“Moooommmmyyyyy! Mommy!!!” her little voice grew louder and more impatient as she yelled from her crib, protesting naptime. My heartbeat thumped faster, and I knew her naptime protest would limit the only bit of alone time I would get that day as a mom of four homeschooled children. I could feel my stress level rising and my breath quicken.
Pandemic parenting has no guidebook.
Parenting during a worldwide pandemic has disrupted our schedules, stretched our definition of alone time and shaken us to our cores. I found myself struggling with the endless requests of snacks, screen time, and ‘just one more’ pleas from my children. Gone in a flash were our frequent outings to parks, the library, even the grocery store; our yearly memberships to the aquarium and the children’s museum cancelled. It has been eleven months since our little corner of the world changed, and as the days and weeks dragged on, it was clear we needed a new way forward.
Over the course of these last eleven months, I have stumbled around trying to find a new rhythm for my kids and myself. I call this way forward ‘gentle parenting’ and it has made all the difference for me.
Gentle parenting is not solely for our children. We too, mamas, need a large dose of gentleness from ourselves during these difficult times. I’m not recommending hot baths and an extra scoop of ice cream at the end of every long day, although those are great ways to treat yourself! Instead, I would like to offer a few ways I have found that give my day a new rhythm of rest and gentleness.
I hope these offerings help as we all navigate a new and challenging season.
1. A New Morning Routine
In the past, I have been guilty of rolling out of bed, downing a cup of coffee and trying to begin my day with what feels like yesterday’s leftover energy. According to research studying metabolism and hormone health, beginning the day with a full meal of protein, carbs and fat is the ideal way to set yourself up for the day. I know intermittent fasting is all the rage right now, but I have found a full meal upon waking leaves me with more energy and less of an afternoon crash. Instead of a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, try eating a full meal within thirty minutes to one hour of waking. You will feel more energetic and potentially reverse your afternoon crash if you try this one simple switch. I am not suggesting you ditch the coffee altogether! In fact, go ahead and savor that cup (or two!) of joy after breakfast.
2. Room Time
Three of my four kids have long outgrown afternoon naps, but we maintain a strict rest time after lunch. Last fall, when we were beginning school, I knew I could no longer power through the day without a moment’s rest from a hungry child or another request for screen time. This one change has led to more peace than I could have imagined. It was an adjustment for them to learn to leave the lunch table for rest time in their rooms, but now they look forward to the quiet playtime and a break from schoolwork. They happily ask for room time on the weekends as well.
I know it sounds hard to believe, but the predictability in their daily routine is comforting and the expectations are clear and easy to follow. They may play with any toy in any way they wish, as long as they stay in their rooms. It is magical! This hour of free time in the afternoon has given me options of self-care I didn’t have before…which leads me to the next tip.
3. Find a Fun Workout That Isn’t a Chore
I have long struggled with hormonal and adrenal issues, so finding a fun, easy workout has been a lifesaver. I am not able to engage in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) because it leaves me way too exhausted and lacking in energy for the rest of the day. Purchasing a rebounder has made exercise fun and easy. After my older kids get settled in their rooms and my toddler goes down for a nap, I jump on the mini trampoline (or rebounder) and watch a ‘mommy show’ as my kids renamed them. In addition to being a great low impact workout, rebounding is a natural way to help your body detox. One of the many benefits of rebounding is a boost for your lymphatic system, which needs exercise to stimulate proper drainage of toxins. Set a timer and jump for as little as five minutes to upwards of twenty.
4. Remember to Breathe
Breathing may be the one thing we take for granted the most. It is regulated by our brain’s control center, always on, always managing and taking care of us. We seldom consider the enormous task of filling our lungs and circulating fresh oxygen through our bodies. The next time you start to feel yourself on the edge of a meltdown or you are having difficulty tolerating the third tantrum of the morning, remember to breathe. Focusing on your breath can slow your heart rate and balance your nervous systems, bringing feelings of peace. Try breathing in twice before exhaling through your mouth. Or breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat these steps three to five times and reap the benefits of a calmer nervous system.
5. A New Rhythm of Self-Care
As my three-year-old continued to yell for me from the back of the house, I managed to remember to breathe. Two deep inhales, one long slow exhale. I repeated this a few times until my pulse slowed and I felt calm. As I walked down the hallway, I took one more deep breath and opened the door. “Yes, Ellie, what do you need?” I asked from the doorway. “I just want to tell you one more thing.” She answered back. “I love you, mommy. See you after nappy-time.”
We are mothers, we are caretakers and teachers. We listen to our children, respond to their needs, console them when they are hurt and upset. As moms, we need to remember that our bodies need care and attention too. We need to listen, respond and console ourselves when times are hard. These suggestions may not work for your family or season of life, but I hope this serves as a reminder that you are worthy of a rhythm of self-care too.