Dr. Wall Says

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Is it my Turn? A Parent’s Challenge to Put “Me” First.

Is it my Turn? A Parent’s Challenge to Put “Me” FirstDo as I say, not as I do:

Them first - always?
Them first – always?

As parents we strive to teach our kids how to live the best lives possible. We tell them all the essentials to take care of themselves, to not put off to tomorrow what can be done today. We create opportunities for growth, and experiences to inspire and encourage them to dream big. We highlight the values through relationships, health and hard work. If some of the most powerful teaching that a parent can do is through modeling behavior, then many of us are failing at teaching our children these skills.

The results from the Thriving Parent survey are out, and they confirmed what I anecdotally knew to be true: being a parent is both a great adventure and a prison sentence. On one hand you discover the gift of transcendent love. On the other hand, your time is no longer yours. Your priorities shift entirely so that “you” don’t even register on your own list sometimes. Your schedule revolves around the needs, wants and demands of an individual who is so selfish and egocentric (it’s developmentally normal) that they are incapable of considering their impact on you.

The price of parenthood:

In my first four years as a parent, I believed that to be a good parent I had to sacrifice my needs and my goals for those of my child. This wasn’t much of an issue when our needs aligned (spending time together, focusing on rest, building a healthy lifestyle), but there were times when I had needs that weren’t compatible with the demands of my child (spending quality time with friends, quiet solitude, having a thriving and evolving career, sex with my husband). Somewhere along the road I decided that something had to change. I was tired. I felt constantly under pressure to get things done right and right away. I was giving up sleep in order to savor a few quiet hours at the end of the day. I felt guilty all the time; guilty that I wasn’t being a good friend, that I wasn’t more patient, for not always enjoying the time spent with my boys, for letting my grooming go from decent to downright dowdy. I felt guilty that I had let my business partner down, and then resentful that my super thriving business had come to a screeching halt because I couldn’t put in the hours to grow it. I decided that things not only HAD to change, but  they could change. So, listen up, parents, you don’t have to put off taking care of yourself. Your non-parent dreams and goals don’t have to be put on hold until your children grow-up. What my experience has taught me is that when you thrive, your family thrives, too.

It all starts with making time for yourself:

Most people I run into manage with getting by, and a few with living (maybe it is a function of what I do for work, but I see this in my friends and family too), so thriving is a tall order, but it starts with making time for yourself.  

The 36-hour day:

It's all about being organized
It’s all about being organized

What is this time I speak of? Have our days now extended from 24 to 36 hours?  Several survey takers commented on the fact that they didn’t feel a coaching package would help simply because they had no extra time to spare. Most parents, and especially new parents, feel overwhelmed by the number of things they have to do to keep their head above water. They are overbooked and can’t see how to fit anything else in the picture.

The truth? You don’t have time to add yet another thing to your schedule and maintain your sanity. What I propose is figuring out what matters the most, and focusing some of your time on that. Parent and non-parents alike come to me because they feel overbooked and underwhelmed. Their efforts are misplaced and their precious time is misallocated to activities and choices that aren’t fulfilling. When you can identify what matters most, then you can focus your attention on those things and you thrive. You stop doing all the stuff that is only mildly rewarding, and pursue choices that are satisfying. For me, that meant identifying the top 10 people in my life I wanted to make a priority, and using my allocated social time with them, instead of trying to make time for everyone who wanted my attention.

It’s baby or me!

The second objection I get is that taking time for oneself takes time away from their family. Not necessarily! There is enough research out there, going back to the 60’s, that shows that parents’ well being directly impacts children’s happiness, that quality time matters over quantity time (quality is not determined by what you are doing with your child so much as it is by your level of engagement in the activity itself).

We know that when parents are stressed, the effects are felt by the whole family and especially by children. When you thrive you reduce your stress, you allow yourself to be more engaged and present with others, your improved mental health and well-being positively impacts your children. Another issue to consider is that our perception of the amount of time we should be spending with our children is both unrealistic and  I would argue harmful to the proper development of children today. It sets an unrealistic standard that is bound to leave us feeling as failures. I won’t go into further detail, but here a a few good reads by me (1, 2) and others (1, 2, 3, and this one 4).

Are they worth it? Of course, but the best we can do is model healthy adulthood for them.
Are they worth it? Of course, but the best we can do is model healthy adulthood for them.

It doesn’t have to be you or them, it can actually be both of you. As a child psychologist (my first professional iteration) and a mother I can tell you that the more balanced and happier you are, the better parent you become; you can actually be there for you children, you model patience, self-care, self-love. It might not be how you thought you would teach those lessons, but for your children  it is far more powerful than learning it in a book.

I have no idea what I want or need anymore:

The last barrier to taking time for oneself is probably the biggest, so I’ll address a whole post to it next week. Many people, and parents especially, when asked what fulfills them, what makes them deeply satisfied and happy are only capable of providing superficial answers. This is a huge issue, so much so that it is central to every kind of coaching service Life in Focus offers. As one of the surveyed moms wrote:

“In some ways, I feel as though I’ve changed a lot, now that I am a mom, but I have also been in ‘survival’ mode for 18 mos […] I’m just going through the motions w/o real thought about what I want to do, or what I’d be excited to do. Where do I even start?”

Listen, I know you want to be the best: the best parent, spouse, professional. It’s hard having great standards and feeling like you can’t meet them. There is one place you can start that will have a watershed effect on all other areas of your life, and that is taking care of yourself.

So if you have a minute this week, (while using the bathroom) ask yourself if there is one thing you would be willing to devote some time or energy to that might make you feel significantly better. When I made all these changes, my one thing was taking 5-10 minutes after lunch or before going to bed to sit outside and do nothing. It was very hard to do nothing, but it felt decadent and amazingly wonderful. Share your success with us online using #thrivingparent so we can thrive together.

Extra Credit:

I combed through a bunch of research and then remembered you have no time, so here are some extra articles on the topics addressed in this post that I found interesting, comprehensive, reputable and non-jargony.

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



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