Dear Dr. Debbie,
My patience with my 3-year-old, as well as the rest of the world, is wearing thin. I am sure that my being chronically tired has a lot to do with it. He’s not a great sleeper. He takes unpredictable naps and wakes at night several times each week. Certainly a second pregnancy is also contributing to my tiredness, too. Any tips on getting more rest or doing better with less?
Don’t miss last week’s column Ways to feed a baby’s brain — Good Parenting
Dear Mama Bear,
Getting more rest is an excellent goal. It’s important for your physical well-being as well as your mental health. A more patient parent produces better results in children, too. One strategy is to keep your days open for that potential nap with your son. If falling asleep during the day is hard for you (or at night, for that matter) you might give meditation a try.
Find a Quiet Place
A meditation spot should be free of noisy interruption. If your child snores or talks in his sleep, you need to pick another room. What other threats to silence are there? Take care of the dog, the cat, the rings of a telephone, the pings of email and the dings of the front door bell. My neighbor had a “Baby is Sleeping” sign she hung on the front door to keep callers from disturbing her and her baby’s naps during the day. If there is a jackhammer at work on your street, you could try to muffle it with the “white noise” of an aquarium or fan, or just postpone your meditation break until a better time.
The proper pose for transcendental (leaving the physical world) meditation is the lotus position, however a comfy chair or bed will work fine for anyone not pretzel-agile. Kick your shoes off. Take your glasses off. If you are wearing heavy earring or a tight belt, these need to go too. Close your eyes. Mentally travel inch by inch from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and relax each set of muscles. There are lots of muscles in your face, so spend some time melting away the tension in your forehead, around your eyes, in your cheeks and your neck. Your whole body should be as physically stress free as you can make it.
Focus on your breathing. In. Out. Yoga practitioners encourage a visualization of breathing not just in and out of your nose, but through the chest all the way to the diaphragm muscle at the base of the lungs. To amplify the cleansing nature of this breathing experience, the incoming breath is through the nose (where nostril hairs filter dust and germs) and the outward breath is gently channeled through slightly pursed lips. A meditation session can start with a few deep cleansing breaths then continue with regular breathing at a slow and steady pace.
Use a Mantra
The rhythm of your breathing sets the beat for the repeated message you give yourself as you recharge your battery. A mantra can be a prayer, a peaceful phrase, or a specific uplifting directive, such as “I can be more patient.” This is your opportunity to have your mind’s full attention and complete calm at the same time, so choose the best mantra for yourself. Jose Silva is credited with composing the popular self-affirmation “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.” As your chosen words gently play over and over in your mind other thoughts may waft their way through. Try to merely observe them, but not address them. This is time away from the stresses and doubts that you can’t do much about anyway.
A good meditation break is about 20 minutes long. A closing cleansing breath can help to rouse the energy and optimism needed for resuming your day. When I first learned meditation back in college I sat in front of a clock, practicing to measure the 20 minutes before opening my eyes by peeking every so often. After a week or so, I hit it the 20 minutes perfectly every time, so I no longer needed the clock. You could use the cricket chirp on the timer app of your cell phone (at a very low volume) to bring you back to “earth.” Or you could keep the timing loose, and after you have found that restful quiet place within you, and drunk from its refreshing waters, use a re-entry mantra such as “I am refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of my day.”
Make it a Habit
Much like good nutrition and regular exercise, restful meditation can become a fixed feature of a healthy lifestyle. Twice a day is ideal, but as with everything else, that’s a standard that may be out of reach at this stage of life. Until you have children with predictable sleep schedules, see if you can rely on their other parent or on others who could take over for you during a meditation break. And just like nutrition and exercise, the benefits of meditation will soon convince you that this is a habit worth cultivating.
As for the Rest
To “do better with less,” adjust your expectations so you don’t disappoint yourself and others. Your most tired days might mean you stay in your pj’s and you both eat pbj’s for breakfast, lunch and snack. Whole grain bread, no sugar peanut butter and juice sweetened preserves get you nutrition points. Plan on including the nutrients you missed — calcium from greens, for example — at dinnertime when presumably another adult is around to help. And remember to always have quick and easy nourishment among your grocery staples. If you haven’t already, adjust your housekeeping to reasonable standards for a pregnant, tired, mother of a preschooler. Being patient with your child is more important than a pristine house. Minimize the obligations you have, so you are having just enough social encounters to fulfill the two of you but not more than you can agreeably participate in. Plan short excursions, rather than all day errand-running, and get home before either of you can no longer manage to be on your best behavior any longer. Good enough is good enough, and it all gets easier when the children are older. With parental patience, children become allies in all of our parental objectives!
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com