Taking Care of Yourself
By: K. Peak
Being a parent is one of the most selfless and thankless roles out there. Once that little human is born, you are no longer the most important person in your world. You have a little individual with needs that is unable to express himself clearly or comprehend why Mommy or Daddy is upset or stressed. Being a parent of a child who is a minority in some fashion or a child who feels she/he is different from the others adds to the stress. How do we explain why we do not look, worship or do things like their peers? How do we handle the stresses that our children have – which in turn add to our stresses? In order to be better parents, we have to learn to de-stress ourselves. Personally, I have found the more stressed I am, the more my toddler feeds off it and the more trouble we have.
Children are selfish beings from the start. They have to be to survive, to learn. Some parents start feeling that their child has it out for them. Not true. Children have limited skills for expression. A baby will cry if hungry, cold, wet, gassy or just to let off steam. Toddlers want terribly to let you know what is going on or what they need but may not have the verbal skills to do so. There are also learning limits and often I think we expect more of our little ones than is fair. Tantrums often arrive from frustrations that cannot be verbalized, being overtired, etc. Children will test you. Children will have mood swings. Children will whine and fuss. Children are not little adults, as the media would have you believe. Children are children and will be a stress at some point in time even to the most even-keeled parent. So much of parenting is learned and not instinct. So much of parenting is instinct and cannot be learned from books. So much of parenting is exhausting. Parents need some downtime.
I am a Stay-At-Home-Mom. My husband and I agreed that when we had children it would not be so someone else could raise them while we worked. Having spent years in Corporate America, I can tell you, I find being an At-Home-Parent far more challenging. When Connor enters school, I will continue to stay at home. Why? Well, I want to be there when he gets home from school. Kids get in the most trouble between the times of 2:30 and 6:00 pm after school but before a parent gets home. What about school vacations? I cannot get an entire summer off! I do not want Connor to be raised by someone else. Yet, being a Stay-At-Home means that I do not get a break from my darling. I love Connor dearly, but there are times I just need "Mom Time." This is my time to cool down, escape even if only for half an hour and find myself.
I am a woman as well as a mother. Though my daily attire is something along the lines of denim and cotton decorated with some form of food, crayon, chalk or clay, I still need to feel pretty, even sexy. If you are reading this and happen to be a Stay-At-Home-Dad, adapt this to your gender accordingly. And I applaud you. A child so needs a parent to guide. If Mom will not stay at home, I feel Dad should explore this option. No one can care for a child the way a good parent can. And it takes someone special to be a true parent.
My greatest asset is an involved husband. Without a close partner who understands that I need a break, I would have lost my mind by now. Doug's job is roughly 7 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. anywhere from five to seven days a week depending on patients and what needs to be done at the lab. I am on the go 24/7/365. I cannot look at Connor and say "Gee, Boss, I'm going to take a coffee break now," or "I feel like knocking off a bit early today." I relish Connor's naps - when I get my typing done as well as some household chores. When Connor is awake, we play, go out, and I am teaching him to help around the house. What I (we) do not get done, Doug helps me with on his days off or at night. Doug also gives me time to myself by taking Connor out to the dreaded home improvement center or the bookstore. All I have to do is ask. Now with Connor a toddler, I returned to my favorite hobby and am teaching dog and puppy obedience classes a few evening a week, going to Agility classes and occasionally competing with my dogs. I will not go back to dog training or showing like I did before Connor, but he is now old enough for me to do a few activities. But my greatest escape is taking care of myself, my inner psyche. Here's what I do... And it is quite cheap!!!
Once every few months I go to a store that caters to bath and body needs: the Body Shop, Bath and Body Works, Nature's Elements, even my local grocery store carries several lines of bath care items. Or, I do a craft day where Connor and I make glycerin soaps using herbs from the garden or local shop and supplies from the craft store. If I am concerned about money (as most single income families are), for just a couple dollars, I can buy a handful of bath beads (bath beads are gelatin-like balls that contain a scented bath oil - one in a hot tub is all you need). I only use these items for "Mommy Night" which is about once a month.
