I routinely tell parents who criticize themselves for not being a good enough parent, this: the biggest impediment to good parenting is fatigue. And you are exhausted. We berate ourselves for: not cooking good meals, not making sure our kids don’t watch too much tv, not limiting their time on social media, fill in the blank. But the real battle is that we fail to take care of ourselves. We just don’t sleep enough. And when we are tired, we can turn into monsters (I do).
When we aren’t well rested, our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual states suffer. For example, if you have been constantly frustrated from work or other situations and responsibilities, you are probably parenting from a place of frustration. If you are constantly thinking about financial problems, then fear, stress and worry spill into your parenting. And your kids not only see it, they feel it. One of the most important gifts we give our kids and ourselves is rest. Pure old-sit-down-and-read-a-good-book rest. Sit alone, take a nap, and let someone else take over for a bit.
Mothers receive encouragement from friends, books, and family to rest. But fathers are rarely told to rest. Perhaps this is because mothers are seen as multi-taskers and fathers aren’t. Mothers work outside the home, often do the lion’s share of the housework and childcare, kiss hurt elbows, pack lunches and cook most meals. The truth is, many fathers who work outside the home are working very hard too and they need encouragement to rest just like moms do!
Parenting from a place of rest means being at peace in your soul, no matter the “weather”. As a Christian, I believe that parenting from a place of peace and rest comes from my relationship with God. I know, above all things, that He is good and He is in control. He loves me more than I could ever imagine and He loves my family and my children more than I ever could. Now, I’ll be honest with you: that belief didn’t take root overnight. This has been years and years of intentional thought and time in God’s word. It’s work, and it will continue to be work throughout the course of my life – but it is the best work I could possibly be doing for the sake of my family.
I mentioned above that where you parent from has to do with your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical state. Over this month, I’m going to break down each category and give you practical steps towards parenting from a place of rest:
You’ve most likely heard the phrase, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” by Marcus Aurelius. Likewise, the verse in Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” But what exactly does this mean?
What we spend time thinking on, dwelling on – even praying and meditating on, is what we become. If we are so absorbed by our immediate struggles, be it financial, relational, health or otherwise, it can be extremely hard to find peace and rest in our minds at the end of the day. Your mind is spinning, you feel anxious and you don’t feel like you can “switch off your brain”. This is an exhausting reality to live in. You could get a great night’s sleep, but still wake up tired because your brain has been focusing only on the negative. How do you change this?
1. Replace a negative with a positive
Start paying attention to when your brain wanders down a destructive or unhelpful path. Are you snowballing a circumstance in your mind? Tell it to stop. Acknowledge that you have a fear or worry but tell yourself that a bad situation does not dictate your entire life. This is temporary. YOU are not a victim of your mind. You have control over your thoughts. It just takes intentionality.
2. Use visual reminders
Sometimes, the brain needs to see it to believe it! Write down bible verses or quotes that change a negative into a positive – ones that offers hope and encouragement and get your brain to stop spiraling. Sometimes you have to interrupt your own thoughts and tell them to ship out!
Moms, you’re probably all too familiar with the reality of living in a heightened emotional state. Be it from staying at home and being the full-on parent 24/7 or from working and then coming home and doing so much for your family and around the house – you’re emotionally wrung-out. This can make you (us!) more on edge, more irritable, frustrated, depressed, anxious…you name it. There have been books upon books written about how to get out of emotional overwhelm as a mom.
Dads, you’re next. I’m going to generalize here and say that most Dads I know don’t consider themselves “emotional people”. Meaning of course, they don’t cry often. Did you know that crying is actually a symptom of much deeper emotions; pain, grief, joy, relief, anger, etc.,? Any of those emotions sound familiar? You’ve probably seen your child burst into tears over seemingly nothing – and then once you’ve spent some time sitting with them, hugging them and gently talking with them, you get to the root of the tears. Maybe they couldn’t express that they were hungry or they don’t know what the word “tired” means yet so they couldn’t tell you – thus those emotions, those frustrations, come out as tears.
