I love being a parent. And parenting is tough, and relentless, and oh so incredibly tiring. And when I'm tired, I'm not the parent I know I can be.
When I'm tired, I reach my limits and get snappy much more quickly than when I'm well rested, I feel hard done by when little things go wrong, and I struggle to find the warmth when other people are needing support with their own upsets.
And I know I'm not alone in this. It's so hard as a parent. We work long hours with little support - whether that's all day at home, or heading into the office and then back again to continue with the work of parenting. There's too much to do (or we just want some alone time) so we go to bed late. And then 9 out of 10 times (if we're lucky!) our kids wake us multiple times in the night. Or if not that, then far earlier than we'd like. We're always on the back foot.
So we're always tired, but some times more than others - maybe because we foolishly (!) decided to try to have something resembling a social life one evening, or perhaps some worries are keeping us awake, or maybe our physical health is making life particularly draining. At those times, parenting is just so much harder.
As I started to notice more and more just how much tiredness affected my ability to be the parent I want to be, I knew that I needed to do something about it - to be active and intentional, rather than just putting up with it, pushing through, and hoping that miraculously things would change. So I'm sharing here some of the things that have helped me - none of them lead to overnight changes, and some of them take quite some effort, but they have all helped me to manage this ongoing and very challenging issue over time - and things do feel just that bit better now.
1) Get more sleep
The first thing of course, is to try to work out ways to get more sleep! It sounds obvious, but we are so rushed, so pressured, that often we don't take time to stop and look at difficult situations in a bit more detail. I have stopped using screens after 9pm most nights, because of the tendency to get sucked in and then ending up going to bed far later than I'd planned. I've also prioritised sleep a little more - trying to see it as the important (and enjoyable) activity that it is, rather than as something that is really taking up too much of my precious time!
2) Reduce demands
I have started to learn to reduce the demands on myself. Yes, sometimes I am going to end up going to bed late because something crops up, but if it's happening on a regular basis, then there is a need to examine how full my life is, and to make changes. It's so vital to our physical and mental health to get enough sleep - and my children need me to make this more of a priority.
3) Cultivate acceptance
I am cultivating acceptance - this doesn't mean resignation, but it does mean accepting what is in the moment. Then I don't get stuck in the 'I should sleep more' or 'I shouldn't be tired' - the 'shoulds' just make me feel anxious and low, and don't help me to move forwards. If I can instead say to myself that I can't fight it, to say 'I am tired right now, it's not ideal, but that's the way it is', then I can keep my head clear to think about how I might want to change the situation in the future. I can't do this when I'm bogged down in the 'shoulds'!
4) Just say 'no'!
Many of you will know that we home educate our three children. And they place many many demands on me throughout the day with their requests for their inventive schemes! I try to say yes when I can, but sometimes the ideas come thick and fast - 'can we do painting' 'can we do sewing' 'can we go to the park' 'can we can we can we…' It feels relentless! When I am tired, the best thing I can do sometimes is to say no - another day yes, but today, no. Because I know if I say yes to certain things, particularly ones which historically have a tendency to take me to my limits, I am much more likely to tip over the edge into snappy, shouty, mean mummy - which is not where I want to be!!
5) It's not about the kids
I used to get much more crabby than I do now with my children over this, that and the other. And at some point the realisation suddenly dawned on me that I actually thought my crabbiness was in some way justified. I thought that my kids were being particularly annoying on a certain day, or that the things they were doing were designed to bug me, or that they really were being so frustrating that what sane person wouldn't get cross?? Coming to the understanding that whenever I get crabby, it is all about me - nothing to do with the children's behaviour whatsoever - was a big turning point. It is particularly noticeable when I'm tired - so I can now say to myself 'this is all about the tiredness, and nothing to do with the kids' and kind of repeat that, slightly mantra-like, to myself, to remind me that they're not actually doing anything wrong, even when it really really feels like they are!!
6) A little explanation goes a long way
I have also learnt to tell the children when I'm tired. I try not to use it as an excuse to just be the grumpy parent I don't want to be!! But it does help a) to remind me that it's not about the kids, and b) to help them understand why I'm not being the best I can possibly be that day. As I say, it's not an excuse, but we're all human, and they can forgive my lack of energy much better if I explain it to them.
7) Get heard
Parenting is such hard work, and there is little outlet to express this without being judged, or seen as ungrateful for the beautiful, amazing children that you are blessed to have. The Hand in Hand Parenting tool of Listening Partnerships give us this outlet - and help us to be able to cultivate acceptance, which has been so key to my forward momentum in my parenting journey. They also help us to clear out our tough feelings, which means we can get back to clear thinking - which helps us to make the rational decisions we want to take, like making changes in our busy lifestyle so that we can free up more time for important things like sleep! Listening Partnerships also mean that we reach our limits increasingly later and less often, which means our tolerance for the ups and downs of our days as a parent is greatly heightened. Listening Partnerships have given me so much - I know that I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now as a parent, or as a person, without the tremendous insight and necessary healing they have given me.
8) Let it go
And lastly, it is really important when it does go wrong - and it will sometimes, for all of us - that we forgive ourselves when it does. We need to make repairs with our children when we mess up, definitely, but we also need to speak to ourselves with loving kindness - to remind ourselves that we'll keep trying to do better, but that we are a good person and that we are doing our very best. We need to speak to ourselves as we would to a friend in the same situation - what would you say to a friend who tells you that they just shouted at their children? Is it the same as what you say to yourself when you shout at your children? If not (and for most of us it isn't), it is well worth looking to ways to cultivate this loving inner voice over time.
"How do children learn to treat themselves with forgiveness? By watching you forgive yourself" (William Martin, The Parents' Tao Te Ching)
This is with love to all of you tired parents - when our kids don't sleep (and many of them don't sleep anywhere near as well as we would like for years!!), and when our life is so packed full of pressures and demands, things can feel really tough. We're all in this together, and this community is right here to support you with whatever you need - call on us, and we will be right there. Much love.