First of all, you have to ask yourself ‘What can I do in order to take better care of myself so as to have more energy for me and for my family?’
Check in with yourself. How am I feeling today? Where am I feeling stressed out and from where might this be coming from? What can I do in order to help myself to relax further? Deep breaths, a short or long walk, yoga, eċċ – these are all just a few ideas which may help to give us more energy, so that we are more capable of recognising our emotions, as well as controlling how to also express them better.
Practise more ‘mindfulness’. This concept is becoming more and more popular; it focuses on our senses, and helps us to live more ‘in the moment’.
Try to make sleep a priority. For some reason or another, as parents we can easily end up sleeping less. It might be due to our children, but how many times do we end up staring at our mobile or television? The more tired out that we are, the greater the possibility that we would have less patience for supporting our children throughout their various intense emotions.
Give priority to ‘self care’. Self-care can be carried out through simple and small things, such as, for example, reminding ourselves of the moment we are living in and taking deep breaths or finding the time to process the experiences we have undergone.
Try to recognise more the moments that bring you joy during your day and list them down. These might be simple things, such as a hot cup of tea, or a smile and ‘Good Morning’ from your neighbour. During our day positive things are sure to occur, but it could be that sometimes we do not give them much thought and let them pass away. That we declare our intention of focusing more upon them could also another means of giving us, as well as preserving, our necessary energy. It is also most beneficial that we make a more conscious effort to compliment ourselves, as well as other members of our family.
Find a creative means of expressing your emotions. This might be through painting, writing, etc. It does not matter which method you use but it is important that we find a method that works for us, so as to express them from within ourselves.
Practise using more neutral words, together with words that are more suitable to describe our emotions. For example, ‘I feel sad when … ’ It is also important that we are aware of our body language and our tone of voice.
Keep a record. Jot down the number of times that you tend to feel that strong sense of anger in order to attempt to understand better the underlying pattern and function. As an example, you might start to notice that every time that your children are irritable, you start to feel even more frustrated in a disproportionate manner. It could be interesting if you were to reflect on how you were perceived as a child when expressing similar emotion within your own family of origin. Was this form of emotion accepted? Or was this a type of emotion that was not permitted within the home? How did we wish that our parents had acted with us in such moments? What can we learn from these experiences? Being a parent involves a lot of reflection and work upon ourselves.
“Understanding ourselves is a never-ending task that requires a lot of patience, especially throughout the parenting journey“
Examine your expectations, both for yourself as a parent as well as for your children: Are these expectations realistic and based on your children’s development, or unrealistic? Although the intention might be a good one, one could create further stress by being too rigid. It is good that we feel enthusiastic towards different forms of work and experiences; at the same time, it is important that we understand that our energy reserve is limited, and when we overburden ourselves, we have less energy and patience for our children.
Become increasingly aware of the effect of ‘social media’ on your mental and emotional health. Nowadays we are immersed in a social media culture, where many people share generally positive aspects from their life, including parenting. How many times do we find ourselves, either consciously or less so, comparing how we are doing as parents with others? When we find ourselves going through difficult moments as a parent, it might help to remember that we are not alone, and that difficult moments are temporary. It is also sometimes beneficial to take a break from social media and instead be more present for your family.
Plan time for yourself. Talk with your partner or with your family and see together how you can plan to have a little bit of personal time, so as to be able to get to know, once again, that part of yourself that is not a parent. Managing to go out with friends, or also on our own and do things we enjoy in peace, can help towards giving us a bit more energy, as well as aiding us to be more present, in a positive manner, in our family life later on. We would also be providing our children with a clear-cut example on the importance of looking after ourselves, besides detaching ourselves from everyday life, in order to be able to take care of several aspects of our identity.
What can I do when I have exceeded my limit?
All of us, as parents, have those moments where we are wrong, and where we feel that we did not act in a good manner. We are all human in nature, and it is important that we practise being gentle, while understanding what is happening inside of us which is pushing us to act in this manner.
Is it fatigue? Is it sadness? Is it a confusion of identity? Is it a lack of support? Is it because of all of this or something else?
In order to grow and control ourselves, we need to reflect and think on what we have been through and what we are going through. If we continue to live our life without reflecting upon any of it, all of it would be for naught.
We should realise when we commit a mistake, stop our behaviour at that very moment and apologise to our children, as well as observe how we can act better as parents. Simply stating what a bad parent I am or that I should have known better is not going to help amend the current situation and our emotional state. This would rather have the opposite effect, since this would probably amplify our stress and sadness.
It would be better to open up and confide with our partner, family or close friends for further support.
When we start to notice that we are feeling sad or angry more often, despite trying our utmost to look after ourselves, it becomes increasingly important to seek the assistance of a therapist.
Searching for a therapeutic space to help us process and reflect can be of immense value. We should never feel reluctant to ask for help, since everyone needs one another in some way or another. Therapy can assist you to understand yourself better, and it might even bring to your attention different perspectives that you would never have considered before.
This intense anger could also be a symptom of the grief and loss suffered over time. It is important that we work on ourselves by making more room for our needs, so as to be able to process what we are going through in a more complete manner.
Also, keep in mind that although sometimes we may feel angry, this does not mean that we do not love our children. Rather, this gives us the opportunity to teach our children how to better understand and express their emotions. Understanding ourselves is a never-ending task that requires a lot of patience, especially throughout the parenting journey.
Charlene Aquilina is a clinical psychologist and family therapist. This article is being published in collaboration with Positive Parenting Malta.