You breathe in. Expand your lungs. Fill your alveoli with air. Oxygenate the cells. Turn the cells a life-giving red. Life.
You breathe out. Deflate your lungs. Expel the air become toxic. Dispel the carbon dioxide. You sense the need to breathe again. Life.
Life necessitates both inhaling and exhaling. Exhaling and inhaling. But parents often do not inhale enough – pursue their own interests, take time alone or with friends, do something they enjoy. We tend to focus all of a 24-hour day on managing and responding to needs. It is the nature of our privilege. Breathing our life-giving oxygen out. Nurturing our babies and developing their character.
But exhaling with not enough inhaling makes us dizzy.
Blowing up a collection of balloons.
Surfacing from the deep end.
Sprinting at high altitude.
Parents have a lot of exhaling to do. Maintaining a fulfilling marriage, focusing on the children’s needs, the health of the family, interpersonal dynamics, the status of the pantry, hacking back the laundry pile, working full time while trying to sustain relationship with your children, providing three meals a day and two snacks, disciplining on the same boundaries every day, organizing the front closet again, keeping a running tally of their screen time, knowing you are on the last bottle of Tylenol or Lysol wipes, shuttling to practices and games, grooming the cat, managing danger. Oh and the basement needs to be vacuumed again, supper is burning, and that one just peed her pants.
It is possible to live a life of constant exhale. It is possible, but that doesn’t make it healthy. That doesn’t make it sustainable. It doesn’t win you an award. Chances are you are neither a WonderWoman demi-god nor have been enhanced by a spider bite. Parents aren’t superheroes. We try. But the problem is I’ve never seen a superhero go to the bathroom. And I drink too much coffee for that.
We as parents need to live in our best balance between exhaling to others and inhaling for ourselves.
We need to give ourselves permission to inhale.
And we need to offer the other parent the chance to inhale for themselves.
To respirate for the good of our soul. To increase our capacity to give to our family. To sustain our mental health.
To let us lead our little people joyfully.
For the record, social media doesn’t count as an inhale. Social media is more a self-numbing distraction than a life-giving activity. In fact, viewing other people’s curated life often breeds dissatisfaction in our own. Put away the phone. Do something you love for 15 minutes instead. Or 45. Or 2 days if need be.
Close your eyes and listen to the hum of the fridge. Do sit-ups. A crossword. Pull weeds. Eat 5 cookies. Or 10. Drink your coffee still warm. Go for a walk. Go for a nap. Get a haircut. Write a book. Write a song. Take some pictures. Fix the truck. Order in dinner. Watch the game. Do stained glass. Go to the gym. Visit a friend. Take a class. Read a book. Or do… nothing.
Find the things that fuel you, and then make sure you do them. Make sure your partner is doing them too.
Being a parent doesn’t mean that you have to forget yourself. Forgetting yourself is the only sure way you will lose yourself.
Once you start paying attention you will feel when you are depleted and need time to breathe in for yourself. For me, I get more snappy, less smiley, and I’m slower to answer when my child calls. Then I know I need some time. My impatience tells me I need to breathe in. It reminds me I’m forgetting life. That I have nothing left to exhale and desperately need some oxygen.
Find what you love, see the team in your corner, and give yourself permission to breathe in.
It doesn’t make you weak, it just makes you alive.