My blogs, columns, and discussions with parents almost always revolve around children and family, but sometimes it’s necessary to be selfish and put YOUR needs first. After all, what good are you to your family if you are constantly putting everyone else and their needs first, and end up feeling miserable (often, before you even know it!) all the time?
This isn’t to say that you should not continue to meet the needs of those little people who adore you, (and are likely hanging off the bottom of your stained shirt that was spotless an hour ago) or ignore their needs in any way. It simply means that your happiness, and mental and physical health are actually at the core of theirs, and you must make time for you to be a priority, in order to be the best you that you can be.
There are far too many ways we neglect ourselves to delve into here, so let’s start with: DATING.
Whether it’s your husband or wife, or a new love interest, it’s is equally important to pay attention to the other special relationships in your life. It’s WAY TOO EASY to say you don’t have time, a sitter, or the financial means for either, but you need to find a way.
I remember being childless during a time when many of our friends had young children and while it was difficult for them to join us for non-child-friendly events, we made a point to have many occasions that included children and felt it was equally as important for them to take time for themselves once in a blue moon. Occasionally, a friend would comment that it “just wasn’t that simple” and that we wouldn’t “know how it was until we had kids of our own”. Guess what? At 2.75 kids, my mind hasn’t changed one bit. At least once every couple of weeks, we try to book our sitter for the evening, even if it’s for just a couple of hours.
Sometimes, it is to go to the local pub for wing night and we are back in an hour and a half. Other times, it’s just to go shopping without having to be über aware of everything BUT what we are looking for, and sometimes, we actually just drive around and look at other neighborhoods!
Being a parent is only one facet of my life. I am also a spouse, a sister, a daughter, a niece, a friend, an Auntie, a professional, and, well, an individual. I was ME, long before I was a Mama and if I become too involved in being Mama every single second of every single day, I’m pretty sure I will lose track of what makes me, me. Personally, I think that’s the wrong message to send my kids and a disservice to my own mental health. I want my kids to know that they are the most important people in my life, but we also want them to learn what a functional, loving, adult relationship looks like, so they can succeed in that area as adults. I want to teach them that they should love and respect themselves. That’s a tough job to do if they have parents who are worn out, resentful, and do not make time for each other or themselves.
When my husband and I are with our kids we are very focused on them and on being a family. We do everything together, and we are the kind of people who will forego laundry in favour of playing on the floor. Being away from our kids occasionally for adult time, takes nothing else away from them. And many of the times that we DO get a sitter, our kids are already or very close to being, in bed. When we go out to eat, we will have a late lunch or a snack when the kids have supper and then make our own supper reservations for 7:30PM. When we go out while the kids are awake, they have a blast because of course our sitter or family friend focuses solely on them, not to mention letting them get away with murder, eat chocolate, drink soda, and stay up late (Ahem, Auntie Heidi).
If your relationship with your children deserves attention, how could the parental relationship not also need to be cultivated and tended to? And if you are a single parent, should your children not witness how to be a loving and attentive friend/sister/brother/adult son or daughter?
When you neglect yourself and other relationships, it might very well be sending children the wrong message. I for one, want my children to grow up knowing that they can have balance in their lives and that being a parent doesn’t have to mean neglecting other areas of life. Children NEED to learn that you value your relationship with the other parent enough that you are willing to carve out even a little time for them, and that you find the other person special and deserving.
“Date night” doesn’t mean you need to leave the house or spend money on a sitter either. Sometimes, we feed the kids and put them to bed, to have a second late supper ourselves. Other times, we wait until they are in bed and have more of a wine and cheese night while watching a movie. It’s really nice to not have to worry that the piece of cheese you just ate, has not be regurgitated onto your plate by your two-year old, who demanded a bite only to immediately spit it back out There are many many ways you can devote some time to YOU and things you “used to do”.
The next blog post will include suggestions from parents from all over the world, with children of all ages, but for now – here are my recommended “RULES” for dates.
DO: Set some time aside for this regularly. There is NOTHING wrong with making some time for yourself without the kids, once a month. And don’t cancel! If you are too tired, etc. to go out or for whatever you had planned, change the plans to suit your needs but do something!
DO: Be present. Be affectionate and attentive. Make eye contact.
DO: Put some effort into looking nice. Even if you are just watching a movie at home together, it’s good to make it feel a tad bit different from every other night.
DO: Talk about something other than finances, the kids, appointments, and laundry.
Stay tuned for Part Two: Creative Dating