As an adult you have those same emotions, but they are more complex. There are layers to your feelings of anger, to your struggle with depression or anxiety or your fear of not being able to provide for your family. Our emotions only deepen as we grow but we become much more skilled at hiding or ignoring them (generally to our detriment). When there is a deep, swirling storm raging inside you, your everyday interactions with your spouse, children, friends and colleagues cannot help but be affected! If you continue to tamp down these powerful emotions, you will end up exploding at those in your life! Maybe this happened to you recently and you felt overwhelmed with shame or regret. I’ve been there – every man, woman and child has been there. It can and will get better if you spend a little time addressing those emotions!
So, how do you bring your emotional state to a place of rest and peace? Here are a couple of simple exercises to try at home:
1. Take deep breaths
This one seems almost too simple, but it is easily one of the most effective methods of calming yourself down when intense emotions come to the surface. When we inhale deeply and breathe out slowly, we engage the diaphragm and also engage the parasympathetic nervous system to calm us down. Breathing in for 7-8 seconds, holding for 7-8 seconds and breathing out for 7-8 seconds will help bring your system back into rhythm and help clear your mind. Note how this exercise isn’t about suppressing/shoving down your emotions! If anything, this exercise helps you feel your emotions fully (which is clinically proven to be more healthy for your mental health) in a safe way.
Awesome Parent Tip:
Have you ever tried this with your kids? It takes practice, but this is an incredibly helpful skill that they can carry with them as they grow and deal with new things. If they learn to do this with you while growing up, it will become second nature. You can start at toddler age when those meltdowns are intense!
2. Take a break
Now I realize this may not be an option at all times, but I want to use it as a suggestion when dealing with your spouse or kids especially. Sometimes, emotions take hold and you find yourself yelling or saying things you really didn’t want to say. That’s life sometimes and it’s unpleasant, yes – but it doesn’t have to be a pattern in your marriage or parenting! When we start to pay closer attention to our emotions rising up inside of us, we are better equipped to tell ourselves to “pause” and, in some cases, leave the room. It is ALWAYS better to leave the room during a heated argument or tension-filled situation if you are finding it hard to control yourself. Simply walk out of the room, go into another room with a door, if possible, and practice some deep breathing, or bend at the waist and try to reach your toes (inverting the body has a restorative effect on the autonomic nervous system…which controls the body’s response to stress.) You may also find it easier to accept your emotions away from others. DON’T shove them down – acknowledge the emotions you’re experiencing and allow yourself to feel them.FYI Dads: This practice was taught to Green Berets, police officers and other men in high-stress careers and the results were incredible.
Awesome Parent Tip:
This concept can be introduced to your kids as they are a little bit older. It’s very hard for a toddler to remember to do something like touching their toes when they are feeling those big emotions! Instead, work with your 5/6/7-year-old on “stepping out of the room” if they feel like they are going to yell or scream or maybe hit. You can also provide a dedicated “calm down” space in the house for them when they are having a hard time. You can have a little corner full of pillows, some coloring books or stuffed animals – things that they enjoy that can help them calm down away from others.
Over the next two weeks I want you, Mom and Dad, to implement one of the exercises from Mental State and one from Emotional State. I’m challenging you to get a little uncomfortable and try something new. And Dads, if you think this is “sissy-stuff”, I want you to know that men all the way up to the NFL are learning these techniques to better regulate their emotions and show up in a positive way for their families.
I encourage you to really give these exercises a chance. My guess is that most of you reading this grew up with a “chin up” or “shake it off” approach when it came to addressing your emotional or mental health. It really wasn’t talked about as much as it is now. If you’re still having a hard time coming to grips with these concepts, know that this is an active and important part of society that your child is experiencing right now. This is the perfect time for you to learn so you not only parent from a place of understanding these practices, but you know how to model them for your kids. In my book The 10 Habits of a Happy Mother, I go into these concepts more deeply. If you are a dad, check out my book HERO. You’ll see yourself in a whole new light which will make you realize what your kids really want from you. And when you see this, you will experience huge relief. You can find links to purchase here.
In Part Two of this blog, we will go over how to help bring your physical and spiritual state to a place of rest. Parents, I’m so excited to help you become a pillar of strength and a model for your children from a place of rest and peace!