Let’s take a quick look at those 5 steps and think about how they actually DO contribute to good parenting, or good caretaking of any kind.
Get More Sleep. This Gallup article from 2013 suggests that 40% of American adults don’t get the minimum recommended hours of sleep (which is 7, by the way). What’s really interesting is that the “recommended range” is 7 to 9 hours of sleep, which suggests that even some of those adults getting 7 probably aren’t meeting their own personal physical minimum. As reported hours of sleep increase from 6 to 8, there is a dramatic increase in the positive responses to the question of whether or not the responder gets enough sleep. So it’s not just that a lot of us don’t get enough sleep, it sounds like we know we don’t get enough sleep.
Here’s where I’m going to ditch big data. I’ve got plenty to say about sleep and parenting from my own little study of us. When the twins were born, my husband and I quickly established that getting them adequate sleep was paramount. Rule 1 = babies must sleep. This rule has followed my kids as they’ve grown. They go to bed earlier than their peers. And most of that time, they sleep. The funny thing is that while we held fast to this rule for our children, it didn’t occur to us until fairly recently that our own sleep was sorely lacking. And so we’ve begun a long term effort to increase the amount of sleep that we get. And you know what? It’s really much better. Not just a little better, like a whole lot better.
For me, when I get more sleep I am more ready to start the day and am less irritable in the morning (which is handy when you have children). I am quicker with my morning chores and simultaneously more relaxed about getting things done. I have a better sense of humor and I am am WAY more patient. I’m going to go out on a huge old limb here and say that all of those make for better parenting, heck they make for better personing.
Eat Healthy Foods. Look, I’m not going to go on a diet rampage here. I’m really not. What I can tell you is that eating in an even reasonably healthy way does great things for our blood sugar levels (creating more even energy throughout the day), leaves us feeling energized and satisfied, and sets a great example for our kids. Do I need to say more? I can, but you probably don’t want me to. Let me know if you want more of that, ’cause I’ve got a WHOLE lot.
Remember to Ask Yourself What You Want and Need. Here’s where the rubber hits the road people. Many parents and other caretakers or those in care taking professions spend a lot of time asking after, caring for, attempting to discern when not obvious the needs of their charges. Many caretakers secretly wish someone would ask them what they need. When mine were little I know I sure did. The secret sauce here is that you don’t have to wait for someone to ask you. Ask your own darned self. “What do I want and need?” If a tall fruity cocktail is the answer (and it’s an inconvenient time to do that), ask the follow up question: “How would that make me feel?” If it would make you feel relaxed, schedule some time relaxing. If it would make you feel young and carefree, put on some music and dance in the living room in your underwear. Don’t wait for someone to figure out what you need. Ask yourself and do that stuff.
Why does that make you a parent? Because anyone who doesn’t have: “Why doesn’t anyone care what I need?” or “I never get to…” simmering under the surface is a happier caretaker, a more patient caretaker, and a more peaceful caretaker. Anyone who takes care of themselves shows little people how to take care of themselves. That doesn’t just make for a better homelife, that makes for a better world.
Schedule Social Time with Other Adults. Let’s face it, even the most intellectually advanced kid isn’t going to cut the mustard when you want to talk to another adult, when you want to be around a group of people who probably don’t need much from you. You are allowed to have a social life. You are allowed to have friends and see them without your children. You are also allowed to be less responsive to your children when you have other people over (unless there’s a fire… just sayin’).
How does having social time help you be a better parent? Because you are modeling for your children the fact that it is alright to pursue your interests, to have a full and complete life, that you have needs that are important, and that friendship requires time and care. That and all of that you’ll be happier stuff. Yep, that’s here too.
Include Personal Quiet Time in Your Schedule. Yes, I know. This sounds impossible. It doesn’t have to be. Stolen moments. Okay, here’s where I confess that I’m a podcast junkie. Love ’em. Listen to them while I’m working in the garden, while I’m doing chores, while I’m cooking dinner. I was listening to one by Elizabeth Gilbert and she was dishing with an artist who had lost her whatsit. There was a lot of conversation and I’m sure I’m doing it a disservice by paraphrasing, but the bottom line was that to get unstuck artistically, this woman needed to have an affair with her art. She was to steal time, to find little bits, to treat it like a lover, to look forward to it and keep it secret and intensely personal. So it must be with your time if it is hard to come by. Find those moments. Meditate if that’s your jam. Close your eyes and feel your toes if that works for you. Sit on a bench and watch the birds. Keep it important; keep it secret; keep it safe.
Why? Honestly this is really similar to the asking yourself what you want and need. In fact, many people find that they are best able to ask and get an answer to that question when having quiet alone time. Even people who thrive on the company of others and really like background music, TV, whatever stimulation is out there (and there is a LOT of it out there) can benefit from some quiet time. If you can actually bring yourself to meditate, you might experience a range of benefits (like those listed here in Forbes, yes Forbes did an article on meditation) all of which could potentially make you a better parent.
The bottom line on all of this good parenting stuff, it seems to me, is that it is far easier to be a better parent when we are better people. We are far better people when we get more clear about exactly who were are as people and what makes us the best version of ourselves that we can be. There is no other person, and no other parent, like you. Be that. Do that. Do it well not just because it’s good for them, but because it’s good for you.