You can’t pour from an empty cup. Remember to take care of yourself first.
There are very few things that have more impact on my child than my own emotional well-being.
Massimo often asks me if I’m happy. I usually respond, “of course, baby you’re with me.” He smiles.
The other day, I changed it up a bit. He ran away from me in the parking lot at school. It wasn’t a very busy parking lot–no one else was there. But that’s not really the point. He ran away and pretended it was a game and he wouldn’t come back. I’m sure that some parent somewhere would have just the antidote to that situation. But I didn’t. I chased him until I could grab his hand and then swiftly walked him back to my car.
I didn’t say a word to him.
As we reached the car, he said “are you happy mommy, are you happy?” In the sweet little voice that only he has.
I didn’t respond.
I put him in his car seat. I got into the driver side and started to drive away.
Again, “are you happy mommy? are you happy?”
Finally, I said “No, I’m not happy. You ran away from me in a parking lot and you did not come back. You could have gotten hurt very bad. And that would have made Mommy very sad. So, no, Mommy is not happy right now.”
He promptly exploded into a terrible cry. I didn’t have to chastise him. I didn’t have to really do all that much except tell him that I wasn’t happy–and he was immediately upset.
Now, I’m not certain that he will change his behavior the next time. He may. He may not. I don’t want to set my expectations all that high.
The point is though, that children–even two-year old self-absorbed ones–want their parents to be happy. My child wants that so much–that when I tell him I’m not–he cries.
It is impossible to be happy all time. Sometimes life gets in the way of happiness. Sometimes we just have a bad day, or week, or month, or year.
But here’s the thing–I don’t think that happiness is a place. It is more of a state of mind. In order to get to that state of mind, I often employ a variety of techniques.
Here are my tried and true methods of finding a little place of happiness (in no particular order):
(1) A gratitude journal. Sit down on a regular basis and write down three things that you are grateful for. When I focus on the things I have to be grateful for, I become less focused on the things that I am unhappy about. I employ this with Massimo every night–I ask him what he is grateful for.
(2) Exercise. It increases my endorphins and my sense of well-being. It also helps quiet my mind. I find yoga particularly helpful–an hour and half in a hot room will make me forget all of my troubles. But any form of exercise will do. Just find your flow.
(3) Pray. I’m not the most religious person or “best” the Christian you will ever meet. Of that much, I’m certain. I’m also certain of God’s grace. I see it everyday in my son and I experience it in nature.
(4) Meditation. According to a Zen proverb, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Meditation is amazing. It gives me time to just sit still–time to release all of the negatives and just focus on the moment. It may not work for you, if it doesn’t–just try siting still for five minutes–without interruption.
(5) Journaling. I find if I write down what’s on my mind, it is easier for me to let it go. If I can let it go, it no longer consumes me.
(6) Nature. Being outside in nature has a calming effect. It can be anywhere–somewhere fancy on an exotic trip. Or at the local park. Being outside in nature makes me realize that I’m part of a bigger universe–that any problems that I face are just hiccups along the way.
(7) Reaching out to someone for help. This can be a therapist or a friend. It is just helpful to have someone else to talk about my worries with. This is why social networks (not necessarily online social networks) are very important to single parents.
(8) Cry. If all else fails, I go for a drive and cry. I cry big crocodile tears. Or if I am feeling saucy I wait until Massimo is in bed, have a glass of wine and cry those same big crocodile tears. Either way, when I’m done feeling sorry for myself, I pull up my big girl pants and move forward because I’ve got things to do.
I think it is even more critical to recognize that children are not the person to talk about your worries with. Children rely on their parents to take care of them and their parents’ emotional well-being is important to them. They do not need to know their parents’ problems or be their parents’ therapist. They are children–and if there is one time that life should be all about rainbows and butterflies–it is childhood.
Of course, basics are important. Sustenance. A home. Heat. Food. But once those basics are met, a parent’s own well-being seems to be the next most important thing. If the parent’s emotional needs are met, they are better able to meet the needs–both emotional and physical– of their children.
If you have other methods, please share! If you found this post helpful or inspiring, please like, comment and share.