I woke up this morning reminding myself of what to do when exhausted: one son woke me up the first time because he had to pee, the second time with scary dreams and then the other son woke me up at 5:45am because, “my eyes feel funny.” The routine is first to say this mantra until I believe it, “I will not start this day angry.” The next step is to think of one thing I am incredibly grateful for.
Adopting this morning routine became necessary when I realized with the birth of my first child, and even more so with my second, that I was wallowing in self-pity of the things I couldn’t do anymore — and I was blaming my sweet boys for missing those things. I often would start the day with, “I didn’t sign up for this,” after getting up every two hours to feed one and sooth the other. Then I would lay in bed, crying, wishing desperately to just sleep through the night and get out of bed when I’m good and ready, and not when my oldest did at 5am (for a whole year.)
I put my psychotherapist hat on to help myself shift out of this sadness. I realized that thinking of all the things I missed wasn’t helping me. I also remembered that journaling and chatting with others in the same boat was very helpful.
I decided to gather a group of women with young children to have a “letting go” night. I asked everyone to come with a list of all the things that were missed from life before children. Many of the women came with a crayon on construction paper list, already weepy just looking at the words written.
We went around the room reading our lists, which including things like: long, slow mornings with husbands, eating dinner without being interrupted — or going out for dinner, watching movies, enjoying our career or creative pursuits, and having time to do whatever we wanted. Everyone had written, “Enough sleep.”
After we read our list and just sat together in that moment, I asked this question, “What do we need to do in order to let go of these things?” As the women looked at me through tears (I was teary too), I quietly asked because I also wanted to know, “How can we let these go and be okay with the way things are now?”
We started talking about the moments that make parenting amazing like when a baby falls asleep in our arms, feeling his heartbeat and gentle breath. Moments like when your child looks at you and smiles for the first time or says, “I wuv you.”
For me, I remember the days when my two miscarriages occurred. Each time collapsing with grief, as I understood what was happening and that nothing could be done to stop it. In my darkest parenting moments, at my most exhausted, and sleep-deprived state, I remember those two experiences and say to myself, “I am so thankful to have this child keeping me awake right now.”
We all decided to actively stop thinking about the things on the list (I explain a technique I call thought awareness & correction in this post to help with that), and actually ended up ripping our lists up into the tiniest pieces, throwing them enthusiastically around the room. That felt amazing!
It turns out that research supports what we did that night. If you would like to try our letting go process, I suggest following these 5 steps*:
1) Think about what you miss the most and write that down in any way you like. Perhaps use a particular colour or paper that has special meaning to you.
2) Read the list out loud. I know parents who have read their list to their partner or just out loud to themselves.
3) Burn this list (in a safe place) or shred it up into tiny pieces. Watch the fire disintegrate the words or watch the pieces of paper float down after you throw them in the air.
4) Decide to focus on what you CAN do and stop focusing on what you CANNOT do anymore.
5) Each time you feel anger towards your child, remind yourself of what you are grateful for. Actually, gratitude journals are very powerful to improve happiness so thinking of three things you are thankful for each night before falling asleep is a great practice.
*These recommendations are used at your own discretion and do not replace professional help. If you are struggling and need a hand, please seek a trusted counselor or psychotherapist in your area.
If you want some more parenting tips like these, I post free resources/help on my Facebook page.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons fay.lin