by Thelma Farley
Raising a child is a sacred vocation, a lifelong commitment to the child, and a lasting contribution to the quality of human life on our planet. Each mom or dad is an individual with her or his own growth and reflection needs. Two or more individuals parenting the same child will also need time together. Why should parents take the time they need?
Parents are the wealth, solidarity, and preservation of the family. If we think of a family like a company, a parent is the executive, the manager, and the assembly line worker—rolled into one person. Corporate executives are trained to pay attention to the health of the company. They are required to create the time for planning and evaluating success, examining new ideas, and attending to the needs of the individuals whose work will make or break the company. When the leadership and the workers take the time they need for these activities, the company thrives. When parents take the time they need, the family thrives.
A hardworking parent needs time for reflection and refueling. Most of the time you are so busy doing the work that thoughts about your own needs never enter your mind or are quickly replaced by some immediate task needing attention. You may miss the connection between taking care of your own needs and making yourself available to your child. You might forget that “if mama and papa are okay, the kids are okay.”
Engines run on fuel. Not taking the time to address personal needs makes you a driver with a gas tank running on empty. A car without gas or charged batteries eventually stalls, and then stops. Without refueling, you will eventually become unavailable to yourself and your child. The quality of your parenting dips dangerously low.
What should parents do to refuel?
As a parent, you need, and deserve, rest, growing time, and encouragement. Whatever you do for your personal self will ultimately benefit your parenting. Read, go to a workshop, join a soccer team, take a hike, meet with other parents so you can play with adults and talk about issues that are important to you. Enjoy a meal prepared by someone else. Set the rule before the meal is served: no conversation about children for the next two hours. Spend some time alone thinking about some of your personal and parenting successes, keep a journal.
The important thing is that you rest, change the scene, pursue and enjoy activities that please you; that you come away from the daily, intense focus on others and give to yourself. Reflection works best if it has balance. Make this a time for more dos than don’ts. Try not to spend too much time rehashing old business, criticizing, or guilting yourself. Look for new business.
How can I possibly do this refueling?
Make a plan. Stake out times and places where you can grab some alone time. Figure out who you know and how you can provide for your child while you are away from her. Don’t be too proud to ask for help from relatives and friends. Trade off with other parents who need and want the same opportunity. Then, if nothing else works, hire someone to stay with your child in your home or theirs. Acknowledge that there will be costs in time and money. Make it okay with yourself to use these resources. You have earned and deserved them. Think about how much it would cost in time and money if you were taking a college course or training to upgrade your skills. Training and refueling is an investment in a successful outcome. If that doesn’t work, think about how much time and money will be spent to take care of you when the well runs dry or you run out of fuel.
When should I refuel?
Certainly long before you slip into the pit of I don’t want to be a parent anymore. Parents can get to a place of wishing that someone would take their child away or come in and do the parenting because they’ve “had it.” Most of the time, this happens because you are tired, feeling overwhelmed and alone. The right time to refuel is whenever you can make it happen. Some parents need an annual major tune-up. Others do best with shorter but more frequent time-outs. Whatever works for you is the best way. Just be sure that you make it a priority and make it happen. Blaming others for not allowing you to take care of yourself doesn’t work. You are in charge of yourself.
Where can I go to do this?
There is no way that refueling takes place when you are in the company of your child. Vacations with the family are not times for reflection. When children are little, it feels like the only times you get for yourself is when you go into the bathroom and remember to lock the door, plug your ears, and blindfold your eyes. You deserve a better break than that. Could you imagine corporate executives doing their best thinking in a bathroom?
Go for a walk; go to the beach; go to your room; go to a motel; stay in the home of vacationing friends. Go anywhere where there are no children, no pets, no in-laws, and no other distractions. Go alone, go with your partner, go with a few other parents … your choice is only limited by your creativity. Creativity forces you to make something out of what appears to be nothing, a chance to turn good ideas into a reality. Because you are a parent, you have to be one of the most creative thinkers on this planet.
Thelma Farley is a nationally-acclaimed child and adolescent development specialist, who at various times in her career has served as consultant to Federal, State and Local schools. Farley is the primary author of Every Person Influences Children (EPIC): a nation-wide self-esteem program for children, parents and teachers. In 1983 she co-founded Beacon Day School and during her tenure as Director has provided teacher training on creating developmentally-responsive curriculum to East Bay public schools. Thelma’s expertise in child and adolescent development makes her a sought-after speaker on parenting issues. Her book, Parenting Developmentally: Living the Passion, Power and Perks, is in a second printing. www.thelmatalk.com