Following on from Part 1 here’s what I’ve learned:
Your children, your parenting rules: Just because you have carers helping you does not mean you aren’t the parent. I know many carers like to do things their way – be firm. Carers are there to help us and are supposed to be respectful of the way we want things done. If you are using an agency then speak to the agency and explain any difficulties you are having. If you directly employ your carer then have a coffee and chat about what you want. You may need help but you are still the parent.
This gets trickier when you have relatives helping you because, depending on your relationship, sometimes they want to do things their way. You need to consider whether the point of contention is worth losing the help or if compromising on the issue would mean compromising on your beliefs. Compromise can be really good and it could actually get the person to start thinking about things from your perspective. Take your time when figuring out the best way to communicate your concerns.
Don’t beat yourself up: We are always thinking about our shortcomings because they are just so apparent; there are so many things we can’t do. If a friend was in our situation somehow we would be so much more understanding and forgiving. We would want our friend to ask for help when they need it, we would want to provide help when we could and we would reassure them that they can do this. Why do we use a harsher lens when we are judging ourselves? Why do we do that? Why do we hold ourselves up to a higher standard than we would expect of others?
So we can’t do things the same way as others; we do the best we can. That is all we can ask of anyone – including ourselves.
Ask for help: There is no shame in needing help. Asking for help means we have recognised our limits and are able to outsource to get the needs met. It’s isn’t always a pretty process (my experience with social services when I asked for help was horrific) but if we need the assistance then it is worth the stress. If I had not fought for support then B would have had to stop working to care for us and our lives would have taken a completely different path.
Do your research and know your rights because social services will not want to help you and you will be sent from Adult Services to Children’s Services and back again like a tennis ball. The Disabled Parents’ Network has some very good, easy to understand documents on our rights as disabled parents.
I know how hard it is to admit to yourself, let alone anyone else, that you need help. Asking for help is not the same as admitting defeat; it shows that you fully understand your reality and your responsibilities.
Trust your friends: Our friends love us and, unlike family, they have chosen to be our friends. Family comes under this heading too but only if you want them here. I completely understand not wanting to impose on others but there is no shame in calling a friend and saying that you need a break or some help.
Trust your children: Children are smart – seriously smart. They’re born that way. Whether they are babies or older they understand more than people give them credit for. Explain things, talk to them about problems and solutions. Think of them as a sounding board and talk through the struggles.
As they grow and learn you may be surprised with the solutions they suggest. There have been so many times when I’ve been worrying about something that I thought was really important to The Kids when in fact it was not at all a big deal to them or they had a simple solution. Seek their advice. Collaborate.
Say ‘yes’ whenever you can: This may surprise you [given all the traditional advice floating around ‘show them who’s boss’ and ‘don’t let the kids rule the roost’ etc] but it really changed things when I sat down and really thought about why I was saying no to things. When children know that we will say yes if we can they trust that if we are saying no we have a good reason. So many people have an automatic ‘No’ response but when you start really listening you begin to see the value in saying ‘Yes’.
Think about why you’re saying no before you say it. Is it a good reason? Could you say yes? What’s stopping you?
The Kids know that I say yes when I can, which means they also know that if I give a negative response I have a good reason. This trust and understanding removes so many tantrums.
Be emotionally honest with your children: Don’t patronise your children – talk with them, listen to them and show how you feel. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. There is no shame in either. They are going to know when you are sad whether you want them to or not – let them be there for you as you’re there for them. Show them that it’s perfectly okay to be sad and have a good cry. It actually helps!
Get creative- focus on solutions not problems: Cooking for an extra couple of people isn’t difficult if you have the groceries. Arrange with a friend that you will contribute towards groceries if they cook for you, or plan your meals and ask someone to come for a few hours to bulk cook for the week.
Don’t use your energy/time going to the supermarket – use the home delivery option and get the delivery person to bring the groceries to your kitchen. It still takes time to do the shopping online and you will need to be home for the delivery but overall it is much easier. Plan the meals you want then make your shopping list based on the food you’re actually going to cook. You’ll find that you are much less tempted by all the special offers in the supermarket when you’re working with a list on an app.
Change your perspective – you don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done. Do things the way they suit YOU. It’s easier for the kids to sleep with you? Great – enjoy the snuggles! There is no need to worry about how everyone else does something – as long as you’re not breaking any laws do your thing!
Trust yourself: There is no-one in the world who knows your babies like you so trust your instincts. We are designed to raise babies and to recognise when something is wrong. We also know when something is right.
If you quiet the self-doubt and learn to listen to that primal instinct that’s inside us all you will find your flow.
Breathe: It sounds so simple but it really is effective. Before you respond in anger stop and take a few deep breaths. Consider your response before it shoots out of you.
Be kind to yourself: Sounds like a no-brainer, except I know that most of us actually really struggle with this one. I spent so much energy blaming myself for my shortcomings: If only I was not sick…If only I could make breakfast like before…If only I could take them to the park…
Accepting the reality doesn’t mean wallowing in self-pity – it means the opposite. It means recognising that we are doing our best. That is all we can ask of anyone – including ourselves. Isn’t that what we tell our kids?
It doesn’t matter how many words we use or how many ways we tell our children they should be proud of themselves because unless we treat ourselves the same way our words fall on deaf ears: when we fail to forgive ourselves they are learning not to forgive themselves.
Show them what they are worth by showing them what you are worth.
This parenting journey is tough. It challenges us to look at ourselves in ways we likely would prefer to avoid. Along the way there have been tears and tantrums – many from me! – and no doubt there will be more. There have also been amazingly wonderful smiles, laughter, joy and love.
We all have a support system, some bigger than others, and it is there to be used.
Give someone the gift of being able to help you; accept the help graciously as you would a present.