over the child care for an evening once or twice a week so that you can join a group, go on a Mom’s Night Out, go get a manicure, or do something else that you enjoy?  If none of these is possible, what about a child care or work trade with another mom who has similar age children?  You watch her kids and your own one afternoon a week and then drop your kids off with her a different afternoon.

7. Enjoy it!  It may sound trite, but you can choose to be annoyed that you aren’t getting enough down time.  You can choose to feel neglected because your needs come last.  Or, you can choose to enjoy what you do get, realize that you DO get it, and that there are people who are happy to help you get that down time.  Focusing your energy on being grateful for what we DO have, and enjoying it, actually helps to re-energize us and to face a new day happily, instead of continuing to struggle.

How do you carve out down time for yourself?

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