Mom needs a play date!
Task after task, demand after demand, need after need. Sometimes I feel like this is my day to day mantra. When I hear myself getting to complaint after complaint, I know it’s time for a break. Parenting is often about responding to what may seem like an endless parade of needs and requests. If you also work away from home, you may be responding to additional “needers” but the process is pretty much the same.
I am fortunate to be past the stage of up-all-night parenting but I have found that my son is still on my mind an awful lot. At one point I was in the traditional “sandwich” position with responsibilities in caring for my parents as well as my own family. I felt like I constantly had something important pending on my mental to do list. This meant that even when I wasn’t actively doing something for someone else, I was thinking about something to do for someone else. (I can hear the therapists and self-help devotees wondering if “co-dependent” is my middle name—please keep reading.)
And so, when do we get a break? Like it or not, we will probably need to plan for our own rescue from being overwhelmed. I am looking at a quote on my desk right now that says “Rest is not idleness.” (Sir John Lubbock). I imagine we all know that rest is essential to well being. Over the years, I have come to define rest more broadly. I used to think of rest as lying out in the sun with my friends or reading all afternoon. I cannot tell you the last time I did either one of those things.
Two insights have helped me take better care of myself in more recent years. The first insight was realizing that “rest” could sometimes be active or a part of multi-tasking. I have a long drive back and forth to work and I used to spend that time listening to news or thinking about what I needed to do when I got where I was going. That’s like working two extra hours every day! So now, I try to make my drive time my silly time or my sanctuary time. I listen to audio books (free from the library). I sing along to the Mama Mia or Phantom of the Opera soundtrack complete with dramatic facial expressions. I rhyme words I see on billboards—out loud. I make up stories about what I see by the side of the road. One week I saw an ironing board on the side of I-4 every day. I made up some great stories about that one. Sometimes I use the time for prayer or reflection. I remember special times with loved ones who are gone now or just look around at the trees and sky.
The second insight was really more valuable. I realized that I am just not always so darn important or essential. For me, there was a kind of arrogance in being indispensable; part of what I was saying was that I thought I would do a better job at most things than other people would do. But then I realized that whenever I was taking on another task or taking over a task, I was actually depriving someone else of an opportunity to grow and gain competence and confidence.
I had a startling moment one day when my son asked me to do something for him. When I suggested he do it himself, he said he didn’t want to because I would do it better than he could. I wondered if I had accidentally given him the impression that a particular outcome is better than the experience gained in trying to do whatever it was for himself.
These days I schedule time off or play dates for myself—times I see friends, see a movie, take a glass of tea outside, read a pretty magazine. My message to my family is “Don’t call me unless you’re bleeding or on fire.” By making myself temporarily unavailable, I get the mental break I need and feel refreshed. In addition, my family members solve their own dilemmas and come up with creative and very effective solutions. A true win/win for all of us!