The kids have lined up the My Little Ponies on one side of the living room, strategically placed in rainbow colour order .The ponies taunt their opponent. Their eyes fixed on a haphazard row of teddies as the battle hits a stagnant stall. Behind each row sit the patient lieutenants as they sip their juices and make plans to launch the first marble at Rainbow Dash. They play without knowing I’m watching and right before Dash is quickly moved out of the way, a thought hits me. I am their General.
Parenting is most certainly a battlefield, but the ranks are often blurred as it seems the kids hold the reigns and lead us as they control us and the house. But in reality, much like a commander-in-chief who silently unearths the ground before the cavalcade rolls in, there is always someone at the top who manages the load without the army even seeing. And that someone is us.
As we manage the mundane and must do tasks of parenting and caring for the home, we may also be handling the extraordinary tasks of balancing our jobs and businesses. Amongst all of this parenting and maintaining, we have now hit the summer holidays which means extraordinarily little room to pause, breathe and refocus as a human being, let alone a General.
The parenting load is excessively heavy and unlike those who hold the top jobs in our world, we don’t have a workforce to manage the overwhelming nature of day-to-day living. This is why with today’s blog I am emphasising how important caring for ourselves over these summer months is more important than ever.
Balancing The Guilt
Self-care demands a fine balance so that we avoid the rising feelings of guilt when we steal some time away for ourselves. I’d like to say, “Stop with the guilt. Ignore it. Get rid of it. It’s not necessary.” But I think we can all relate to those awkward feelings which soar as we sink into a bath or send the kids to bed fifteen minutes early because they are bouncing off the walls and an early bedtime is better for all concerned!
Guilt is a tricky one because it surges up from nowhere and often has no basis in being at the forefront of our mind. It’s a systemic construct we have long been fine tuned to believe exists. It is quite simply a lie but a lie we often have trouble quashing.
Let me put it in black and white for you. Guilt is a reflex which we can alter. Think about how much work you put into your job. Remember that promotion, or pay rise, or perk you gained because you were valued and noted for a job well done. How did that make you feel? Guilty for being recognised? Guilty for receiving an honour? No, probably not because you were deserving of it.
Now think about how much you put into your mothering. Where is the promotion, the pay rise, or the perk? As General it is up to us to reward ourselves for that job well done every single day and without guilt because we are ultimately worthy of a time out, a break away, or an hour of self-care. Whatever self-care means to you, there should be no guilt attached.
Alter your thinking when it comes to giving to yourself. You are commendable. You are valuable. You are worthy of a gold medal or two hours of self-care.
Balancing The Always On Mother
Over the summer, without childcare, without school hours, we are explicitly connected to our children 24/7. There is little time to disconnect from the demands of our children, meaning we are perpetually switched on to their needs and rarely to our own. Being the “always on” mother is a direct path to burnout – the overwhelming mental and physical exhaustion caused by the overload. But if we were to speak our unfiltered truth more openly we would know many of us feel engulfed in this way because of the increasing demands and an inability to switch off from parenting.
We will be significantly tested before the school calendar begins once again. As an always on mother we need to not only remember to switch off but to actively allow ourselves to move away from family life momentarily. To be us and only us as we sink back into whatever self-care we need at that moment.
Remember, we do not have to be always on, always happy, always defined by motherhood. We can step outside and switch off. Give yourself permission to stop.
Balancing An Off Day
Which brings me to my next point in understanding the importance of self-care as we wander through these hazy summer days. We are allowed off days. Full, 24-hour days of no physical contact from sticky fingers. In fact they are greatly encouraged to fill our cup. Just because we are parents does not mean we have to be tied to the home or to our children every day of their young lives. They will certainly cope and manage with time away from us.
When was the last time you gave yourself a full day off from parenting? Or even half a day or one when you didn’t have to do the bedtime routine? It’s difficult to remember isn’t it because grabbing the chance to do something so huge takes planning, support, and probably a bit of logistical thinking. But make it happen. Whether it’s with your partner taking over the whole house and kids while you take a deserved day away from the responsibilities, or one when a relative becomes your stand in and you both indulge in a night away, it can happen. But also, it should happen.
The lessons we learn from being a parent are huge, but we hide away some of the most important ones. Most notably, we run away from prioritising ourselves which is one of the first lessons we all need to learn. The General gets to where she is because she is the best at what she does. But if she forgets to prioritise herself she will loosen the reigns, weaken her resolve, and potentially burnout.
In fact, there may very well be a coup.
This summer, banish the guilt, take the time, honour yourself, care and prioritise your mental and physical health, and you will forever be the best General to lead your little army.