Friday, March 18, 2016

The sustainability of selfless parents

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 Family issue of Aquila Style magazine.

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Why taking care of yourself is the first step to providing good care for your children.

Image: Fotolia

As children, my friends and I would compare our parents to one another. At five years old, I pleaded with my mother to wear skirts like the other mothers of my kindergarten classmates. When I was 14, I car-pooled to school with a neighbour and remember being amazed to learn that her mother – who worked full-time – went for massages regularly.

In comparison, my own mother was a full-time stay-at-home-mum, and we always employed a domestic worker as well. I never remembered her going to a spa or anything similar, even though I’m sure she was pretty stressed out running the logistics of a household, raising three children (one with special needs), and managing a live-in employee virtually by herself (my dad is the hands-off kind of father typical of his generation). I thought she was selfless, always putting others before herself, as mothers should ideally be.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I thought that way about motherhood, other than it was probably because society had normalised it. As a new mother myself, I understand that this model of selfless motherhood was not only unsustainable and unhealthy for me; it was also apt to drive me nuts. So, with the birth of our son six months ago as a turning point for our own household, my husband and I reconfigured our duties and came up with strategies to keep ourselves physically and mentally recharged.

Delegate and take turns

My husband and I consider ourselves co-parents, with our duties pretty evenly divided. While we both work, I have the fortune of working from home. Being able to care for your child while also pursuing your own interests is priceless to me.

There are certain chores that are exclusively mine: breastfeeding is one of them. My husband takes out the garbage and recycling. For all other chores, we take turns.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays I am the “primary parent”, taking responsibility for diaper changes and entertaining the baby when he needs attention. My husband takes this role on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. On Fridays – what I consider my “day off” – I get to work undisturbed when my mother-in-law comes to babysit.

Pay someone

Exclusive breastfeeding takes energy. I often joke to my husband that I’ve already prepared 6–8 meals every day. In return, he’s in charge of preparing breakfasts and dinners every day. Both of us work full-time, so we find it affordable to get a cleaner to come every two weeks to do the heavier household work like vacuuming, wiping down surfaces, folding clothes and mopping the floor. It depends on what you consider the more difficult chores – laundry and cooking are easy for us.

My son is also reaching an age when he’s starting to recognise who his primary carers are, so he won’t be okay with an unfamiliar face. I’m lucky that our babysitter is an elderly Indonesian woman – my son probably finds our faces rather similar!

Reconceptualise “we” time

While I love spending time with my son, I think it’s also important to spend time with only my husband. Admittedly, “date nights” don’t happen much because, so far, going everywhere as a family unit is just easier for all of us.

I lucked out with my son being such a good sleeper and having a calm disposition. My husband and I still manage to do many things we used to do as a couple, like watching movies and going to the park. But it’s important to have some time to myself, too.

Find “me” time

While I get several opportunities a week to be by myself for a few hours, I don’t always take all the time off because of the hassle of pumping and storing breast milk for when I’m away. At this point in time, I feel that two hours of exercise a week is the right amount of time for me to recharge physically. I go to Pilates twice a week and a chiropractic adjustment once every few weeks. On some Fridays, I indulge in my biggest treat: spending an hour or two at a neighbourhood cafe with a book and a cup of tea.

Surprisingly, what I relish most about being by myself is that I can cycle to my destination. Even while I was pregnant it was my main mode of transport. (My son can’t join me yet; I still have to wait a few months before he can sit up properly in a bicycle child seat.)

Since becoming a mother I’ve had to let go of my adolescent notions of what it means to be a good parent. Not eating properly, not exercising and feeling stressed can negatively affect my ability to feed, play with and pay attention to my son, all of which ultimately affect our relationship.

I’ve also learned that it’s important to listen to yourself and your child, in order to figure out what works for you both. The individual needs of families vary tremendously, and it won’t be long before it is my son who is comparing me with his friends’ mums.

Image: Fotolia

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