Parenting is hard. I haven’t had the full experience of parenting children into adulthood yet, so I am only commenting on parenting very young children at the moment. I’ve no doubt it gets no easier.
People always say, ‘look after yourself’. You take it with a pinch of salt and think, ‘yeh, yeh, as if I’m not gonna look after myself!’
But it is so easy to do exactly that.
You frequently wake up at an obscene time of the morning after having a night of intermittent, disturbed sleep that probably only began six hours previously.
You’re immediately thrown into nappy-changing and the hulk-like strength of the nappy-wearer to battle with. This is followed by hunger-stricken demands for food – immediately. Once feeding time is over, you’re launched into getting them washed and ready for the day (or at the very least wiping the breakfast from their sweet faces).
You’re then heading out of the door to run errands, or figuring out what activity you’re going to encourage them to get involved with that will keep them occupied and engaged for a suitable period of time (10-15 minutes).
By this time, half the morning has gone, and you’re still in your dressing gown, still haven’t been to the loo (and you needed to go as soon as you woke up), still haven’t brushed your teeth, or had a coffee, or had anything to eat.
And just as you start to think about doing all of these things, someone injures themselves or requires another new nappy, or a drink or…. Something.
And by this time, you’re at the end of your tether because hunger-induced fatigue has taken you over and you’re unable to tolerate even the smallest of requests or unwanted behaviour.
And you snap.
This is me at some point, most days.
It happened just now. I was about to dish out some lunch for the kids and myself. I was ravenous, my blood sugar must have been in my boots and I really needed to sit down.
And just as I plated up and sat us down at the table, I noticed a pong.
My littlest son had had a bowel movement (for the zillionth time) and hadn’t told me, and was quite happy to sit down and tuck into his bowl of pasta in his soiled state.
And I lost the plot, had a few shouty moments whilst carting him up to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Meanwhile, he was totally bewildered at my sudden mood swing and was being thoroughly uncooperative during the nappy-change, whilst discussing his ‘noodles’ (it was tagliatelle).
But no sooner had I gobbled up my bowl of pasta, I suddenly felt a million times better, and could have taken on a pile of smelly nappies coupled with tantrums.
At that moment, it really did occur to me just how much your kids rely on you to look after yourself. How will they ever learn how to take care of their own health if they don’t see you setting a good example?
I decided to compile a little list of the things that mean ‘looking after yourself’ to me.
Keeping energy levels up is so important. Eating regularly enough so that you have the energy needed to take on everything that they have to throw at you.
Think about how ratty your kids are just before they tuck into a meal. It’s the same for us. Don’t let yourself get to the ratty, shouty stage before you refuel.
Drinking enough. And no, I’m not talking about your RDA of fermented grapes – I’m talking about water (or something equally as hydrating). Caffeine is lovely, but it is a diuretic, meaning that it will encourage you to pee more.
Dehydration can cause urine infections, and if they’re not dealt with, they can swiftly turn into kidney infections. (Been there, worn the cannula and had the IV antibiotics).
Sitting down when you need to. Your feet, circulation and back will thank you for taking the weight off intermittently throughout the day. Your kids will also learn that rest is just as important as being active and busy.
Take regular exercise. I realise that this gets banged on about a lot, and it can feel so difficult to fit it in to your day. But try. Even just a half an hour to physically get out of the house and get moving. The fresh air, the shift of focus from the laundry, laptop or cooking will be a welcome physical and mental break.
Take your vitamins
My mum (a retired nurse) is always telling me about the lack of vitamins present in fruit and veg from the supermarket. She has vitamin D deficiency, and she passionately advocates for supplementing even the healthiest and varied of diets with good-quality vitamins. You will feel utterly rubbish if you’re suffering with a vitamin deficiency, and it is quite often difficult to reverse the effects once the damage has been done.
Do something for you
When you’re pouring your everything into one or more little people, it can be really easy to forget you. Yes, you’ve become super busy with being the perfect parent, but do something just for you each day. Find time to read a book, find (or continue) a hobby, catch a film, meet or reconnect with a friend.
Don’t let yourself believe that just because you’re working your guts out as a parent that there is nothing beyond this. Your mental health needs you to have extra-curricular activities. It took me nearly three years to figure this out.
You do a stellar job of looking after your children. You need to apply all of the amazing things you do for them to yourself.
And on that note, I’m off to go and take my own advice!
What would you add to this list?