Chatter on Children
Stop "Shoulding" on Yourself: Parenting without Resentment
Parenting extroverted children sure can be exhausting for an introvert. Constant noise, questions, chatter. No room in my head to hear myself think. Actually, now that my kids are finally in bed, and I CAN hear myself think, I realize that I’ve been having problems setting boundaries lately. When I have a project to complete or an email to write or a phone call to make, I haven’t been remembering to just say so and declare a certain amount of uninterrupted time for myself. Instead, I try to write with one hand and help with homework with the other.
And all I get is tired. It didn’t occur to me before tonight how exhausting it is to fragment my attention. Or maybe it did, and I just forgot. Hey, it happens! Anyway, right on cue, just as I was sitting here writing this, my daughter showed up at the top of the stairs. I had tucked her in an hour earlier, and frankly I was pretty ready to be done with parenting for the night.
She whined that she couldn’t get comfortable in her bed. If this had been one of my well-rested and nurturing moments, I might have remembered that there was a big event at school the next day and she was nervous about it. I probably would have gone into her room for a while and helped her settle down. But it wasn’t one of those moments. So I told her in as neutral and loving of a voice as I could muster, “Do the best you can. I know you’ll be fine. I’ll see you in the morning.” The second the words left my mouth I felt guilty, but I was just too wiped out to do anything with my guilt. She slouched back to her room, and I didn’t hear from her again. … until breakfast the next morning.
At which point I was well-rested again, so I checked in with her about what was going on the night before. She told me her blankets were all twisted up and she couldn’t fit her feet into her bed. My guilt delivered its verdict with the pound of the gavel . Bad Mother! But in the next breath she set me free. “Mom, I didn’t know what to do until you helped me. You told me to do the best I could. So I went back upstairs and I figured out how to fix it, and I fell right to sleep.” And she was serious! Wow. All that guilt for nothing!! Turns out that she was fine. Even better than fine — my exhaustion and unwillingness to exert effort on her behalf actually facilitated her accessing her inner resources.
The moral of the story: Take care of yourself first, and everything else falls into balance. Don’t let the voice of guilt entice you into overextending yourself on behalf of your kids. Sometimes, the very best thing you can do is refuse to help them, especially if doing so is going to cost you more than you can cheerfully give. Helping a child while feeling resentment does her no favor in the long run! Take care of your own needs first. Go for a walk, take a nap . do whatever you need to do to get yourself feeling full, happy, and generous again before you engage with your kids. The gifts that you share with your family from your state of fulfillment are the ones that truly nourish and sustain them. Copyright 2005 karen alonge.
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