Here’s the scenario: Your kids mean the world to you and you enjoy taking care of them. Most days they behave – most days – or at least most hours. Maybe it actually amounts to a mere hour a day, which also happens to be the hour they are napping. Then there is that one particular day where little Tommy pulls out a clump of his sister Maria’s hair to which she proceeds to chomp down on his shoulder with her mouth full of vampire-sharp baby teeth. Everyone is screaming. You can’t help but yell louder than both kids, just to get everyone’s attention, and it works temporarily.
You separate them, putting Tommy on the potty because he must have to go by now anyway, and plunk Maria on the sofa for a time-out. All the while, Tommy finds the novel you’re reading in the bathroom and dunks it in the toilet you’ve neglected to clean for the last two weeks. Between gymnastics practice, piano and preschool, plus making and cleaning up all the meals, there really is no time for toilets – and even less time for your now drenched bathroom reading.
Meanwhile Maria has discovered the remote control and in an attempt to turn on Disney Junior has pressed all the buttons and unknowingly disabled the record function for the next episode of Mistresses – but you won’t discover that distressing detail until you are snuggled beneath a blanket that night, a deserved glass of wine in hand, ready to decompress after a very, very long day.
Does this scenario sound anything like your life? Maybe there are elements of parenting that drive you bananas and some days you wonder if you have anything left to give. I get it. I’ve been there. Usually I also add guilt to the mix of emotions because I often yell and respond poorly. I’m guilty because, of course, I should be selfless in the care of the mini-humans I so adore… right? At least that’s the pressure I put on myself. Do you ever do the same?
In the last four and a half years parenting two boisterous young ones, I’ve stumbled upon a solution to remaining sane as a parent. It’s a trick that cools my head and gives me new perspective on the challenges and joys of rearing young and sometimes frustrating little individuals. I’ve discovered that the way for me to be the best parent for my children is actually by spending a chunk of time away from them regularly. Go figure, right? This trick goes against the mothering nature, but it really works.
While I love my kids, Hannah and Eden, I need time away from them somewhat regularly to keep life in perspective. Here are the ways you too can get this needed break:
1. Mommy time-outs
When I lose my cool, I must literally remove myself from the situation and calm down. My kids don’t like these instances, they’d rather be climbing all over me 24/7, but I explain that Mommy needs a minute and then I go into my room and scream into a pillow or lock myself in the laundry room and expend pent up anger by hurling the wet washing into the dryer. Usually after a few minutes I’ve regained the composure that recognizes that I’m the adult and they are the kids and our behavior should not be the same. Then I emerge to speak in a clam voice and approach whatever challenge we are facing with understanding.
2. Mommy nights out
When a time-out is just not enough, I’ll get my husband to put our kids to bed and I’ll go out for dinner with my mom or to girls’ night or even just for a walk around the neighbourhood. Getting out of the house and into a different environment with adult discussions is healthy for any parent no matter how many kids you have and how well behaved they may be. Being a mom is a beautiful role, but spending time out of the house, getting active or pursing a hobby will keep you replenished as a person.
3. Mommy weekends away
I usually need an excuse to get away for a weekend. It has to be something important, like an anniversary or a conference. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself a priority when I’m so often in the mindset of caring for other people, but switching into a self-nurturing mode is quintessential in order to also care for others. The biggest plus of a weekend away, wherever you go, is the blissful uninterrupted sleep. The irony for me is that I often still wake in the night or early in the morning, trained by Eden who is my light sleeper and early riser. Yet in those moments of stirring, I remember where I am and allow myself to slip back into sleep. You’d be amazed at how replenished your body will feel after even just one night.
4. Mommy vacations
Transform your weekend away by tacking on a few extra days. Yes, you will miss your kids and experience momentary amnesia for all their shananagans and bad habits, but the trip will give you multiple nights of rest that just may sustain you when you get home and Tommy is sleepless from the flu or a few new teeth painfully breaking through his gums. On your vacation you can go shopping, read a new version of that novel you started, eat slowly in a café and take your time in a museum.
5. Mommy vocations
As I write this article, I am in Boston MA for a grad school residency as I work towards my Masters of Fine Art. I do most of the program by distance learning so I can still be present with my kids; it’s called a low-residency program. I’m away from my kids at school for nine days every six months and while this may sound similar to the Mommy vacation, it’s actually quite different. During my residencies I am in seminars and workshops, networking with other students and faculty and soaking up information that will help me in my career. Yes, I said career. A Mommy vocation is one of the best reasons to leave your children. Not only do you have a fulfilling part of your life that feeds you intellectually and emotionally, but you also set a fabulous example for your kids of living with goals and working hard to see them achieved.
All these ideas center on the fact that you will parent better when you have also taken care of yourself. No one I know can give and give without also replenishing the reserve from which we draw our patience, compassion, understanding and creativity as a parent. Both you and your children may experience separation anxiety; being apart is not going to be easy, but it is also an opportunity for your kids to form meaningful bonds with other primary caretakers in their lives. Taking time away from your children may seem counterintuitive, but it is actually a key to remaining sane while parenting.