Have your husband, spouse or partner take your child or children for an hour or so or do this after the little ones go to bed. Ask your partner to keep an ear for little ones waking. Begin to draw a bath - as warm as you like - and melt a bath bead in it. Brew a cup of herbal tea, spice some warm cider or red wine and light a few candles. Dim the bathroom lights and relax! Just fifteen minutes and I feel much better. The scent of the oils is either relaxing or invigorating, depending on what you choose. I read a book or just close my eyes and drift. Or else I take a steamy shower and lather myself in a scented bath gel with corresponding shampoo and conditioner. After scrubbing myself, I towel off and use the rich creamy lotion. I choose scents that calm me. Then off to bed and relax with a book and cup of herbal tea, cider or wine. Just once a month of a special, private escape is all I need. Most of the skin care items I buy will last many uses so I am spending what amounts to a couple dollars a month.
Another way to relax is by getting a massage. If money is a concern, check your yellow pages for a massage or physical therapy school. I know many people who used to go get massages by practicing students. Check out your county recreation department or Y, many of them may offer massages at a lesser cost than a spa or health club. Even one of our malls has a rest spot where you can receive seated chair massages! Some recreation departments or health clubs may have saunas and whirlpools. These can be very relaxing as well. Try Yoga! If money is really not as much of an option, go to a day spa.
Do you want a more physical release? Look at classes offered by your community college or recreation department. I have seen martial arts, fencing, cardio-kickboxing, swimming, weight lifting and other activities offered. I have also seen motorcycle safety classes, archery and rock climbing! Some programs last one day. Many of these programs are far less expensive than what you would pay at a private institution. If you cannot afford the time or money, take a long, brisk walk. Check out state forests and parks for hiking trails. Many areas have groups that meet weekly or monthly for nature walks. Get a workout tape and work out when your kids are asleep. Or just walk around the mall early in the morning when few people are around. Leave the credit cards at home!!!
Do not make excuses for why you cannot find time for yourself. All parents need down time. I feel those of us who opt to be at home and give up our "day jobs" need this more so than others. Why? We do not get to interact as much with other adults unlike parents who return to work (though returning to work has its stresses as well). And make time to get out with your children. I take Connor to play groups run by our recreation center. The cost is only a couple dollars. Our country runs water parks during the summer that are far more reasonable and cleaners than many private water parks. There are also Mom and Tot yoga classes or music and rhythm classes not as formally structured as programs for older children offered at our local recreation department. One of our universities has built a new aquatics and fitness center that is open for use by our county residents that offers many programs geared to tots and preschoolers. The costs are quite reasonable! This year, Connor will enter preschool two days a week for a total of six hours. I have no idea what I will do with the extra time! It is a scary thought.
Taking time for your self heals the soul. It gives you time to reflect, think or just vegetate. Being able to take a break, even once or twice a month, I feel helps you be a better parent. It allows you to calm down and hopefully not take your stress out on the little ones who do not always understand why big people are upset or angry. As parents get stressed, we begin a slow burn that can slowly ignite into burst of misdirected anger and sometimes violence. How many times have you experienced this? Children do not comprehend like adults do. They may think they are the cause of Mommy and Daddy's fights. Children also learn by what they see. A child who grows up seeing anger released in unhealthy manners, observing violence, hearing only angry words or threats of being hit will learn this is appropriate. Children who grow up seeing parents talk out issues, showing affection and having proper stress releases will grow up better able to cope with stress. If parents do not learn to take care of themselves occasionally and relax, I feel we become less effective parents.
There is a flip side to this: the parent who takes too much personal time. I know many mothers who return to work when their children are only a few months old. Many of these mothers do not have to work, they do so because they feel a job is too important or like their job too much or must live a very extravagant lifestyle. Another person primarily raises their children. (I used to work in day care so have been on both sides of this issue: the mothers who work when the do not have to and those who must for insurance or whatever). On the weekends and evenings, the child is shuffled to a baby sitter or Grandparents so Mom and Dad can go out with friends, hit the gym or go shopping. I see children who have their parents for less than twelve waking hours a week. What is this teaching? Often a child feels she or he is not important enough to have your time. How would you feel if Mommy said she had to work every day because she loved it and it was very important. I remember one toddler telling me, with a very sad face, that Mommy works because she wants to and was too busy for him. He knew that Daddy made enough money and Mommy even bragged about how she worked because she wanted to and she really did not have to. Their son was dropped at daycare for eleven hours a day, five days a week and then in the care of grandparents on the weekends. Is this the lesson we want children to learn? Yes, not all of us have the luxury of not returning to work, but we must be careful of the messages we are sending our little ones. So when you start to create "Mom Time" or "Dad Time," make certain you do not go overboard and forget what is now most important in your life.