You already know that parenting can be exhausting, and while it is highly rewarding in the long run, it does not provide nearly as many short-term rewards[i]. In fact, a recent Pew Research report indicated that parents say their time caring for their children is much more exhausting than their paid work! On the positive side, when comparing childcare and paid work, parents were twice as likely to report that their childcare experiences were very meaningful to them. Mothers are especially likely to wear themselves out with parenting; in the report, mothers were more likely than fathers to say they were exhausted from spending time with children, housework, paid work, and even from leisure activities (one wonders if moms were counting their own leisure activities and not their chauffeur role in transporting kids from one leisure activity to the next)[ii].
This exhaustion takes on a new form as our daughters reach their tweens and early teen years. While it may not be as physically tiring as parenting a younger child, parenting during this transitional time can be far more demanding in terms of our mental and emotional endurance. As I discuss in my new book, Swimming Upstream, Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture, the first thing we need to recognize is that this is hard and we need to take care of ourselves. We can make choices to simplify our lives; we can prioritize our lives according to what truly matters. We can say no to the frenzy of activity, learning the rhythms that work best for our daughters and for our families. We need to be the center of stability and consistency in our homes, even while everything else is spinning around us. We can learn what we need to do to stay centered.
The second reason self-care is important is that we need to start to separate a bit; remember that you are still connected to her, but your daughter is becoming her own person as she grows into adolescence. For moms in particular, really assess how much of your identity is tied up with your daughter; when you step back and look at your own life, how much of how you see yourself is defined by being her parent? If you tend to over-identify with your daughter, her natural drive to pull away from you will be especially painful. She is not doing this to hurt you, she is doing this to create her own identity, but the pain can be searing. It is as if you are losing a piece of your soul as she becomes her own person apart from you[iii].
In response, we have to make sure that we start pouring time and investment back into our own lives, or we can feel needy and empty. Instead of focusing on losing a part of yourself, turn your energy towards creating your own fulfilling life that isn’t dependent on her moods or performance on any given day. We are now freed up to have our own interests that we can enjoy. Further, she will see us as people who have their own lives; it isn’t all about her anymore. Of course this does not mean to neglect our daughters. I think it is abundantly clear how much she needs us. What I mean is that as she pulls away, spending more time with her peers, we might experience obvious gaps in our lives. We can intentionally fill these gaps with self-care routines that make us more content and satisfied, and this in turn enables us to become more effective parents.
Third, self-care is critical because we need to be healthy models for our daughters. It is essential that girls learn coping and problem solving skills to handle life demands successfully. If our daughters don't see us implementing these same skills in our lives, it will be hard to convince them of their benefit. Instead, if she sees you as an adult with healthy coping skills that include restorative self-care activities, then she is more likely to develop these skills as well. After all, the staggering truth is that you are the greatest influence in her life. It is important that we model in our own lives what we hope that she will live out in her own journey.
So What is Self-Care?
Self-care is a popular term these days, but few of us really put it into practice. We might have non-work activities that take up a lot of our time, (Facebook, surfing the Internet for hours, etc.) but are they truly activities that restore our energy and keep us refreshed and renewed? It is important to try to find some activities that do not drain us further but rather replenish us, where we actually feel better when we have completed them rather than just feeling further behind on our to-do lists. These will look different for everyone, but here are a few ideas:
Lunch with a friend
A run or workout
Scented bubble bath
A long nap
A date night with your partner
Lessons to learn something new you have always wanted to explore
It is important to have a repertoire of self-care activities and to schedule them often. Put them on your calendar much as you would any other important event!
In conclusion, remember that we are called to be the stable foundation that our daughters can run to when they feels like their worlds are caving in. We are their source of sustenance and nurturance that they will return to again and again. To be this rock of stability, we need to take time to keep ourselves well cared-for and strong. As we know, no one will do this for us; we have to provide it for ourselves. We are worth the time for intentional self-care, and our daughters’ resilience depends in large part upon it.
See my book Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture for more details on parenting girls.
[i] Senior, J. (2014). All Joy and no fun: The paradox of modern parenthood. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
[ii] Wang, W, (2013). Parents’ time with kids more rewarding than paid work—and more exhausting. Pew Research. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/10/08/parents-time-with-kids-more-re...
[iii] Hemmen, L. (2012). Parenting a teen girl. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.