Parenting with young kids – How to stay healthy (and sane!)
By John Fell
When kids come into our life, our own needs are often bumped to the bottom of the priority list. On top of the normal work and life pressures, now a whole range of new challenges arise to derail our nutrition and fitness routines. Those little bundles of joy and bodily fluids deserve and demand our full attention as we love them and guide them through the first few stages of life.
It’s so easy to get caught in the loop (vicious cycle) of giving more to them and less to ourselves that weeks, months and years can go by before we recognise and acknowledge the physical, mental and emotional toll on our own personal health and vitality.
“When you find yourself on a vicious cycle, for goodness sakes, stop peddling!” — Swami Beyondananda
Logically we understand that to be the best parents we need to be healthy, consistent and present with our children, but the fog of no sleep and 24/7 demands can sometimes make it feel like just getting through the day is the ultimate achievement!
Chunking the day down into ‘sections’ can be a great way to regain control and start to write your own script again. With that in mind, lets look at the different parts of a parents’ day and outline some ideas on how to maximise our effectiveness.
We wake up naturally and stretch out, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated as sunlight spills in through the large bay window overlooking the ocean, the sound of waves lapping gently on sand below, the smell of coffee wafting in from the kitchen… No, you are not awake yet. That is called a dream. More likely, there is a loud cry coming from your child’s bedroom, or the alarm has gone off hours before you would have naturally woken, or if your kids are little older, a small knee has just landed on your groin. Welcome to today!
Retired Navy Seal and Former Admiral William McRaven offers life advice suggesting that, “if we win the morning, then we will win the day”. Sometimes a morning with the kids can feel like a bit of a battleground. Ruth and I aim for routines the night before to help ensure the day starts off well. Preparing school lunches, packing bags, laying out clothes, getting kids to bed on time can all have an impact on the next morning.
Irena is an experienced RISE yoga teacher with a three and half year old girl and a six month old boy. Here’s an example of one of Irena’s morning rituals (when it all goes according to plan!)
‘I’ve never been much of a morning person before having kids, but hey, things change so here I am now! The early mornings while everyone is still asleep are the only time in the day when the house is quiet and I feel like I can do something for myself instead of doing chores. It basically has become my sanity-saving ritual for the day. I usually have an alarm set for just before 6am and while kids are still asleep, I sit on the balcony and have a short meditation. My daughter knows what I’m doing so if she gets up in the meantime, she sometimes comes and quietly sit next to me for a while (which pretty much never happens otherwise during the day). Maybe she meditates on her own in some way during that time, who knows. From there on, the day craziness starts with looking after kids and jiggling household duties, etc.’
If time (or more to the point, kids!) permit, Irena then follows her meditation with a short physical practice. In her case, yoga to energise, stretch and strengthen her body. This could also be a brief bodyweight HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) routine deigned for your unique needs by your RISE Coach, which can be done in your lounge room with no equipment necessary. 10-15min is enough to get the benefit so your whole routine, including your meditation could take less then half an hour.
Then, no matter what else happens in the day, you are on the front foot. Even if it goes completely pair shaped, you have already strengthened your body, and built that feeling of achievement and empowerment that will make you a better parent.
If the kids wake up full of beans, rather than just plonking them in front of the TV, putting on their favourite music gets them dancing up a storm and burning up some of that excess energy and lets you get on with organising your morning.
Whether you have a new born, toddler or school age child, are working or managing the household and family (or in many cases, all of the above!) you most likely have more things to do today, than you have hours to do them. The constant pressure is relentless.
Melanie is a mother of two gorgeous boys – four and a half years and four months. She is also the co founder and director of a very successful company with 30 employees servicing international clients. She juggles time spent at the office, with motherhood and family duties – all while both sets of grandparents live overseas. One of her strategies, is incorporating the assistance of professionals to help find a maintainable, healthy balance.
She gets cleaners to come in once a fortnight at home and enlists the help of a nanny five days a week. She uses some of the time gained from his help to build her energy and maintain a positive mindset. A little morning power nap followed by a RISE Health and Fitness Coaching session (2 sessions per week plus her specifically designed home programs whenever possible). She also books in a massage once a month.
Karen, who is a RISE yoga and Pilates teacher and mother of 2 year old boy, finds that running on her own is the most flexible and effective way of feeling great and staying fit. With a passion for acrobatics and all things movement, you may find her dancing around the kitchen, living room, or outdoor park (all the while increasing her Fitbit steps) while her son plays with his toys or in the playground.
Both Melanie and Karen (and YOU, can) tap into the fact that every single workout has an immediate and positive effect on our mood and ability to shift focus and attention. When we workout, our body releases feel good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. This is why we feel clearer and more energised after a workout, even if we were exhausted and lethargic to begin with.
Try not to let your current feelings and energy levels decide whether you should exercise or not. If you do, chances are, you won’t do anything. Plan to get a daily minimum of three, 10 minute chunks of movement that will improve your circulation. Make them non negotiable. If you are extremely sleep deprived then it can be as simple as walking, deep breathing, stretching, restorative yoga. Any movement or posture that promotes the circulation of your blood and deepens your breath will give you benefit.
