“I’m a wreck!” was the reply from my client, mother of two elementary school age kids, when I asked her how things were going. Her children had started back to school the week before. And, truth be told, they were doing great. Both liked their teachers, classes, friends, and were happily back in the ritual and routine of school days.
There was a good reason for that. Children just seem to do so much better within the structure naturally imposed by being in school. Their predictable lives both give and take away power, remove the fuel for negotiation, debates, and the fights that often accompany summer life without enough structure (and bedtimes!) So, yes, the kids were back on track.
On the other hand, Mom was not. Mom had loved summer. The natural relief that came from not really having to be on time, from not feeling obligated to carpool kids, from letting spontaneity rule, from lemonade stands and tree houses and bike riding after dinner and flexible bed times was over.
Mom was a mess—exhausted, drained, and longing for those summer days empty of obligations and have-to’s. Now her life was consumed by each child’s pressing needs, and ruled by carpools, after-school activities, sports teams, classroom needs, committee sign-ups, volunteer opportunities (that really aren’t volunteer), healthy lunches, unhealthy lunches, hot lunches, playdates, night meetings, PTA meetings, Back-to-School Night. Her carefree life had been taken over– The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
So much focus is placed on the well-being of the children as the new school year begins, that parents’ well-being, frankly, is kind of forgotten. Of course the kids don’t think about it. But what about you? We know so well that one of the keys to happy kids is happy parents. Your physical and emotional health has a direct impact on your children. If you are wiped out, your ability to tolerate your child’s normal mood swings, disappears.
Your job, as I have said many times over, is to be a container for your child’s feelings. If you are full to the brim with all the extra stuff that accompanies the new school year, you won’t be able to do your job. Conversely, if you are like Old Mother Hubbard and your cupboard is bare because you haven’t done a good job of taking care of yourself, you will have nothing to give to your children.
Likely, you think it seems selfish to take care of yourself. Not so! Not only will your children have a better, more present mommy or daddy (which you will point out to them), but you will be modeling a necessity. Taking care of yourself by getting the exercise, sleep, food, and socialization that we all need makes you a better parent.