Saturday, February 12, 2011

Survival Parenting 101

Image by Perfecto Insecto on Flickr
For the last three nights (or maybe 4?  I can't remember now) I have been up since around 3 AM with a sick kidlet.  Funny now, but when my daughter was first born, I couldn't believe how little sleep I was getting, despite all the horror stories.  I was sure that no one could cope with that level of sleep deprivation and still function.  Three more kids, and my perception of normal has changed somewhat.  The last two babies seemed so much easier to adjust to than the first two.  Moms don't get days off, and we do what we have to do.  However, there are several things that I rely on after a particularly short night.  In random order, since my thoughts are about as organized as hyper butterflies right now:

1.  Water.  Staying hydrated is crucial for me, especially since I am nursing three.  When I don't get enough sleep, I get loopy and have to remind myself to drink enough.

Image by Ballistik Coffee Boy on Flickr
2. Go easy on the caffeine.  Sounds counter-intuitive, I know.  Coffee is a staple in our house.  Even the kidlets adore cafe con leche.  After nearly 8 years of pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, we usually do decaf, but especially if I am exhausted.  I tried doing the real thing when I needed an extra boost, but found that at best, it just made me shaky, and at worst, triggered a migraine.  One cup is my limit now. 

3.  Pray.  Without ceasing.  Even on good days, I need God's presence.  How much more do I need to rely on His strength when at my weakest!  Recognize your own signals when you start to feel overwhelmed, and use that as a trigger to pray, meditate, breathe and re-center.  This works better as a daily habit, because when you are already at the edge, trying to remember anything, including your child's name, is difficult.  We tend to go into autopilot mode, so build a good program into your daily life. 

4.  Adjust your expectations.  For everyone and everything.  If that means more screen time for the kids than you normally allow and that the floors don't get cleaned, so be it.  Your physical, mental and emotional energy is limited.  Don't waste any of it on non-essentials.

Image by ericmcgregor on Flickr
5.  Connect, connect, connect.  Pour the little energy that you do have into your key relationships.  Their emotional support is critical.  Love on your partner.  Love on your kids.  I know how desperate you may feel to have time for yourself.  Really.  But if you start pulling against each other, it just depletes you even more.  So regardless of how tired you feel, try to keep your little ones' love cups filled.  They are much more likely to give you a break and go play on their own if their need for attention is met first.

6.  Change your environment.  Sometimes, going some place different helps reset everyone.  On the other hand, you may need a day to veg at home.  For us, going out usually works better.  Sunshine is a must for me on those days, and if the kids can burn off energy and make noise outside it is less likely to induce a headache. If you do decide to go out, remember number 4.  Expect it to take however long to get everyone ready and out the door as it takes.  Be as flexible as you need to be.

7.  Eat well.  I admit, my four favorite food groups are chocolate, cheese, salsa and anything fried, (washed down by plenty of coffee, naturally).    When I am exhausted, I crave junk and have no willpower.  However, I know that my body needs extra fuel and that a sugar crash will just make things worse.  Treat yourself to a good green smoothie, a yummy salad and plenty of protein.

8.  Take advantage of the brief, fleeting seconds you get to relax.  Ideally, you could arrange a couple of hours for a nap.  Realistically, that might not be an option.  Take every opportunity to breathe deeply.  If you are sitting down, rub your own neck, hand or foot (unless you can get someone else to do it for you).  Squeeze pressure points.  Sniff an essential oil that brightens your mood.  Drink a cup of herbal tea.  Even a moment can make you feel better.  And if that translates into locking yourself in the bathroom, humming loudly with your fingers in your ears and eating chocolate, well, that is OK, too.

9.  Call for help.  If there is someone you trust who can take over for you, call and ask for help.  Even if you can't get away completely, there may be a teen who can come and keep an eye on the kids while you nap, or hold the baby while you fix lunch, or whatever.  Just having someone to share part of the load can be a lifesaver.

10.  Music.  Blast your favorite songs.  Or, if that would bring on a killer headache, play something soothing.  Turn on some nature sounds (I like Dan Gibson on Pandora), let the kids make their own tent in the living room and pretend that they are camping.  With luck they might even take a nap.  (Not likely, but sometimes a healthy dose of denial and/or fantasy is necessary on days like this).

These days (and nights) are part of parenting, of course.  But if you find that it is a chronic problem, then you need some long-term solutions.  Rethink your evening routines or sleeping arrangements, or scale other things back until they are manageable.  It isn't healthy for you or your kids for you to be short on sleep most of the time.  But for the inevitable times, breathe deeply and remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.


Maria said...

Great tips Dulce!

melissa joanne said...

At 5:15 pm, my nursling is finally down for a nap, and I'm having my first glass of water of the day. Of course, I started the day with two cups of coffee and a peanut butter cookie ... I needed this today! Thanks, Dulce.

Momma Jorje said...

I wake every day thinking, "I need a nap today." But somehow the day goes by and then its bedtime, eventually. Some great pointers here. I think my weak spot is trying to skip fulfilling my kids' needs for attention FIRST. It always backfires on me.