Ninety per cent of the time, I consider myself to be a pretty decent parent. I care deeply about my child and I enjoy her company. I help her with homework and participate in school field trips. We talk about the world and make each other laugh. We go on adventures and love being together.
The other 10 per cent of the time, I feel like a failure. I raise my voice and lose my temper. I am short with her when I should be patient. I say things that I should not. I am the worst version of myself. It is not that I think I should be a perfect parent, but I do want to be kind one. And 10 per cent of the bad behaviour feels like it cancels out the 90 per cent of good.
When I am calm and centered, I encourage my daughter to take deep breaths when she is angry. I remind her that just because she is mad, she is not allowed to be mean. I bring her in close and hug her when she is misbehaving. Why is it so hard to follow my own good advice, in the heat of the moment?
It is amazing to me how easy it is to be an unfiltered version of yourself with those that you love most. To explode when you are angry or to say all of the things that come to mind with wild abandon. We feel safe together, so we let it all hang out rather than showing the restraint we do with those who are not in our inner circle.
In paying attention to these moments, I notice that they occur most often when I am tired, stressed or overloaded. There is no opportunity for me to stop and pause when I am running dry, as there is nothing left in my reserve tank. I am realizing that in order to be a better parent to my daughter, I need to start being a better parent to myself: offering up attention, love and care, rather than judgment and frustration.
As a single parent, it can be difficult to find time to rest and decompress. Life is busy and there are many moving parts. It is hard to slow down. If I do not make space for myself on a daily basis, however, the fragile balance tips.
Over the last little while, I have been testing out some strategies for better managing the stresses of daily life. Here are some I find helpful:
1. Movement. The first thing that helps is a commitment to regular exercise. I need to move my body every day. It can be as simple as taking a walk at lunch or a free online yoga class at home (doyogawithme.com). Movement in any form is medicine—for the mind and body.
2. Meditation. A regular meditation practice is a good tool. Sitting still and paying attention to my breath for 10 minutes a day, first thing in the morning gives me an anchor in the moments when I later feel ungrounded. Deep, belly breaths really help to take the edge off of a difficult situation.
3. Rest. My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and I cherish it; I am also realizing it is essential that I have time to rest and to be alone. I aim to get her into bed early each evening, both so she can rest after a long day and so I am left with a pocket of time to myself. After she is asleep, I can take a hot bath, watch a show or read a book. I also like to go to bed early myself, as it is essential for my energy levels and overall well-being.
4. Reflection. When I am not at my best, I often regret the things that I say. In the moments of frustration or anger that arise, I am working to create a small space between the emotion and myself, to pull back and reflect. Who do I want to be in this moment? How do I want my child to remember it? Does this behaviour feed connection or separation? Although it is difficult, it really helps to shift the dynamic.
I feel fortunate that there is an opportunity, each and every day, to start new and recommit to being a better parent, partner and friend. Love is amazingly resilient, forgiving and patient, but is also needs to be fed a steady diet of kindness, tenderness and joy.
An important first step is to start by acting as a parent to myself, to make sure that I am fed, cared for and rested. To give myself time for things that fill me up and build my capacity to pause in those difficult and challenging moments. If I do not, and I allow myself to run on empty, I am guaranteed to tip over into the dreaded 10 percent.