By Megan Kunze, MS
Being raised by a single mother molded me into the woman and mother I am today. Some of my parenting practices are similar and others are very different. My attempts to successfully nurture three little lives involve a constant balance between caring for myself and caring for others, so I can best facilitate love, growth, and joy in the lives of my children.
Here, I have included four focus areas that promote balance in life as a parent.
Create a Support Network
Surround yourself with people you enjoy and who build you up. Choose your support network carefully and thoughtfully:
- Choose a Personal Mentor — A personal mentor is a friend who has a strong sense of sanity, to advocate for you in your role as a parent. This should ultimately be a friend or family member that you are comfortable talking to and crying with about all kinds of things. Ideally, the mentor has children and is working if you are working or a stay-at-home parent if you are, providing a somewhat-shared understanding of “been there, done that,” while recognizing that parents need to figure out some things for themselves.
- Choose a Professional Mentor — A professional mentor is possibly your child’s pediatrician, therapist, or teacher who you trust to advocate for your child. It can be a bit of a journey to find this person and he or she won’t be perfect. I went through two pediatricians before finding our beloved doctor. Even though I trust and value her, I still ask questions and do research on my own. For example, I read books about vaccines: what, when, and why for all shots and medications. Regardless of my trust in our pediatrician, it is my duty as a parent to be in the know about everything that is going on with my child’s medical care and well-being.
- Choose a Family Mentor — A family mentor will advocate for your relationships, family unit, or search for stability. This can be a spiritual person, leader, or group, but not the mommy network at the playground or the guys down at the pub. This mentor does more than shoot the breeze over coffee or ask “When did you start potty training?” This is a growth structure for the family unit, such as Attachment Parenting International support groups.
Take Care of Yourself
The first thing always crossed off my calendar is “me time,” which is the time that makes me a better parent; without it, I cannot do for my children because I am running on an empty tank. Learn what “language you speak” by reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman and work to allow your tank to remain as full as possible. Build in planned breaks — even just an hour of quiet time — for yourself and your children. The reunion is always sweet!
Know Who Influences Your Child
No one can completely raise her child on her own. Every interaction our children have with others helps to shape the person they are. Reach out to trusted friends and family to not only give you adult sanity checks, but also to help you with your children. Be realistic; we cannot do everything, and certainly cannot do everything well.
Children need to experience support, care, and love from their families and many others. Places where a child searches for support include: family, encouraged by positive family communication; other adult relationships; neighborhood; and school, encouraged by parental involvement. The more love, support, and adult contacts a child has, the more likely it is that he or she will grow up healthy. Here are a couple ideas:
- Visit and Volunteer at Your Child’s School — For various reasons, the report at the end of the school day often includes a verbal “Nothing!” from a five-year-old or a daycare provider’s checklist of diaper changes. Our child’s experiences while we were separated are more meaningful than that. Be there so you can see and hear what happens, even for a few minutes of your child’s day. Reach out to care providers and teachers so you know who they are and they know you are active in your child’s life. Knowing about your child’s day provides great insight to her development, the type of education she is receiving, and who her friends are.
- Set Clear Boundary Lines — We are responsible for protecting our children. The book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend compares protecting our children to building a fence around our yard: It has a gate to allow certain people in and out, but we must be protective of who we allow in and clear on what is acceptable behavior after they come inside. It is not always easy to correct others in the way they speak or act toward your child. Making a clear boundary line of what is acceptable and what is not may hurt some people’s feelings, but it sends a positive message to a child about speaking up for himself. It tells others that you will do what is best for your child. If the relationship is a respectful one, the hurt feelings will dissipate as the person realizes that the correction is based on your love for your children.
Build Household Community
If you moved to a desert island with only your immediate family, would you like each other? Do you really know one another? Building community within your home is a sometimes-neglected task, with children instead sent outside the home for socialization and enrichment. It is not always necessary to build community away from the family. Consider these:
- Meaningful Family Routines — Meaningful routines and predictable events result in feelings of security. They can be simple rituals done every day, as well as traditions carried out on holidays or special occasions, in which householdmembers play a role unique to your family structure. Ideas for family routines include parallel reading and sharing feelings. Parallel reading involves one night a week of silent reading, where you curl up together and read your own book, allowing you to model love for books while giving you some down time. To share feelings, each family member shares three things that happened during the day. After telling of the event, the speaker shares how it made him or her feel. For example, a three-year-old child shares, “Sally wouldn’t let me play with her today.” The parent may interpret this as a sad event, but then the child shares the feeling part: “It made me happy because I got to dig with Gabe. He’s my new friend!”
- Avoid Over-Scheduling — Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, says, “Parents need to relax. Slow down. Activities are fine, but don’t go over the top. Research says that what children need most are relationships, not activities. Focus on building meaningful relationships with your children, not becoming their chauffeur.” In a time when everything from Cantonese language lessons to soccer is available for children as young as 18 months old, scheduling non-family enrichment activities carefully and sparingly is essential. Find activities that the family can do together, so everyone can contribute to the fun.
- Parent with Emotion — Parenting without emotion is unrealistic; everything about raising children breeds emotion. The emotional connection is what creates the bond between us and our children. Nowhere is this more evident than during times of discipline, when emotions run high. Some parents resort to punishments such as spanking or timeout. Spanking uses hitting to teach. Not only does the consequence not fit the behavior, but it also causes control through fear rather then intrinsic understanding of right and wrong. Timeout as a form of shameful punishment can be damaging to self-esteem and also eliminate the learning opportunity of a situation. Attached at the Heart by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker instead explains how to use timeout as a break for you or your child to regain composure, to make a difficult situation into a loving, learning solution.
Finding a balance as a parent is a constant evaluation of what is best for you and your children as everyone changes and grows through life. These tips for sanity can be used throughout the life of your child. I hope you have found these tips to be a positive influence on your parenting.