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VOICES

Parenting 'Learning the art of resting was a gamechanger for me'

Mum Margaret Lynch outlines the importance of self-care for parents. She says ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’.

WE’VE ALL BEEN there. The house is upside down. The laundry is piled sky high. You are trying to locate the source of the burning smell and the extractor fan is performing an auditory assault on your nervous system.

You have seven minutes to finish, serve and eat dinner before you need to get everyone into the car to drive to the next overpriced activity that no one wants to attend. The kids start a fight over who gets to sit where, someone knocks over a glass of milk, and it tips you over the edge.

You scream and shout, adding to the chaos and setting the worst example for the little people you care most about. The silence that follows is deafening, followed by the guilt and regret that pulls you under.

Where’s my oxygen mask?

Parenting involves making many sacrifices and we are conditioned to put our own needs last. We make sure the kids eat a healthy breakfast, and we usually run out the door with nothing.

We fix them lunch and eat the leftovers ourselves. We fill every second with enriching activities so that they can grow into their best possible selves.

We strip away our own needs in a way that is utterly unsustainable and continuously push past our limits. And we do all this, despite knowing better. We know what happens when our kids don’t get enough sleep, or don’t eat the right foods. We know how they will come home from school if they are under pressure, or rowing with someone. We know why we enrol them in expensive afterschool activities and continuously search for ways to help their talents shine. We wouldn’t expect them to be their best selves if their needs were being ignored.

putyourownoxygenmaskonfirsthandwrittentext-background Shutterstock / Olga Ganovicheva Shutterstock / Olga Ganovicheva / Olga Ganovicheva

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I have ever received was that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. We can’t run on fumes, and everything has a limit. Keeping our cups full, or even more importantly, realising when they are running low, can be very time-consuming.

Mother Nature

When the girls were little, we had two female pet rabbits. The girls fell in love with one, immediately naming her Oreo. The sales assistant helpfully pointed out her sister and noted that they do better in pairs, thereby sealing the deal that we would take both home.

The ‘sister’ ended up being a bit of a Trojan Horse though, as one morning we came down to eight new little surprise bunnies, wriggling around in the hay. Our girls were obviously delighted, as were half the kids in the neighbourhood who all came in for a peek.

Oreo appeared as shocked and overwhelmed by the new arrivals as we were. Eight overnight surprise babies would be a difficult adjustment for anyone to make. Nevertheless, she threw herself into motherhood, often quite literally.

One day we were watching as she began to drag her squirming babies from all corners, and carefully line them up in a neat row in front of her wooden house. Our expressions soon turned to horror when she climbed up on the roof and jumped straight off, landing with an elbow drop, scattering the little balls of fluff in all directions. She was halfway through a second jump before we got to her.

After 30 minutes on the other side of the room, where she could still see them (but not be touched or asked for another snack), she was visibly pining to get back to her babies.

While I am not advocating the use of WWE moves on your kids, I would like you to think of your own behaviours which are signalling that you are running on empty. If you view them as a cry for help, we can remove the emotion and just heal the problem.

adorablemotherwithfourbabyrabbitsportraitonisolatedonwhite Shutterstock / nicepix Shutterstock / nicepix / nicepix

Think of it this way – if your child has an out-of-character meltdown, you would likely try to establish the root cause. Are they well rested? Have they eaten well today? Are they worried about anything? Imagine the internal peace if you could do this for yourself too, instead of being overwhelmed by guilt or shame. You wouldn’t send your child to school on an empty stomach, with four coffees to get him through to 12pm. You wouldn’t give your child your sandwich crust or a bite of a leftover apple and expect them to sail through their day feeling great.

Don’t forget your own wellbeing

Self-care is one of the best things you can do for your kids and is an essential part of parenting. No one wants to be the parent that loses their mind over a spilled glass of milk, or the rabbit unexpectedly birthing eight new pets. But if you haven’t met your own needs, you won’t be bringing your best self to the table.

When I used to think of self-care, I would think of a relaxing spa. But between organising babysitters and coordinating schedules, it would quickly become more stressful than it was worth.

No matter how many early nights I got, I was still feeling that I was running on empty. And then I came across an article (1) discussing seven different types of rest. Instead of one empty cup, you could have seven, and no amount of early nights will fill the other six. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., author of Sacred Rest writes that “rest is the most underused, chemical-free, safe and effective, alternative therapy available to us”. Dr Dalton Smith developed the concept of the seven types of rest in order to better address our needs: physical, mental, emotional, social, sensory, creative and spiritual. There is even a quiz you can take to see which one you are deficient in.

relaxinginameadowinthesummersun Shutterstock / Olga Danylenko Shutterstock / Olga Danylenko / Olga Danylenko

While I can’t tell you what type of rest you need, I can tell you that self-care has to be put on the daily to-do list. Sometimes that looks like cleaning the house because you can’t relax if it’s messy. It might mean paying a bill that’s weighing on your mind, or buying something expensive that’s just for you because you work hard for your money. 

Sometimes it looks like working out and eating healthily because you need to show up for your body too and often it means routine and structure because this saves you from making eight thousand decisions each day. It always means finding time each day to show up for yourself and getting to know your own cues as well as those of your child. Therapy, yoga, meditation, tapping, breathing… there’s a whole world of help available to us now, don’t be shy, reach out and use those supports. 

Being a parent doesn’t mean sacrificing every single need and seeing how long you can go for. It means making a constant commitment to keeping yourself at the very best version of yourself so that you can thrive each day.

Margaret is a busy mum, working and living in Kildare. 

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