Not Cut-Out to Parent? (page 4)
Q: I’m afraid I wasn’t cut-out to be a parent. When my son was born I was thrilled, everything was new and the days flew by. But now that I have two, I’m overwhelmed. My house is a wreck, the “baby fat” from my second hasn’t come off and there are days when I barely have the energy to change diapers and order take-out – forget stimulating playtime and home cooked meals! What’s wrong with me? Is this post-partum depression or am I just not up to the challenges?
A: An evaluation by your physician or your pediatrician (who you may see a lot more!) can help rule out depression, thyroid problems or other organic issues. But while post-partum depression can make being at home with small children feel much harder than it needs to, there’s no getting around the fact that being a parent is very hard work. Much harder than anyone probably warned you it was going to be. And in order to parent well and feel well, you need and deserve a lot of support.
First, find a listener for your feelings. We parents have lots of feelings, which it can be hard to make time for so we tuck them away as if they didn’t exist. The problem is that feelings don’t tuck well forever. Our worries, our frustrations, our angers mount, and the more effort we put into tucking them away, the less energetic and alive we feel. Eventually, feelings may burst out when some small thing goes wrong. Often, they burst out at our children in ways we regret later. Find another parent and set up listening time over the phone or after the children are asleep. This can help relieve the burden that too many unheard feelings create. A good laugh, a good cry, a good rant about how many expectations we’re trying to meet can do a lot to lighten our load and help us remember that we are good, no matter how much take-out we serve or how many answers we don’t have at the moment.
Notice what you can’t figure out, and talk to others about it. There are probably 50 things a day that happen in a parents’ life that he or she doesn’t understand! Why won’t your child willingly brush her teeth? Why is she scared of the dark? Being open about what we don’t know is an excellent learning strategy. It makes us active seekers of information and understanding. And it’s also fine to be open with our children when we don’t know what to do. “I don’t know what we are going to do to keep this house in order. I’m thinking about it. We’ll talk about it tomorrow, after I’ve called a couple of people to see if they have any good ideas” is a fine approach to a household problem.
Organize help. We are trained to believe that asking for help is admitting weakness. However, there are many kinds of work which are not designed for one person to do alone. Building bridges, operating a supermarket, providing intensive care nursing, and raising children are the kinds of work that can be done well only with several people organized to work toward a common purpose. When we gave birth to our children, most of us had no idea that organizing help was part of a parents’ job description. We learn this, usually, by getting burned out trying to do it all ourselves, then feeling badly that we’ve had to “stoop” to asking for help. But any experienced parent can reassure you that every parent needs time away from their children, every parent needs others to care about their children, every parent needs people to think and talk with about the details of life with children. Every parent needs help!
Throw expectations overboard. When you’re working too hard to appreciate yourself or anyone else, throw an expectation overboard. Let the house be a mess for a couple of weeks, or months, or years, or don’t worry about serving hot meals, or let the relatives be grumpy because you decided not to visit this month. You get to decide what’s really necessary and what’s not, and keeping up appearances while parenting is often a joy-killer. You have permission to let things get ragged, and still be proud of yourself, your family, and your decisions.
Actively notice what’s fun, what’s good, what is working well. Our minds get so fixed on the tasks at hand that we lose sight of who we like, what goes well, and the little things we learn. It may help to put a list on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror, where a few words of what was good each day can be written down for all to see. Some families start dinner with a round of “what was good today?” so that the children get to join in, and have the chance to have the whole family listen to their experience.
Welcome your children’s feelings. Feelings are a big part of children’s lives, and expressing these feelings is how children recover from the hard things, big and small, that happen to them. Crying, tantrums, and laughter all are deeply healing for children. Expressing these emotions at length gets rid of children’s feelings that their lives aren’t good enough. When they’re finished, they regain their sense of loving and being loved. It helps if you can get close and listen to them through the stormy upsets, but if you can’t, see if it’s possible to keep from criticizing, shaming, hurting, or blaming them while they get the sad or the mad feelings out.
Set up play that includes laughter. Children love to laugh, and when we are willing to play with them so they can laugh (without tickling them!), they become buoyant and hopeful. It’s infectious. We see them wriggling with enjoyment, coming toward us for fun and lots of contact, and we can’t help but be pleased. Our empty cup meant for hope begins to fill again. We have lots to learn from children about how a really good life has time for play, wrestling, chasing, and games where the grownups may “lose,” but everyone wins back their sense that it’s good to be alive.
When you’re at your wits’ end, lie down on the floor for awhile. When we’re frazzled, the things we do aren’t usually very successful. Our children’s tensions and our tensions make a knot that keeps tangling tighter. At times like these, if we “give up” for 10 or 15 minutes, and lie down on the floor, it provides enough of a contrast to the previous tense situation that we and our children can take a fresh start with each other. Sometimes we can give ourselves permission to cry, which helps release tension. Sometimes, our children come around and decide they want to be close. They sit on our tummies, or crawl under our legs, or start jumping over us for fun. Having given up the effort to be in control, we can begin to pay attention to how things are, rather than the way we want them to be. Without the effort to stay in control, it’s often more possible to make workable decisions, and to like the children we have again.
Part of this article was based on material from Patty Wipfler’s article: Being “In Control” – The Possible and Impossible in Parenting.
You can find more information about “Listening Partnerships for Parents” by Patty Wipfler, available here.
Hand in Hand also sponsors an online support group for parents. Share ideas, concerns and support with other parents and agency professionals who use Hand in Hand Listening Tools in their families and agencies. To join, send an email to email@example.com .
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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