ECC Insights & Engagement Manager and and mum of three Fiona Martin shares her tips to regain a little balance and calm.
Do you remember the pre parent version of yourself? The one where you thought you would never let them sleep in the same bed as you or give them any sweets as a bribe? Where you read articles that told you that you could have it all and you simply assumed life would continue pretty much the same, with your work slotting in around your family like a perfect balance of harmony? I do. And I laugh (or maybe it’s a cry mixed with a laugh) at the pre parent version of myself.
It’s taken me a while to get to this point in my life where I’m ok with ‘not having it all’ or at least the golden version of ‘having it all’ that society was telling us once upon a time. Three children later to be exact. It’s not to say that I don’t believe you can have a family, a career and balance; you can. For me, it is more about understanding that for a certain period in your life, things will be different. The balance will tip towards one or the other and we have to work out what our ‘ideal balance’ for now is and know that it’s not forever.
Every situation is different. Every family is different. How we individually navigate our way towards achieving a balance is not going to be the same as Barbara who lives down the road. Having said that, there are certain things we can do; practicalities that must be put in place to start heading in the right direction. And that’s what I believe it’s about – heading in the right direction and knowing that some days you will go to bed knowing that you’ve nailed it and other days where it feels like you’ve screamed the house down because the stress has got to you.
So here are some of the ‘practicalities’ that I put in place to regulate my heartbeat and breathe a little easier:
- Remove the email work app from your phone. Literally go into your settings and delete the app. Unless you’re performing life saving duties, really think about whether you need your outlook on your phone. We live in 2020 where people are contactable every minute of the day through calls, emails, messages, what’s app, social media, FaceTime, Zoom etc. As soon as you remove the annoying little heart attack inducing email notification that pops up, you will start to breathe easier and your stomach won’t feel the sick anxiety it does once you’ve read an email. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this can take time and it’s not a simple email removal and boom, you feel instantly better. If you have the willpower, the mid-way point would be going into your settings and turning off the notifications so the alert for a new email doesn’t appear; I personally found this to be similar to having a stash of chocolate in a secret kitchen cupboard but telling myself I wasn’t going to actually eat the chocolate. It was there so I couldn’t stop myself hence the reason for going cold turkey. But just try either one for a week or a fortnight. If it makes you more at ease (it does for me), I let work know that they can call or message me if they need to.
- Put your phone in another room or go to the extreme of locking it away in one of those little boxes with a timer that you can buy from Amazon if you need to. They do exist. If you constantly have your phone in your back pocket, even when reading with the kids or watching a film on the sofa together, you can’t easily disconnect. You’ll stretch yourself between your family and being ‘on’ for someone else.
- This could be controversial. Remember the caveat above about every situation and every family being different? Well, this may or may not work for you but when it’s bedtime, everyone heads up to their room. This doesn’t mean my 7 or 9 year old goes to sleep at 7pm along with their 4 year old sister. It does mean they stay in their room and they can either choose to read (if I’m lucky which hardly happens and when it does it’s a complete win), colour, draw, play with their Lego/Superzing figurines or whatever it is they are into this week. By having some ‘downtime’, it means they are less likely to put up a fight when bedtime does come around, but also it allows for the peace that I crave to either have dinner, get things tidied away or if I’m not feeling it, just sitting down and not moving at all whilst I watch Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. It also gives me some ‘downtime’ so I feel as though I’ve had some of my own headspace.
- Establish a routine with your partner. It takes away the second guessing and the inevitable feeling that you’re going to explode in their face because everything has been left for you to do. Your routine might not be 50/50, it’s not in our house because after three parental leaves, it’s crystal clear that I have an invisible workload that would squash my husband’s any day of the week, month, year or decade for that matter. There are however things that only he does (mainly on the weekends) with the kids. It means that it allows me some time without the constant noise and helps me grasp some kind of balance so that I’m not operating on an empty tank.
Making these things part of our lives has definitely helped changed things for the better. Does it mean we have perfect days and perfect kids with the perfect balance? Absolutely not. I cry and scream more often than I’d like, I dream of uninterrupted sleep and I spend longer in the shower than I need to just to have another 5 precious minutes of ‘quiet’ before I hear the word ‘mum!’ shouted from another room. But…it does mean that I am closer to a level of balance that is right for me and my family at this point in our lives. And I CONSTANTLY remind myself that ‘balance’ will look different this time next year because I’ve stopped trying to have it all right now.
So next time you catch up with a friend and they’ve told you their child has slept in their bed all night just so they got some kind of sleep or happen to see a parent in the street handing out multiple sweets to their child, instead of telling your pre parent self you would never do that, give them a little friendly smile; chances are they are trying to find their own balance.
By Fiona Martins: Insights and Engagement Manager at ECC, Aussie mum of 3, trying to hold it together!