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5 Tips for Those Parents Who “Don’t Have Time for Myself”

I will be honest: I hoped to write this earlier in the month. Then “life happened,” that catch-all phrase for toddlers testing boundaries you thought were established, 1-year-old mystery viruses, random attacks by mosquitos leaving your toddler’s eye swollen-shut, realization that the boundary testing is a development leap leaving your 3-year-old with a language upgrade that includes adverbs like “very” and “much” – not to mention the hamster wheel of yard work, bills, appointments, and work deliverables.

Baby cries in the arms of father trying to comfort

Anyone relate?

To ignore dimensions in our life that demand real attention can lead to lots of frustration, resentment and those lingering thoughts that “life was better before….”

Our souls cry for attuning to parents’ needs and time.

Our souls cry to tune in, tie together, and take some in-sync steps.

Tune In

Attunement might be a new word for you, but I bet you have seen it: in a parent responding to their newborn’s cry or from the encouragement of the Apostle Paul to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).

To tune into the feelings, experiences of someone and not only validate their lived experience but to even predict how to respond.

When was the last time you “tuned in” to yourself as a parent with your needs?

Mental Health America states that the average person spends 15 minutes per day around health-related self-care activities. Wondering what it is for parents? Psychology Today reports that the average mom gets 17 minutes of free time. Period. No definition of whether that’s for hygiene or self-care that actually restores her sense of self. Just 17 minutes of time that doesn’t sound like our month of June so far.

Tie Together

Within our work at the Resilient Communities Center, we work with global impact leaders to understand the dimensions of life and acknowledge their impact on other facets of life. No singular moment lives in a vacuum. It all matters.

We describe this as integration, another word that might feel new to you. But you see it in action every single day. Your body operates as an integrated system: your nervous and respiratory and musculoskeletal systems all integrate to move, live, and have your being. If one goes out, say a pulled hamstring, the others have to compensate, to attune and respond.

Did you know that you can ignore or suppress attunement? I do it with my body – numbing the pulled hamstring’s request to be attuned to through ibuprofen or Netflix. I do it to my feelings by doomscrolling or broadcasting frustrations to the metaverse instead of to the person who hurt me. I do it to my children’s needs with the clock and urgency and my to-do list.

What is it for you?

See, my week was a real experience. I did not have the bandwidth to write this post. My attention attuned to the realities around me. Part of my ability to do that well requires a view of integration that sees all of my life matters, not just my calendar. Failing to do so for me often leads to frustration and resentment. But, when I pull back and choose to un-fixate on the singular thing – write a post – and look at the greater scope of my life: parenting, partnering, resting, eating, reading, praying, creating: I see all the things I did write into being. I helped my daughter recover well, I pivoted so my wife could show up well for her clients, I let myself sleep past a workout because I deemed my headspace through sleep as more important that day than my splits.

What is your soul asking you to attune to? What have you compensated for in your life because you felt that thing alone demanded your attention?

Take Some Steps

I get it: parenting feels all-consuming. But what if you did not have to choose between parenting and productivity? Between social good and soaking dirty clothes?

When we compartmentalize our lives, rather than integrate them, we feel that attunement means complete neglect of other portions of our lives. It does not have to be.

Here are a few tips that I am applying in my own life to attune more holistically to life around me:

1. Let work be play.

Attune to the integration of work and play. Who says only creating toy blocks counts as one-on-one play with your toddler? It might make a mess, but invite your children into some of the things that you feel important to help your family show up well: mealtimes, clean-up, even bedtimes.

2. Invite a village.

Attune to the integration of family and community. At a macro-level, failure to integrate can look like not considering other time periods or cultures and how humans interacted. There is so much stress that comes as a byproduct to our modern take on the nuclear family. The stress is real when we try to do everything on our own or feel we don’t have the expenses to outsource as a substitute. Attune to the experience others’ have: How do you handle nighttime pushback? What does it look like to support your partner’s self-care? Can you watch our kids this week and we will watch yours next for some date nights? Google does not have to answer for everything.

3. Find common ground.

Attune to the integration of service and support. Our generation is all about philanthropic work, whether we call that volunteering or serving or charity. Unfortunately, the models of service often look like a great community event for young adults or empty nesters. This does not have to be a choice. Where are your gaps in the well-being as a family? Is it how you approach technology? Or what mealtimes look like with different work schedules? Come alongside other families who are wrestling through the same questions, you just might meet some new community.

4. Rotate self-care.

Attune to the integration of mental and physical and spiritual health. Every coach is going to encourage you to make habits out of the thing they are passionate about. I am no different. But, there are only 24 hours in the day, and if you are like me, it often looks like 30 minutes before the early risers begin to stir. It is really hard to do a HIIT workout, contemplate Scripture, engage in listening prayer, read a fun novel, read a development resource, and sip a cup in coffee in silence – all in 30 minutes. Rotate them. Give yourself permission and respond to what your embodied soul needs in the moment. Maybe you planned last night that you would wake up to do a workout, but you wake up with a mind racing about an important call later in the day. Honor yourself enough to pivot and journal. See the space as the habit you are forming more than how you need to systematically use it.

5. Find God in all things.

Attune to the integration of spiritual and the everyday. I grew up in a household that loved to protect “quiet time” with God, before your feet hit the floor or you turned on your favorite morning cartoon (replace that with social feeds for the 2020s family). There is no more singular form of resentment with a good theological reason than me not “connecting with God” before the day starts. I have found no better invitation to the interruptions life brings with parenthood than Ronald Rolheiser’s short book called Domestic Monastery. Like those who stop whatever they are doing to attend to the prayer bell interrupting their daily chores, see the call of “Hey Dad” or “Can you play” or the tug on your pant leg while you talk to be invitations to slow down and not be held captive by the god of urgency.

Want more? Our team of facilitators and mentors at Resilient Communities Center would love to explore our principles around resilience like integration through an upcoming virtual Learning Cohort.

Live in Atlanta? Consider joining one of our Launch Communities to work out real-time plans that help you get unstuck in areas that keep you from being all that God intends for you to be.

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