For so many parents, rest and relaxation feels elusive.
Do you ever think, I’ll just finish everything first, then sit down? And when you’re finally on the couch with a cup of coffee, something unexpected throws a spanner in the works and disrupts your well-earned rest? “I can’t even sit down in peace!” Feeling stressed as a result?
That’s because, like most things in life, you can’t always plan rest. You can only grab it when it presents itself. It’s useful, then, to be able to recognize those moments of rest, as they do tend to turn up in disguise.
An opportunity to unwind nearly always presents itself differently than how you expected, which is why you fail to recognize it. It’s a question of adapting your perfectly thought up moment of rest in favor of the real moment that presents itself.
Maybe, more than anything, you’d like to sit on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a book while your children keep themselves busy. In reality, an opportunity presents itself just as you’ve filled up the dishwasher. There’s still a pile of washing to be folded, and you look around and think, I quite fancy a cup of coffee. No one needs your attention, and the washing isn’t going anywhere, so you could actually sit down for a moment with a cup of coffee.
But suddenly another thought pops up: I’ll fold the washing first, then have a cup of coffee. Unaware of this potential moment of rest, you heed your automatic thought. You fold the laundry.
Try to unwind from a place of relaxation, and not from willpower. ‘I may relax now’ works better than ‘I must relax now.’ You might actually already be pretty relaxed sometimes, like that moment when you fancied a cup of coffee. This is the perfect moment to relax because you are already reasonably relaxed anyway.
Most mothers feel like they must earn rest through productivity. It might be more effective to take a cue from our kids.
Daniella: I lie down next to my daughter every afternoon whilst she falls asleep during her afternoon nap. I see this as a task, just as cooking or folding up the washing. I wait until she’s asleep and then get to work, like a woman obsessed, doing everything that needs doing. Lying next to her, my mind is already racing with all that needs to be done. My body is reasonably calm, but my mind isn’t.
Recently, I realized something: this is a moment of rest. Why don’t I try to change this ‘worry/think moment’ into a moment to unwind? To accept that I can now get some rest and leave everything else for what it is, without judgement (“Gosh, I’m so lazy; go and do something, you can sit down later, when everything’s finished.”) This moment is quiet anyway. She falls asleep, which allows me to relax.
And so lately, we have a nap together in the afternoon. Not always – sometimes I just lie down or read a book. But it allows me to regroup. It took a while before I ‘allowed’ myself to do this. When we both wake up, I’m much more relaxed and manage to finish everything I wanted to do anyway. And so my rest is a ‘take-it-while-you-can’ moment.
Mothers think it’s easier to unwind when they are without the children. How great is it to read a book when the kids are at school? But this is not the only way. How do we know? Just look at dads.
Dads have the enviable talent of unwinding at any moment, anywhere, with or without the children around them. While the kids are playing in the playground, they’ll have a quick nap – sitting on a bench, or laying down if that’s an option – to catch up on some sleep. As long as there’s no danger and the kids can’t fall or wander off, it’s a suitable moment for napping.
Mums sitting on the next bench aren’t even surprised, not that they’d do it themselves. That would get some funny looks. Passers-by would wonder if she’s feeling okay. That thought just wouldn’t occur to anyone faced with a napping dad. Everyone somehow understands that he’s taking a moment to unwind.
Unconsciously, you postpone relaxation time until everything else has been finished. But the ‘everything-is-finished’ moment doesn’t exist. Because at that moment, everything starts anew. Everything is never going to be finished, so you might as well sit down if you feel like it. Allow this to be a reassuring thought rather than a stressful one.
Martina: I recently had to go out in the evening. My husband had forgotten, and I called him to say that he couldn’t work late. He hurried home. I had cooked and cleared the table. I really fancied sitting outside, it was such beautiful weather. On the other hand, I wanted to carry on. My desire to sit outside won, and I went and sat in the garden.
Just then, my husband drew up. “I rush home and you’re just sitting in the garden?” He didn’t see all that I’d done beforehand, of course. I shrugged my shoulders, pleased that I’d sat outside for a little while. I finished clearing up and then went to my appointment.
Pia, mother of two children, sighs during the walk to school: “So, everyone dressed and ready. Such a hassle, don’t you think, every morning?” She says it with a forced smile on her face. The mum walking next to her says: “With you on that!” They understand each other.
All of a sudden, Pia’s son drops his flask. It rolls away and her son runs after it, as if it’s a game. Pia calls him and tells him to pick it up, and quickly. “I haven’t got time for this,” she says. She looks up to the heavens: “I need to do my breathing exercises later.”
Be aware that your restlessness has nothing to do with the stresses of the outside world. It’s your own feeling of unrest that prevails. Calm can be created at such a moment if space is made in your inner world for everything that resides there. Mindfulness can help with this.