Oh isn’t this piece great!
[Also, for the longest time I was reading that title as some sort of pun on “meander/explorer”, but the kid is called Orla, so nope, that was wrong]
I’m a huge believer in the need for parents to have breaks, to revivify ourselves. That’s our big luxury expenditure this year – two days creche for the little dude. The time away from him makes me a much, much, much better parent. I have to look after bub on those days of course but he still naps, and babies seem easy once you also have a two year old. I especially feel that I’m better able to find meaningful connection in the difficult moments with the little dude when I’ve had a break from him.
But, for many at home parents, it’s not so simple to make space to look after ourselves. We’re home with the kids alllllll day. We can’t take a break because that’d be child abandonment. We’ve been socialised to ignore our needs. We’re constrained by what our kids require, so we can’t do the same self-care stuff we did before. It’s a bind. I tend to put myself last automatically, and need to give myself permission to do things for me, even small things. I’m always aware that it puts someone else out, even if it’s really minor like my husband looking after both kids for a couple of hours on the weekend, I always feel the weight of the request (husband “Oh. I mean, sure, yeah, of course. You deserve a break, absolutely. It’s just. Yeah of course. Um. How long will you be?”)
During the working week, asking doesn’t get me that far anyway – it’s rare to be able to leave them with a family member so I can go to lunchtime yoga in town, even though the emotional recalibration payoff I get is enormous. Everyone else is busy with their stuff too! Anyway, I need to put myself first a bit more often when I’m with the kids. I need to bear in mind that a) it’s better to let them wait and put myself first than to snap later, b) there are diminishing marginal returns from putting them first anyway – they don’t always care about that extra bit of attention beyond their needs being met.
So whenever I’m not sure what we should do, I’m trying to ask myself what do I want to do. It’s so obvious!! I’m ratty, they’re grumpy, what do I want? Maybe if I put on my own oxygen mask first everything else will seem easier. I’ll pack them into the double pushchair, which neither of them particularly like because it’s kinda cramped, and we’ll go for a walk to Burger Fuel and eat kumera chips, and suddenly it’s fine. I’ll announce we’re going to the playground and bustle them out the door and when we get there the fresh air perks me up. I’ll put the little dude in front of a bonus video and the baby in the jolly jumper and take ten minutes to make myself a snack. Often just shifting mode and telling myself to look after me is enough to regain patience, which is funny. Ultimately I think it’s an example of how the intense pressure mums not to have our own needs is bad for kids, because when we’re over it, they miss out.