Sometimes referred to as “The Witching Hour(s)”, the post school, dinner, bedtime routine can be harrowing. Depending on what else has happened that day, you may be already at your wit’s end at a time when the kids are at their tiredest and most unruly. Some days it might be all you can do to just get the kids fed and in bed at a reasonable hour.
I think the evenings, more than any other time of day are driven by routine and habit. They are the ones who will decide your fate – mainly because your trusty ol’ pal Will Power has usually clocked off for the day.
Ruth drives this area of our life very effectively by planning ahead and always having fresh or frozen fruit and veg in the fridge or freezer. She stocks up on staples like vegetable stock, canned fish, beans and legumes and keeps quinoa and brown rice in the pantry. That way there is usually something ready to go for an easy, healthy dinner if there has been no time to shop. The boys often want to “help” with the cooking. Frozen treats are easy to make. Simply blend up bananas, blueberries and coconut water. This makes healthy desserts which can be a nice bribe to finish dinner. On the weekends, Ruth cooks homemade muffins with the boys which are pretty wholesome and healthy. She warns this is fun, but VERY messy!
In terms of stocking up, Karen finds that getting a box of fruit and veg delivered on the weekends, big enough to last most of the week is a huge help. Once dinner is done, she goes to bed at the same time as her son to give herself the best chance of waking up fresh.
Melanie finds that planning dinners in advance and cooking them during the day, means that she can pick up her son from pre school and then come back and eat straight away, then bath time, bed times stories or talks and sleep. ‘Mostly I have left overs from dinner so they serve well for lunch for my son the next day or sometimes I order a lunch for him,’ says Melanie.
Irena also likes to get her daughter involved in planning and preparing healthy dinners. ‘She can choose to play either being the chef or the helper. If she has helped to make the meal, she’s also more likely to eat it even if it’s not something she necessarily loves,’ Irena says.
Having a regular bedtime for the kids is a must. Of course, they’ll be nights when you can’t stick to it, but prioritising a consistent sleep/wake cycle will help the whole family flow in a more harmonious way.
The length and quality of our sleep depends on so many factors. In my experience if the eight planets of our solar system are in absolute alignment, a tawny owl hoots three times at midnight on the crescent moon, the kids have had no disruptions or problems throughout their day and you’ve ticked off everything on your “To Do” list, then you get the perfect night’s sleep. Otherwise, buckle up and get ready.
As one of our favourite comedians Michael McIntyre says – ‘Pre kids, my wife and I used to say Good Night to each other, now we say Good Luck.’
Obviously the age of our children determines the types of challenges we face.
In relation to her four month old, Melanie says, ‘Us mums are sort of awake all the time, or on stand by for our babies. To share the night care is a must for me. For example, I will sleep for six hours straight while my husband cares for our new born and then we swap. We can alternate this each night or whenever needed. I truely believe the more exercise I do, the better I sleep when I do get sleep.‘
WHAT CAN WE DO WHEN IT ALL FEELS LIKE TOO MUCH?
Here’s an insight from Irena;
‘Since having kids, there were definitely times when I’ve felt exhausted, emotionally worn out, impatient and irritable. With time however, I started consciously trying to stress less and less about things by putting the yogic principle of wisdom (brahmacharia) to work. Since having kids I learnt that some things are outside of my control (like a baby that refuses a nap or a toddler that screams for an hour because their favourite t-shirt is still in the washer!), so no point trying to analyse or fix them. Instead I started to cheer myself up more often about the little things or when things actually go as planned – “a successful trip to the supermarket, meaning, no tantrums or crying, yay, well done!”, “two kids in bed by 7:30pm, look at that!” – you get the idea. Not letting things outside of your control upset me and taking it one at the time is the only way I found to not feel overwhelmed.’
HOW CAN I TAKE SOME ME TIME AND NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT?
‘Being a mum helps you learn about yourself. I have discovered I actually only need a relatively small amount of me time. In fact I’ve discovered that anytime I do actually leave I miss my son terribly, and want to home with him way before he starts missing me!’
‘Relax and roll with whatever works for you and your child! Every child is different and yours will surprise and delight you with all the ways they don’t fit into the textbook version of what kids are. Be creative and innovative and do what makes you happy, it’s gonna be different to how everyone else parents too! And that OK! Have confidence in your own solutions.’
‘Being a zombie-like and stressed out mum is not what your kids want and need. They need someone who has the energy and the passion to spend time with them and let them thrive. Having such energy, strength and dedication however only happens when you look after yourself both physically and mentally.’
‘One way to balance looking after children with looking after yourself without feeling guilty is to remind yourself that you are not only a mum, but also a partner, maybe a colleague, a friend, a family member etc.’
‘I also occasionally like to remind myself about the many benefits for my kids of me having a solo-time, to name a few:
- showing them that joy and fun are important parts of life
- them having a happier and more relaxed mum to start with!
- dad or grandparents bonding with the kids while I’m not around
- kids learning important social skills while in daycare’
Irena Nikolova teaches slow flow yoga on in the RISE Studio on Fridays at 7am.
Karen Anne Wong teaches vinyasa flow yoga in the RISE Studio on Sundays at 9am.