Aha! Parenting Blog

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The Secret of the Full Cup: Self Care

"Dr. Laura, I'm great with my kids on vacation.  But most of the time, I'm just so stressed out, my default is yelling. And now, with the pandemic, I feel like I'm running on empty." -- David

Even at the best of times, vacations can sometimes be stressful: disrupted sleep schedules and routines, extended-family dynamics, travel.

But if we're lucky enough to leave work behind and have a real vacation, we can usually slow down a bit and meet our own needs. We get a chance to soak in the sweetness of life, to feel more expansive.

That breathing room lets us ease up about the little things, enjoy our children more, and strengthen our connection with them. Naturally, kids respond by relaxing and cooperating more.

If only we could hang on to that relaxed, connected, "vacation" parent all year long!

We can. Or at least, we can come closer to it than we usually do.

It's true that life often gets in the way, especially during a pandemic. When you're struggling with fear, isolation, precarious finances and health scares, stress is a given. When you're with your children 24/7, meeting your own needs can seem impossible. That's when we find ourselves screaming inside "This isn't what I signed up for!"

But when we find ourselves resenting our kids, it's usually a sign that we aren't taking care of ourselves. And whose responsibility is that? Yes, even during a pandemic.

It's our job to meet our needs as well as we can. That doesn't just mean eating healthy food and getting enough sleep. It also means supporting ourselves to work through difficult emotions. And during this pandemic, we're all getting a crash course in difficult emotions.

When we don't take responsibility to work through those big feelings, it's much harder to self regulate. Unfortunately, every one of us can get pushed to the limit and go over the edge -- but since we're the grown-ups, it's our job to stay away from the edge. So we aren't doing our children any favors if we don't care for ourselves at the same time that we're caring for them.

What if you're facing a real crisis, and you're running on empty? All the more reason to put on your own oxygen mask first, so you can think straight. Taking care of your own needs will allow you to bring all your internal resources to bear, so that whatever challenges you're facing will be easier to manage.

You're not being selfish to meet your own needs. In fact, you owe it to your child. Her ability to regulate her emotions will depend on how well you regulate yours when you interact with her, especially when she's upset. If you can stay centered, you'll be more emotionally generous. Your child will respond with more cooperation.

Want more motivation? You owe it to yourself. Life is too short to spend it feeling stressed and resentful. If this virus has taught us anything, it's that we never know how long we have. Unless you're very lucky, you've probably known someone who died without warning at a relatively young age. Don't postpone finding whatever satisfaction you can find in your life.

Ultimately, every one of us is responsible for our own peace of mind and how we spend the life we've been given. On your deathbed, there won't be anyone else to blame if you’ve been unhappy. The secret work of adulthood is that we are all still growing up, and parenting forces us to learn to parent ourselves as well as our child. That work begins with learning to love and nurture ourselves.

So how can you nurture yourself, when all the hours in the day are already accounted for and there's a pandemic? There are two keys.

1. Change what you do.

There are many small ways to de-stress and support yourself, so don't assume you need a huge change.  Start by putting yourself back on your own list. Nurture yourself in small ways throughout your day, including while you nurture your child. (And if you do need a big change, you'll see what to do more clearly from that nurtured place, instead of just being resentful or angry.) Get in the habit of asking yourself every hour "What do I need right now?"  Then do it.

2. Change your attitude.

Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful. Yes, this is a tough time, but when you hold a grudge against life you close yourself off to what's good in the world. Cultivate gratitude for the good in every single day. You can do this even while you allow yourself to feel whatever sadness, fear, or anger comes up for you. Accepting those feelings is the first step toward moving beyond them. You'll feel more supported -- and you'll find more support.

And YOU don't have to be perfect to be more than enough. Instead of judging yourself, nurture yourself through all the big feelings and stress. Talk to yourself like someone you adore. Be your own cheerleader. If you're not emotionally generous to yourself, you can't be emotionally generous to your child.

I wish I could be your fairy godmother and wave a magic wand to help you find that inner peace and balance. The bad news is, every magic wand we can access takes work. But that work -- bringing compassion to our own imperfections, slowing down to just feel gratitude for this moment in our life, to be more present and find more meaning -- is what transforms us. This work isn't only for our children. It's for us.

So over the next few weeks, many of these posts will focus on practical ways to de-stress and nurture yourself, so you can bring your best inner parent into your relationship with your child every single day. This is the first post of the series The Secret of the Full Cup.

For today, just notice your internal barometer. 1 is depleted, 10 is a full cup. How are you doing?



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