There are so many ways that being a parent is tough, it’s an emotional roller coaster for a start! If you add in some fussy eating or a troubled sleeper your own health and emotional wellbeing can very quickly become fragile. When we find it hard to manage our behaviour and yell or slam doors we can add guilt to the list of things that are not going the way we expected. Our vision of parenthood can take a real knock – and on a bad day, or while awake in the early hours we wonder what on earth we were thinking starting along this road.
The really important thing to remember is that you are not alone, every parent has been at the end of their tether, and most will cross over it many times. It doesn’t make you a bad parent – it makes you a human being. Just the fact you are reading this, trying new things, willing to ask for and accept support makes you a brilliant parent.
Sleep deprivation in particular is a real and daily problem for many parents – your body will often adapt quite quickly, and you may be able to do a 2am feed without really waking up. However if you are woken by a child in distress, who may need to be changed or the bed changed, who may be having a night terror- that wakes you up in a very particular and abrupt way. When this goes on over a long period of time your body and your brain cannot adapt as easily and needs extra care to keep you functioning.
So, what do I know about it? Why should you read this? I have four children, the oldest is just 9. I yell – even with years of professional experience and teaching assertiveness my seven year old daughter can push my buttons with one sentence… I have been frustrated, and I will be again (quite possibly tonight). I also have early risers, one with night terrors and two who have regular nightmares. I also have these qualifications and experiences that allow me to come up with a strategy or new ideas to try very quickly, so my ‘moments’ are shorter and less often.
Children with night terrors are usually still asleep, and despite shouting and all sorts of other behaviour you may not be able to hold them, but will probably want to stay in the room with them until it passes – be kind to yourself and be comfortable. It is a very stressful experience, and they will go back to sleep before you do; anything that helps you to bring your emotions back into balance to allow for sleep is a good thing. You could have a trial with a journal, hand cream, foot rub, hair brush, quick tooth brush, meditation, reading, wordsearch – your bedside cabinet may look like a jumble sale for a while, but finding something that soothes you is like magic fairy dust. You may also think of ways to move your bedroom, or your child’s bedroom around to make this period as easy as possible on everyone.
I’d love to help other parents with ideas that might work for you too… here are just 5.
1. SING – this sounds so frivolous and stupid, but it really can help restore the chemical balance of your system. It doesn’t matter what you sing, with music or not, in the shower, with the kids just release some tension. You can belt out some great ballads, even have a cry – it’s all good for your emotional wellbeing. If you can join a singing group of any sort you may also get an evening out and some social contact which also help to balance periods of intensity at home.
2. EXERCISE – another essential for balancing our bodies. Most important is to aim for fresh air/outdoor activity as much as possible – this is good for you and the kids. The weather in the UK hasn’t really helped with this very much, but as much as possible try to go outside, even if it’s just a short walk or play in the garden. You could borrow an exercise DVD from the library to do with the kids watching or joining in, practice yoga, or just put the washing away and change the beds which is like a marathon in our house…
3. LISTEN TO YOUR HEART – to solve sleep problems in adults or children, you are probably going to try lots of different things, embrace all ideas and suggestions but remember to listen to your inner voice as well. What works for someone else may not feel comfortable for you, and that’s ok. When you are up at night and may feel frustrated try to use your breathing to help steady yourself, deep breaths with a count of five in between. You may also want to totally change things just to see what happens… children change every single day, so nothing you do is likely to be the same forever. Try having white noise in their room, weighted blankets, play music – whatever you try you will learn more and at least feel you are not stuck in your own private Ground Hog Day. You should also prepare for your own needs while up with children, perhaps take up a drink or snack or an electronic reader…
4. EAT WELL – one of the hardest things about our emotions being all over the place, and being tired is that our eating habits usually suffer to. Either we can’t be bothered and don’t eat at all, or are too tired for healthy home cooked options and go for crisps and cake. What your body really needs when it is having a tough time is really nourishing foods to keep it working. On a better day, or on a weekend try to do some batch cooking, so you have some food in the freezer for the week or if you have slow cooker, get in the habit of using that. Then fill up the fridge with snack foods that are good for all of you – fruit, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks etc. For easy meals chuck some potatoes in the oven for jackets, have pasta with a nice sauce – we often worry so much about what the kids eat and let our own bodies suffer.
5. TALK – one of the biggest issues with sleep problems is that in the moment you are on your own, everyone else is asleep. It can feel very lonely. Make sure you take opportunities to talk about your situation, or just to talk in general with other parents. Online groups are amazing and can offer great sources of information and like-minded people – but you also need real contact at toddler groups, other parents from school, support groups, friends, neighbours – whoever you can talk to just to feel human again. If you are up all night it can be even harder to drag yourself out and about, but that is usually when it is most vital – even having a friend over for a cuppa at your place will give you that adult human contact to put the world back into perspective. If you have someone that lives overseas, it may be that they are wide awake eating dinner when it’s 2am here, if so they can be a great resource for you x
Not everything works, or is possible, for everyone but you do need to prioritise your own health so that you can do all the things required of you to be a parent. Use your support network to help you, if you don’t have a support network then get working on creating one! It might be much more valuable for you to have a sit down and rest and don’t change the beds this week, or make the packed lunches the night before so you can have a shower in the morning?
If you are in a relationship you also need to consider the impact that disturbed sleep patterns and exhaustion might be having on you both. That’s a whole new article, for now just remember you are a team and need to feel that way about each other… We have a whole section on Relationships on our Frugal You page if you feel that would be useful – remember these days don’t last forever x