Monday, 16 February 2015

When you're NOT having a good day

One of the things about becoming a parent that doesn't become truly real until you're in it is the unrelenting nature of the job. It just DOESN'T stop. Ever. My boys are twenty three and twenty nine now, and the stepson is nineteen. None of them are ever far from my thoughts, particularly my No.2 - I've still had no contact with him, so I still don't know where and how he's living, if he's working or spiralling further into addiction. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis about eighteen months after No.2 was born, so that added a whole other layer to the demands of parenting. You can read more about that HERE.

By and large, my partner and I are now living a child free life, with all three mostly not with us. The stepson has worked all summer in a job near his mother's, so he's been living there. He goes back to uni this week, so I'm expecting to see him at some point, and at the back of my head is the thought that I need to be prepared for the fact that he'll arrive without notice (which is his usual tendency) and whatever was planned for dinner will be something he doesn't like, or there won't be enough, and there'll be a last minute turmoil around catering for him. I figure I'll hand that over to my partner if - when - it happens, because I'm really not very well at the moment again.

I have a friend who is also chronically ill with aggressive disease, who has two young teenagers, is on her own, and is just starting a certificate course that could contribute to her being able to rebuild a career. Her struggle has reminded me of strategies I used when my kids were at home and I was studying and working, while trying to balance my health needs, so I thought it would be interesting to put those together in a post and invite readers to contribute some of their time and energy saving strategies for managing busy lives, and especially those intended to make the more difficult times possible.

Getting enough sleep

While this sounds incredibly obvious, it's often the last thing we consider when we're overwhelmed. The need to get everything done can get in the way of prioritising sleep. Sleep deprivation can very quickly exacerbate that sense of being overwhelmed as the fatigue builds up, stress levels rise, decision making abilities are impaired, and our capacity for patience disappears. Getting enough sleep isn't a luxury, it's an absolute necessity. Staying up late to get that last job finished doesn't work long term - the job will be there in the morning... Plan a regular bed time, and set an alarm to get up at the same time and try to train your body into a sleep routine.

Eating well

We all do it - grab a snack instead of taking time to sit down and eat properly when we're tired, rushed and/or feeling ill. Again, it makes no sense in the long run because the impact becomes cumulative. Eventually, we get incredibly run down and the wheels can fall off completely. Also, we lose valuable sitting down time with our families - and these are the times when we can keep in touch with where everyone in the family is at. 

Give the kids responsibilities

I know SO many families where the parent/s is/are running themselves ragged, and a huge proportion of what they're trying to manage could be spread around the whole family, including the kids, no matter what their age. It is never too soon to start giving kids jobs to do - and the earlier you start, the more they'll be into it, because little kids LOVE being given 'grown up' stuff to do. The other benefit of starting early is that it becomes just 'normal' for them to be part of the family workforce. If you leave it until you think they're 'old enough' for responsibilities, you run the risk of coming hard up against them rebelling when they find their time and efforts being required instead of being at their own disposal.

Find support

Whether you're sick or healthy, parenting is damned hard work. It is relentless. Some days will be easier than others, but it doesn't stop. The saying, 'it takes a village to raise a child' harks back to pre-nuclear family times when people still lived in an extended family network and had closer relationships with neighbours and others in their immediate vicinity. The rise of the nuclear family has resulted in parents trying to manage in previously unheard of isolation, and the sense that to ask for help somehow means that we're failing. If you don't have family close, find people with whom you can share the load. Team up with other families with kids so you can take turns to give each other time out, and show the kids that all the stuff you are working through happens in families everywhere - the good and the bad.

Take time out

Be better to yourself. You're important too. Obviously, the kids are a number one priority, but there's a definite case for not putting them first EVERY time. If you don't look after yourself, you won't be in any fit state to look after them. Make time for yourself without them so you can recharge your batteries. You'll feel better for it, and they'll benefit too. It may mean making a regular day or evening where you take a couple of hours off and leave them with a babysitter so you can go see a movie or take a walk by yourself. It could mean enrolling in some study you've been wanting to do. For couples, it could - and possibly should - mean a regular date night so you can keep your relationship on track without the usual distractions of the kids. For the kids, seeing that you're looking after yourself is an important message too - it shows them that you need to be valued too...

I will enlarge on all these areas in subsequent posts. This is just to kick it off, and I'd welcome any suggestions for things to add, or things that you, my readers, do to manage your busy lives. Please don't be shy - it would be very useful to hear your ideas, and if you have friends who might like to get involved, please point them in the direction of the blog.

Links to the rest of the series - I'll update as I write them. 

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