If you’re like most parents after a break-up or divorce, your life has probably gotten a lot more complicated. Complicated, as in…things are so hectic you can barely keep your head on straight.
Because there’s so much you need to figure out and there’s so much you need to do.
You’re juggling court dates, lawyers, teacher conferences, and your kids’ school projects. Your kids are struggling in school, fighting with their siblings, sulking in their room. Your house is a mess because you don’t have time to clean, and you’re yelling at your kids for not helping pick up. You haven’t been eating right, you’re tired, you’re bitter, and it feels as if you’re coming down with something all the time.
Between all this, your career, and shuttling the kids to their activities, you barely have time to complete a thought.
Vacations? Time off to relax? What’s that? Are you kidding?
In the midst of all this, you definitely want your kids to be okay. No matter how hectic things get, you’re committed to keeping their lives stable.
But you’re overwhelmed and exhausted.
And your emotional reserves are depleted.
That’s why sometimes, your kid’s meltdowns cause YOU to have your own meltdown. You find yourself yelling at them or overreacting when they don’t deserve it.
Which makes you feel so guilty later. UGH!
Is there anything you can do to be a calmer and more effective co-parent when you feel as if you’re going to lose it on a regular basis?
Suppose I asked you, what is the single most important thing you can do for your kids right now, in the midst of all your to-do lists and stress?
If you’re like most parents, you might answer:
While all of these are important, the best way you can help your kids, especially if you’re feeling stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, or about to lose it, is to take care of yourself.
Huh?! You may be thinking.
My kids are acting out, getting Fs in school, and I’m two weeks late on my rent and I’m supposed to focus on MYSELF?
Actually, yes. Let me explain.
Self-care is a difficult concept for most parents, and we almost always underestimate the importance of it, especially when we are in crisis.
From the time our children are born, our natural tendency is to place our children’s needs above and before our own. This is particularly true when separation or divorce happens in a family. Our guilt can make us work double-time to make sure they’re adjusted and happy. We want to give them a safe and comfortable place to live, opportunities to have friends, be involved in activities, and make sure they’re doing well in school.
Sometimes at the expense of our own sleep, our own activities, our own time to relax, and our own sanity. In other words, at the expense of our own wellbeing.
While managing life is important, when you place your needs last, you ultimately end up compromising your ability to care for your children.
If you aren’t convinced that taking care of yourself is so important, imagine you had a day that went something like this:
You got up late and were extra tired because worries over your legal matter had given you some insomnia. As a result of getting up late, you skip taking a shower and begin rushing around the house to get you and the kids ready.
Jack couldn’t find his homework again and Chloe didn’t want to get up. Both of them seem grumpy because they went to bed late, too. After an hour of listening to complaining and arguing, you threaten to take away screen time and get them to settle down enough to get out the door in time to catch the bus.
On the way to work, you spill coffee on your lap, get caught in traffic, and arrive at work late…again. To make up for lost time, you decide to skip lunch and eat something out of the vending machine.
While at work, your ex calls to ask about trading weekends, which immediately leads to another argument, which distracts you. When you get home, you realize you’re starving only to discover there’s nothing to fix for supper because you forgot to plan ahead. Jack and Chloe are back to fighting; neither one seems to be listening, so you starting screaming and send them both to their rooms.
As you stand in the kitchen you curse your ex under your breath and wonder if life will ever feel normal again.
Imagine if your day had similar stressors, but you were able to keep your cool because you were making different choices. Maybe it would go something like this:
Jack and Chloe seem to be having a difficult time getting ready in the morning, so you decide to set your alarm and get up 15 minutes earlier than normal. Since you’ve not been sleeping well, you choose to take a hot shower and read a good book to take your mind off the upcoming court hearing.
Because you have been consistent with their schedule, Jack and Chloe know what’s expected of them and get ready fairly easily. Getting up a little earlier also proves to be a good choice, as it gives you extra time to focus on them. You also have time to pack yourself a lunch and write up a grocery list for later.
While driving to work, you listen to your favorite playlist. Although you still have to deal with traffic, you manage to stay in a good mood and arrive to work on time. When your ex calls you that afternoon to change the weekend schedule, you take a deep breath and ask if the two of you can talk later.
After work, you swing by the grocery store and pick up something for supper. Over dinner you talk to Jack and Chloe about their day and remind them of what they need to do after supper. You help them stay focused on the evening routine and find you even have enough time before bed to read them a story.
What’s different about these two scenarios? You probably noticed that in the second scenario, despite similar stress factors (traffic, insomnia, worries), your response to those stressors was better. You were calmer, more rested, and better prepared for the challenge, and as a result, you were better able to parent your children.
It’s because you made time to take care of your own needs FIRST. You got enough sleep. You fueled your body well. You took the time to take your mind off your worries.
For some parents, the idea of self-care seems impractical or something they don’t have time for, especially now. You often pay more attention to putting out fires and checking off to-do lists than whether you’re eating, sleeping, or getting a break once in a while.
However, if you don’t make it, your children won’t, either.
You can’t give your kids peace of mind when you don’t have it. You can’t show you kids how to relax when you’re always racing around. You can’t give your children a calm, loving home when you’re running ragged and feeling distracted.
Divorce or separation is a time when children already feel uncertain, anxious, and worried about how life is changing. They look to you to be a consistent, loving, stable presence in their life.
You can’t be that for them when you’re putting out fires and neglecting your own needs.
That’s why taking care of yourself will not only allow you to be a better parent, but it will help your kids thrive, too.
When you make time for yourself, you’re able to be a more effective and loving parent.
The question you may be asking yourself…HOW?
I get it. It just doesn’t seem possible that you can support yourself and care for your needs when everything right now feels so crazy.
In my video program, Co-Parenting With Purpose: How to Raise Happy, Secure and Resilient Kids After You've Split Up, you’ll learn how self-care begins with your outlook. You’ll learn how your thinking shapes the way you feel and either zaps your energy or gives you the motivation to take action on solutions.
I’ll show you how to give yourself permission to be gentler to yourself and how certain self-care practices have more impact than others (and which ones you’ll want to avoid, because they actually won’t help you at all). You’ll learn how to reduce stress and maintain balance with small, sustainable habits that promote your confidence and self-worth in just 20 minutes a day.
When you’re able to take better care of yourself, you’re able to give your kids what they need most during this time after a split or divorce: a parent who is present, stable, loving, and consistent.
You’ll feel better physically and emotionally when you eat right, get enough sleep, and take time to de-stress and relax, and you’ll feel better about your ability to be there for your kids, too.
Self-care is not an option. That’s why I hope you take my advice to heart and start taking better care of yourself today.Get My Tools and Tips on Self-Care for Co-Parents
Best wishes to you and your children,
P.S. One of the top 10 common challenges co-parents face after a separation or divorce is worrying about how their kids are handling changes in the family, and not knowing the best thing to do to help their children cope with those changes. While you can’t change the fact that you are no longer together with your ex, there are certain things you can do (or avoid) so that your children get through this crisis strong, resilient, and secure.
In Co-Parenting With Purpose, you’ll learn how to develop a more meaningful connection to your children through compassionate communication. Not only will they feel more comfortable sharing how they feel, but you’ll also help them build a sense of self-competency.How to Help Your Children Handle Difficult Feelings