Here’s a truism.
It’s so darn hard at times to keep your cool as a parent.
There’s no surprise here. Our families are not small in numbers of members. Thank G-d. Lots of interesting personalities under one roof. The different stages of development under that same roof. The competing needs. The noise. The bickering. Honestly, there are moments when it’s overwhelming. And feeling incompetent is the proverbial straw that can break the back of the proverbial camel.
This is what we davened for?
It’s not unusual for mothers to feel the need to talk about this. There’s the human need to unload and, if you’re gifted with the gift of gab and there’s a sympathetic ear, life can be easier. Theoretically. Dads: You need to unload, too. But let’s be honest. More mothers bring children to the pediatrician than fathers. That’s a straightforward, honest statistic. So this one is for mothers.
Here’s some wisdom from fantastic mothers from whom I’ve learned during my 30+ years as a pediatrician.
First, know it’s perfectly normal to feel a range of emotions, and some of them are downright negative. It’s hard to take care of children when the emotions are brewing and brimming over, cascading like lava that has erupted from a tumultuous volcano and is running at top speed down a mountainside, consuming and destroying all in its path. Think Pompeii.
One mother suggests the following when she finds herself in these circumstances. Say nothing. Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Visualize yourself on a mountain top. A very high mountain top. You’re looking around and down at the world. The clouds – meaning your feelings — are passing by. They feel close enough to touch and even embrace. But you just let them float past. Calm and centeredness will return. And then you can return to interacting with your children without being fueled by all the emotion.
Second, Mommy has to take care of Mommy. Martyrs don’t win awards here. There are concrete steps mothers can take to make sure they’re caring for themselves. Please don’t tell me dejectedly that you’re just another person for whom you have to care. It’s important.
Think of this analogy. The general in the army leads the troops. If the command falls or experiences low morale, then the troops are jeopardized and may even lose the war.
Moms – You are the generals. You are leaders who need to make decisions. And to make decisions, you have to be at your very best. If you’re not in good shape, then how do you expect the others in your family to be?
Self-care then is not selfish. Every person, mother and father, need to periodically step away and recharge the batteries, so they can come back to their families to play Legos, supervise homework and just plain be there for and with their children.
By the way, we’d (almost) never miss an appointment for our children. So why wouldn’t we take care of ourselves?
Let’s get started.
Among the things that mothers need in order to love and care for their families is adequate rest. Babies wake us up. They’re supposed to. Babies need to eat and pish and poop and be changed and be burped and all those wonderful things. Teenagers can keep us up another way. It’s called worrying. Need to rest during the day? Ask a family member or friend to take your baby for an hour. And you might have to pay someone for an hour so you can rejuvenate. Even a bit.
How to handle being up because of teenagers? I’m still stymied and I’m on my seventh teenager.
Mothers also need time alone. It takes time to think and process events and what each person in your life needs. Time alone is like hitting the refresh button on the computer and all is updated.
Time with friends is a must. There’s no room for martyrs who are so devoted to their children that they lose sight of themselves and their identities. Losing one’s identity is not a good thing. Identity individuates us in this world. Dad can absolutely hold the fort for an hour for Mom to walk with a friend on the boardwalk. Perhaps Mom wants to develop a hobby like needlepoint or playing the piano. Dad is reluctant to cooperate? Call me. I’ll set him straight. I’m not afraid.
Eating healthy and exercising must be a priority. This is part of self-care. Think of the food and drinks you put into your system as the fuel for your body. There’s no way you’d put regular unleaded gas into a tank that requires diesel fuel. The engine would be ruined. The benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise are borne out psychologically, physiologically, and emotionally.
Let’s get something straight. There’s nothing wrong with self-care. Absolutely nothing.
It’s also okay to say “No.” I’m not talking about Vitamin N and saying no to your children which I wrote about months ago; that will be revisited in future blogs. Say no to things that don’t deserve your limited time and attention. Rather, say yes to things that can help you feel better.
It’s also important that Mom and Dad make time for one another. I’m advocating for the good, old fashioned date night. Dinner. A museum. Walking. Whatever. Spend time together, reconnecting. Use the time to talk about your dreams, aspirations, whatever. Listen to one another without judging. The return on the time invested will set your relationship and marriage far ahead. And that will only benefit the underlings in your home.
Moms and self-care. Moms and self-nurturing. Moms and recharging. It’s a must. After all, if Momma ain’t happy, then ain’t no one happy.
As always, daven.
Dr. Hylton I. Lightman is a senior statesman among pediatricians, an internationally-recognized authority and diagnostician, a public speaker, expert witness and go-to resource for health issues in the Orthodox Jewish community and beyond. Originally from South Africa, he started his current practice, Total Family Care of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, PC in 1987. Dr. Lightman is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP). Dr. Lightman is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. In addition, he is actively involved in teaching pediatric and family nurse practitioners through Columbia University, Pace University, Lehmann College, and Molloy College, as well as mentoring physician assistants through Touro College. Read more here.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.