Lara Stewart-Panko

Woman Down! 5 Ways to Fill Your Cup While Actively Parenting

Putting our kids first is what we do the vast majority of the time...and some of us do so to the point of unhealthy imbalance. There are certainly worse mistakes to make as parents, AND it's still important to recognize if things are out of whack. In addition to communicating directly and enforcing boundaries well: "Mommy is really tired right now and I need to rest my body and mind. What can you do while I lay on the couch for 10 minutes?", sometimes we need to get creative and figure out how to respond to our kids' connection-seeking behaviours (formerly known as attention-seeking behaviours) while still honouring our own energy levels.

Plenty has gone around on social media about different parenting styles in the current climate, from hilarious to shaming to helpful. Some folks have pointed out how the pandemic has highlighted gender-based divisions of domestic labour and parenting. [Personal-professional reaction: Wtf do you think women have been saying all along?] Parents are noticing their own reactions to the noise and circumstances: guilt, overwhelm, joy, pride, anxiety, anger, confusion, self-doubt, confidence, gratitude, fatigue...

But no matter which way you slice it, intensive parenting is just that -- intense -- and most of it is being done by women. It requires energy from all levels of your being, and your being is a system that requires replenishment if it's going to continue functioning. At the risk of adding to the din, here are some ideas to help you cope and meet your needs when your kids also need connection with you:

1. Need to sit or lay down, and receive some touch? Invite your kiddo to be a hairdresser or doctor, or draw pictures on your back for you to guess. And since you're not going anywhere anytime soon, maybe even get out the markers and let them draw on your limbs.

2. Desperate for just a little bit of silence? The Quiet Game is a classic. Version 1: Challenge everyone to see how long they can go without making a sound. Version 2: Set a timer and challenge everyone to stay silent until it goes off. Perhaps do so in increasing intervals, starting with 20 seconds. Version 3: Do when and where potential clean-up won't be a big stressor in case someone laughs and spits, then challenge everyone to take a sip of water and hold it in their mouth for as long as possible before swallowing. Maybe even close your eyes.

3. Achy and sore? If attempts to get the kids to join you in doing some yoga doesn't fly, build stretching into your play. Really reach for that toy, get on the floor and theatrically pretend to grab for your kid as they stay just out of range of your outstretched arms, dress stretching up as "body tricks" and show your kid what moves you can do. If they start showing off contortions as well, mimic them. Declare flat-out stretch breaks throughout the day: Shout, "Stretch!" and then immediately do so.

4. Tired of kid-directed pretend play? Then you're now Santa, or your kid is. Playing Christmas is a way of meeting your kid's need for imaginary play while having adult-friendly perimeters. The basic premise is 3-5 items are chosen for gifts and are loosely wrapped in towels or other fabric you have handy. Whoever is the kid pretends to go to sleep so Santa can come. If you want the couch, be the kid! If you want extended silence, be Santa and take your time getting the gifts under the tree, if you know what I mean. Whenever Santa is done delivering the gifts, the kid wakes up on Christmas morning to get to unwrapping and expressing delight. Repeat.

5. Just had it? Remember the first rule of improv, which is "Yes, and..." Basically, you work with whatever is served up and go somewhere [good] with it. When you do that, you're actually going with the flow as opposed to vainly trying to push the river. Examples include: Child is singing an ear-smashing note..."What does that sound like if you do it into a pillow, honey?" Child is jumping off the couch repeatedly..."I want to see you jump in the backyard. Let's get your jumping shoes on so I can be your audience through the window." Children are fighting over a toy. You chime in, "No, I want it! Mine, mine, mine!" That might stun them into calm, watching you be a toddler and all.

And, Woman, if Life takes you down, maybe stay there a while and see what you can improvise from the floor. It might just be a quiet revolution. xo

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