“Put on the mask first on yourself, and then on the child”. Every mother has probably heard this advice from psychologists. But what to do when there is no oxygen in this mask, and it is difficult to stock up with it? It is important for a parent to take care of himself, but how to survive in a situation when there is nowhere to take the resource from? Psychologist Vera Yakupova explains how she managed to avoid burnout during the quarantine and advises how parents can take care of themselves.
It happened so that during the quarantine, I was left alone with my three children: my eldest daughter was 4.5 years old, my son was 1.5 years old and my youngest daughter was 1.5 months. My husband was busy with completing the construction of our dacha, the kindergarten was closed, our nanny and my children’s grandmother could not come to us.
I found myself in a situation when strength was very necessary, but there was nowhere to take it from. This happens not only during an epidemic, but during the quarantine this problem has worsened. It took me all my professional knowledge and skills to find support and cope with this situation.
The quarantine is over, I am not crazy, the children are alive: this is the most important thing. During the time of isolation, I acutely felt that the well-being of my children depends on my own condition, my resources. I am something like a pilot who pilots an airplane. In order to be attentive, to do my job well, it is important for me to take care of myself and use my energy carefully, because the flight will be long.
When thinking about self-care, people often imagine a bubble bath, beauty salon or shopping.
But a manicure or a new dress is unlikely to bring a lot of joy and supply of energy enough for a long time. More powerful sources are needed here.
My favorite psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote that a person has three main groups of values that fill him: the values of relationships, the values of activities and the values of experience. He survived in a concentration camp, treated patients with depression and believed that we could rely on these values in search of resources and a sense of fulfillment of life.
I think this system works well for parenting too.
1. Find an island of productivity
Daily care of children and household chores are a Sisyphean labor without beginning or end. Cooked – ate, cleaned – it’s dirty again, and so on for days. But man is built in such a way that completeness is important to him.
Labor psychology suggests that people who work on the flow burn out faster. For example, these are recruiters who recruit employees for positions with high turnover, or doctors in a polyclinic. When there is no clear end and result, we feel bad and gradually lose the meaning of our tasks.
Okay, you say. A tangible result is great, but what about when an endless routine eats up all your strength? In parenting, it is really difficult to formalize the result, and not even very useful: if the child sat on the potty then you are a good parent, and if he did not then you are a bad one, is it really so?
Raising a child is more of a process, and it is very important to have an island of productivity: if you did something, you received something. It can be anything: a knitted sweater, basil grown on the balcony, a text translated for a volunteer project. The main thing is that this activity gives a feeling of completion and has a result.
In the midst of caring for children, there may be little time for other activities, and it seems that it is not worth starting. In this case, I imagine coloring by numbers: even if I paint over one piece every day or every other day, this is a movement forward, and in the end my painting will be ready.
2. Do what you love with your children.
In the cartoon “Monsters, Inc.” the main characters extracted energy for the life of the city from crying children, and in the end, after meeting a little girl, they realized that much more energy comes from the laughter of babies. I think this metaphor is very close to real parenting.
Taking care of children requires a lot of investment – physical, emotional, financial. Then the child grows up and goes into his own life. And since we signed up to work with such conditions, it makes sense to seek pleasure from interacting with children while they are growing up.
But raising a child is not always joy and fun, where can one get this pleasure from? It is important to look for activities that you both like, organize moments in which you are also interested. This can be reading, walking in the park, assembling a lego, or spontaneous photo session by a puddle.
If you don’t like something at all or it is annoying, but seems “useful”, then it is better to postpone it or pass on to another adult. For example, I do not like role-playing games at all, but I am happy to collect puzzles and make crafts with children.
The most valuable experience for a child is when a parent is interested and feels good with him, so I try to choose toys and activities with this scope.
3. Mute your inner critic
Try an experiment, it will take a little time. Close your eyes and remember everything that you didn’t succeed in during the day: you didn’t have time to do something, wrote something down incorrectly, forgot something, said something wrong. Record your thoughts and feelings about this.
Now try to remember everything that you managed to do today: prepared a delicious breakfast, restrained yourself and did not yell at the child, and drew up important documents.
Compare your thoughts and feelings in the first and second case. There is a difference, right? When we think “I’m not doing anything,” “I’m so stupid,” then we begin to feel angry at ourselves, disappointed and annoyed. And then a breakdown and even greater despair, a vicious circle is formed. When we say to ourselves, “I’m coping,” “I went through another day,” we can feel calm, joyful, or peaceful.
An emphasis on failures and mistakes does not add strength; rather, on the contrary, our hands begin to drop. A kind attitude to oneself, attention to success, even if it is small, gives strength to live and move on. As in an internal combustion engine, to drive, you need a small spark, and then the battery will be charged while driving. Sometimes taking care of yourself is turning off the microphone of your inner critic, which extinguishes that spark.
Modern parenting is very expensive, both financially and emotionally. To raise a child in a humanistic way, you need psychological stability and a large supply of strength. Sometimes the situation develops so that there is not enough help, the resource has to be collected literally bit by bit and carefully spent.
Children, due to their age, cannot take care of us and say: “Mom, it looks like you are very tired, go get some sleep, and I will play quietly,” although, perhaps, they would like to. Therefore, it is important for us to pay attention to our condition and regulate this process ourselves.
Perhaps today we will not fulfill the child’s request to go to the park, but we will save a kind mother for him.
Translated by Alyona Malafeeva