Cheryl and I perfected the art of “leaning in” long before Sheryl Sanberg coined the phrase. With newborns on our laps, we would lean in real close and pick the brain of any experienced parent we could find, in order to get pointers and advice on how to raise these crying little creatures. Our friend, Mandy, was, and continues to be, a favorite lean-to source for parenting tips and wisdom. (Yes, the same Mandy behind our yummy meatball recipe and the same Mandy whom we will probably refer to 100 times over in this blog.) She was the first in our group of friends to have a baby. But more importantly, she is from Oklahoma… and people from Oklahoma just seem to radiate this rock solid, old-soul kind of vibe. It’s like they have compost running through their veins and wide-open plains occupying their uncluttered minds.
One afternoon while I was soaking up some of Mandy’s earthy wisdom, she began telling me stories about her Grandma Pat who raised five boys and one girl in a small Oklahoma town. “I was visiting with Grandma Pat one day,” Mandy shared, “And I said to her, ‘Grandma… you had six babies by the age of 30. I only have one and my head is spinning! How in the world did you manage?!’”
At this point in the conversation, I leaned in so far, I almost fell over into Mandy’s lap. I just knew that I was about to be on the receiving end of some amazing Oklahoma-bred parenting wisdom. If there had been a legal pad in my diaper bag, I probably would have whipped it out and started jotting down notes. But instead I just leaned forward and listened intently.
Mandy continued with her story, “My grandma replied, ‘Mandy…all these years folks have given me a hard time about my smoking…but I can tell you this…people sometimes lose it with their kids…but I never harmed a one of them.’”
Grandma Pat smoked.
Mandy went on to explain that books were also a great escape for her grandma, and that she could still picture her sitting at the kitchen bar, sipping iced tea, absorbed in a great novel. But at this point in the conversation, I was stuck on the cigarette thing. And for the next five minutes, I strongly considered taking up smoking.
After coming to my senses, I realized that it wasn’t the cigarettes that saved Mandy’s grandma from parenting overload. (In fact, Mandy explained to me that smoking seriously harmed her grandma’s health in the end.) It was Grandma Pat’s ability to take breaks and breathers that helped her to raise those six kids. And she encouraged Mandy to do the same.
Breathers are essential for new and experienced parents alike. Grandma Pat got that one right. Regardless of how much you adore your little one, and regardless of how old that little one is, you will find the need for sanity breaks. These breathers look different for every one. One of my friends said that she would grab a magazine, announce that she needed to use the restroom, and maybe take a little more time than needed. Another friend would uncharacteristically volunteer to fill the car up with gas or walk the dog, anything to get out for a few minutes. When my own kids were ready to run errands with dad, my favorite breather involved sending my family out for a short adventure. I was left with a quiet house in which I could wash dishes and clear clutter in complete peace. Ahhh… heaven.
As your kids migrate through the toddler, preschooler and elementary stages, you will find that the need for breathers does not go away. And at times, you may find that it is impossible to get away. Here are some ideas for finding peace in those crazy-making moments:
- 5-5-5 Breathing: Inhale for five seconds, hold in your breath for five seconds, and then exhale for five seconds. Do this five times in a row. This exercise naturally slows your breathing, quiets your mind and calms the natural fight-or-flight reflex that accompanies stress. And you can do this anywhere, any time.
- Trip to Tahiti: A holistic pharmacist that we know, Beth Shirley (or The Best Shirley, as we affectionately call her) taught us this trick. Lay on your back with your calves up on the couch for 15 minutes. Listen to relaxing music or just breathe. Inverting your body and letting the blood rush to your head will have a relaxing effect and give you a boost to continue your day.
- Recorded Relaxation: Download a free 10 min guided relaxation or a brief yoga class. Even if you can’t sneak away to the gym or yoga studio, you can bring the mellowing benefits into your home, often for a very low price.
Find a breather that works for you, and don’t feel guilty about it. My friends and I are known to treat ourselves to a glass (or two) of wine and a long gab session. Other times we may briefly lose ourselves in a book and a cup of coffee. Whether you have six kids like Grandma Pat or one six-week-old baby, it is important to give yourself these tiny mental retreats. You can mark that down as Oklahoma parenting wisdom at its finest.
Here’s to sanity and compost,