Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.
~ 8th Principle of Attachment Parenting, Attachment Parenting International.
Sometimes I think this oft-overlooked 8th principle is the most important principle of the Attachment Parenting philosophy. Sometimes I think that it’s the part that makes all the other principles possible. However, for me, it is also the hardest principle to implement. And I don’t think I’m alone. It seems that striving for balance and finding time for self-care are on the minds of most parents in some shape or form.
There are a lot of sites out there rife with advice on how to do this. Jen Louden of Comfort Queen talks about renewal, comfort and making time for yourself, with coaching geared specifically for women. Sarah Juliusson from Mama Renew gives tips and offers workshops for mothers. Renee Trudeau wrote a book called The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Advice varies from lighting candles to attending week long child-free retreats. There should be something there for everyone. And in many ways, there is.
However, dear reader, what does one do when trying to honour our own needs pits us against our children?
I recently read Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, by Mary Kurcinka. The book outlines the different ways that a child can be spirited and has scales for rating your child on the various aspects. There is also a section where you rate yourself. I was reading the book because I suspected that my powerhouse of a four year old was spirited and he did come out mildly spirited based on our appraisals. What surprised me was that in some ways I am spirited as well (I think Kurcinka would term me spunky). And here’s the kicker: Rain and I are spirited in opposite ways (for the most part). He rated low on the things that I scored highly on and I rated low on the things he scored highly on.
An example would be that Rain is fairly exuberant (for those familiar with Kurcinka’s book, you will recognize my attempt to use a positive label) and I am sensitive. Rain rates highly for energy; he is always wiggling, always on the move, always making noise. He can’t talk; he yells. He loves to bang on drums. I scored low on energy. I have always been quiet. As I child I preferred to read, colour or draw rather than join in on a team sport for instance. It drives me crazy that my husband shakes his leg or drums his fingers when relaxing on the couch. I tend to be still. I rate high however, on sensitivity. I am a far pickier eater than anyone in my family, I am always cold and I find noise extremely stressful.
I am often reminded during the course of my day that excessive noise is used as a method of torture and as a means to end hostage situations. I have also been known to joke that having kids is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain. When our house gets especially noisy, I feel myself tensing up and my reactions to otherwise innocuous behaviour become harsh and grouchy. I react like someone being attacked. I counter-strike.
I understand that kids have lots of energy. I understand that kids are noisy. Kids whoop. Kids holler. Kids run in the house. Kids jump for joy. Kids laugh loudly and hysterically. Some of that I love. Some of it I do my best to tolerate. I try to be patient, to not be the mom who is always nagging, “slow down,” “stop yelling,” and “can you please stop pounding on that drum?” But especially after a long day, especially after another night of waking 3-4 times to nurse my toddler, I feel the tension building, I feel the anxiety and I end up snapping at my poor joyous, whooping boy.
In homage to the wondrous 8th principal of Attachment Parenting, I have tried to honour my need for a little quiet, a little space. I have tried to respect that I am a better mother when I’m not trying to tolerate more noise than I am actually capable of tolerating. I have to respect who I am as an individual within the mother/child dyad and in this case, it isn’t just a generational thing, it is also a personality mismatch.
I have explained to Rain that I find noise very stressful and that sometimes, it makes me react as though I am angry when in fact I am not angry at all, and especially I’m not angry at him. I’ve explained that I feel sad and ashamed when I react this way and that we can work together to avoid that. I have told him that he’s more than welcome to play the drum in his own room, or go outside to run circles screaming in the yard, but that I need him to respect that I need a bit of space and a bit of quiet.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have limits for children or for them to understand what kinds of behaviours are acceptable indoors or in crowded spaces. I think it’s both good and necessary that Rain learn ways to moderate his behaviour for other people sometimes, that he learn respect and empathy for other people’s boundaries and needs.
Yet, I have also raised an attached boy. We have a close relationship. We nursed and co-slept until he was three. With some exceptions I have spent most of his life at home with him, deciding not to return to my prior work after my maternity leave. We also spent the first three years of Rain’s life living in 300 square feet. He is used to being right beside me most of the day and often, most of the night. His reaction when I request that he play in his room or in the yard is to begin crying that he is lonely and to scream that I “can’t have space.” He refuses to play in his room, refuses to play outside unless I join him.
It seems we have another mismatch. His need to be close trumping my need for a little quiet. We have some ways of coping: I’m trying to get more sleep, Rain takes a break every afternoon for Quiet Time, we try to get outside to burn energy. Yet, the bowling alley in my brain persists and I’m beginning to lose hope that it might just be a phase.
I turn to you now, hoping that your founts of wisdom can shed some light on the practical, the how-tos of that 8th principle, “Strive for balance in personal and family life.” What do you do when your need to care for yourself rubs up uncomfortably against your child’s needs?