BALANCING: Parenting and Self-CareJul 28, 2018 ● By Carrie Jackson
Sarah Karnes is a Northbrook life coach who helps women going through midlife transitions reclaim their zest for life. She uses creativity, field psychology and self-reflection practices to help women deal with issues that come up in parenting, relationships, careers, menopause and self-esteem. One of the most difficult transitions for many women is making the shift from having children at home full-time to setting them off on their own. Karnes says that by engaging in healthy self-care, keeping parenting as simple as possible, learning when to let go and staying mindful, women can help ease that transition and come out even more resilient and empowered. She acts as a mentor, guide and enthusiastic supporter of women as they navigate these life changes.
Why is the empty nest syndrome so challenging?
When the children have left the home and are becoming more independent, parents wonder where to put their time and attention. They are anxious about what their legacy will be and how they can make more of a difference in their life. At a time when their life may feel messier than ever, this is when they struggle to accept, remember and appreciate their goodness. I encourage my clients to shift from a fixed mindset, in which they feel stuck in their present situation, to a growth mindset, where they are open to explore new possibilities.
Parents need to learn to take care of their selves and each other. Raising children consumes a great deal of our attention. Even if a couple has been consciously working on connection and presence with themselves and each other while raising children, the need to work (kindly!) on their relationship will become more evident as children leave. Having children in the home is like a buffer, and can easily distract us from emotional growth or speaking up about what’s really needed.
How can parents try to simplify?
In today’s society, one important thing is to limit screen time for parents and children. That includes phones, computers, tablets and social media in general. Encourage kids and show by your example to go outside, talk to their friends in person and cultivate other interests that are sensorially stimulating. I remind my clients that there is nothing to fix, nothing to prove, nothing to hide. Their role is to be present and vulnerable. Truly listening, instead of waiting to get a word in edgewise or trying to always give advice, is invaluable. A simple response like, “That sounds really difficult” or “How do you feel about that?” often acts as a prompt for children to share more, and also validates what they’re experiencing. It’s also important to teach children to contribute to their community, whether that’s locally or globally. They can volunteer at a pet shelter, help shovel a neighbor‘s walk or organize donations to a food pantry. There is intrinsic value in helping others around us, and it allows us to be more connected.
Why is self-care important in parenting?
Part of parenting is being a role model, and that includes exhibiting positive self-care. It’s important for parents to have hobbies, interests, friends and activities outside the home. When the parents’ own needs are met, they are more able to be emotionally available for their children and other things that demand their attention. I became a parent at a time when I was not so skillful at taking emotional care myself, so it felt scary. I was in survival mode! While parenting humbled me and broke my heart open in ways I could not imagine, it also forced me to cultivate courage and get in touch with my needs. The best thing we can do for our children is to set a good example with what feels true to us, not the cultural norms, and let go of what we think our lives should look like. We can cry when we need to, feel sadness and hurt, but also not let it control us. We need to give as much or more tender loving care to ourselves as we give to our children.
How can we reset when challenges occur?
Staying mindful and present is one of the most important ways to holistically connect our body, mind and spirit. Some version of a daily centering, breathing and or meditation practice helps to build resonance so one is more likely to respond than react when a challenge happens. I tell my clients to always start with pausing to take a deep breath, or several. I like the practice of counting backward slowly from 10. That moment is a simple, yet safe and nurturing place for them to rest and reset. It’s an opportunity for them to decide how to respond, rather than react, to what is happening around them. In the moment, it helps us to shift out of the flight-or-fight mode that can be so crippling.
On a larger scale, it creates energy to take a pulse of what they really want to create, feel and experience. Taking an empathetic approach and trying to see things from someone else’s perspective can also help us to connect on a deeper level. Looking at the world with a renewed sense of curiosity is eye-opening. The person in front of you is a fellow human being with their own story to share; you can learn and grow by engaging with them.
Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.