Prioritizing Passion

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only new mama out there who misses having lots of time for creativity.

Ornate drum cradled in arms

I see a lot of advice for new moms about life balance. When I was the super-newest of new moms, doing things like sleeping when my baby sleeps and being sure to hand off the baby to someone for an hour now and then to take a shower were important things to remember, and honestly about all I could manage in terms of life balance. Thankfully, though time and energy are still in short supply, I’m a bit beyond that point now.

I also see a lot of advice about the importance of nurturing your relationship with your spouse or partner by having dates and intimate time– also very important. And I see the occasional advice about being sure to take the occasional afternoon for some self-pampering, such as a massage or pedicure. And everyone tells new moms that they need to get enough exercise. And yet, I don’t see as much advice about nurturing my creativity or my intellect. I guess that it’s easy to deprioritize that in the midst of all the other self-care that’s already so very hard to find time for.

For me, a critical part of taking care of myself as a person is making time for both creativity and intellectual stimulation. Intellectual stimulation mostly comes from my work… writing and reading about productivity and time management and conducting coaching sessions with my clients. I do try to read stimulating things outside those areas, but it’s relatively easy to do that in small chunks. Also, my social media feeds generally provide me to links galore to intriguing articles about science, philosophy and other thought-provoking topics. I only read a few of them, usually while rocking A to sleep on my shoulder at night, but it feels like enough most of the time.

Feeding my creativity is harder. We are still having a lot of sleep challenges, and my creativity tends to wither up anyhow when I’m seriously underslept. Still, if I don’t immerse myself in the flow of music, dance or art now and then, I become sad. A subtle but increasingly draining feeling begins to seep through me, and sometimes it’s difficult to untangle that creative malaise from other kinds of exhaustion or stress. If I start to feel like that, I give myself the gift of ten minutes of dance downstairs in our rec room. Usually that peps me up. It can be terribly hard to get started, but once I do, it helps.

But for me the most soulfully rejuvenating creative act is to play my hand drum in a group with other drummers, musicians and dancers, and to dance in community drum circles. So, my husband and I make a point of prioritizing a solo outing for me once every month or two, and I go out on my own to drum and dance for a few precious hours.

My favorite drum circle happens on the first Saturday of the month, and unless baby A has had a particularly awful night of sleep on the evening prior, I usually go. When I come back from drumming in community, I am filled with light and delight. Empty places in me that I hadn’t even fully sensed are filled and the energy of sheer joy can flow unimpeded through my body. I am giddy with delight for days after I go to a drum circle, and incidentally, that happiness bubbles up and flows over into how I interact with A and with my husband. So while I do it for me, and feel no qualms about focusing on my self in that way, I know that it benefits us all.

I am also teaching A to drum, sing and play maracas, incidentally… and he just loves it.  Taking a few minutes to play a djembe drum with him or shake some maracas to a beat is joyful for us both, and he loves getting to play with mama’s toys. Maybe someday he’ll share this interest with me, or even just learn from watching me how much creative pursuits can increase personal happiness.

Do you have a creative or intellectual interest that you make a priority for yourself, or want to start making a priority? How do you make time for creativity as a busy parent?

Image above by Jon Nicholls used under Creative Commons License.

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Bonding and Building Tribe

One of the things that has always amazed me about the parents I know is how good at meeting and bonding with other parents they all seem to be.

Sign with child and adult holding hands

Now that I’m in the trenches too, I get it– doing necessary/cool stuff for and with your kids brings you into contact with so many people with whom you immediately have at least a few things in common, plus you just need an awesome support network to avoid burning out.

And there’s nothing like the bond of sharing the joy of your children with other people who also take joy in your children or even just their own. I think we’re biologically programmed to respond to people who want to help our kids.

Friends with kids and without, parents whose kids share interests and activities with yours, biological family near and far… ideally it all meshes together into a beautiful glittering web of connections. Some will last longer and some will be deeper, but even the passing and casual connections seem to resonate with extra intensity for me right now.

Humans are tribal creatures. All people need to find and build tribes, but I feel the need to nurture my connections and find my tribe more keenly than ever since baby A came. For us as parents, and for A too to help him grow up with lots of other wonderful people in his life besides just me and his dad.

Then again, some people think the community-building, parent bonding, networking or what have you can get taken a little too far– or at least a little too seriously!

How do you foster community in your life?

Image above by Taro Taylor and used under a Creative Commons License.

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Who Needs Sleep?

I suppose that when writing a blog about self-care for parents, it’s appropriate that sleep is the first topic. And ironic that sleep issues delayed the launch of this blog by many months by cutting down on my work time, sanity, and brain. This severe constraint of my resources has been forcing me to fiercely prioritize.

Sleeping newborn baby

Sleep. I miss it. I fiend for sleep like I imagine a drug addict must ache for and obsess over their next fix. No parent I know gets enough of it. Fate dealt us a baby on the bad sleeper end of the spectrum, and we’ve been coping and compensating ever since. We had a brief honeymoon period between six weeks and three months where he slept a 4-5 hour chunk each night, but for the last five months, most of my sleep has been in 40-minute to 2-hour chunks. Often I’m lucky if I get one 4-5 hour chunk in a week, these days. It comes and goes– some weeks are better than others, for sure.

My husband helps heroically, splitting up nights duties with me and going to work every weekday. Despite his help, occasionally I get so tired that I break down and weep in the morning. Pre-baby, I used to feel like I couldn’t cope with life if I got 6-7 hours of sleep for a few nights in a row. Now I’d be tipsy with gratitude if I got an uninterrupted 6-7 hours of sleep for just one night.

Lack of sleep makes me:

  • More emotionally vulnerable and moody.
  • Less optimistic.
  • Less energetic.
  • Slower to heal from aches, illnesses and injuries.
  • More accident-prone – tending to bump into and drop things.
  • More distraction-prone, less able to focus.
  • More likely to isolate myself socially, and therefore lonelier.
  • Less able to exert will power when it comes to what I eat.
  • More forgetful.
  • Less patient.
  • Less likely to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Less playful.
  • And a bunch of other bad stuff!

I used to tell myself, after a hard day at work that left me feeling emotionally raw and physically tired, that I would feel better as soon as I got a good night of sleep because it was always true. I miss being able to give myself a good night of sleep simply by going to bed early. I never know what I will get these days when I lay my head down on the pillow. Will it be a good night or will I be woken up every 40 minutes all night long? Sometimes lying myself down in bed feels like gearing myself up for a long ordeal rather than a rest.

How we cope:

Getting reassurance from more experienced parents, who tell us over and over that they’ve been where we are and this too shall pass. I hold on to the hope of their words.

Changing the subject when people try to give me sleep training advice. I’ve read the books and gotten all the tips I can hold. We’ve tried many of them, are trying others already and those we have not tried, are off the table for a good reason. The odds that someone will have an idea I’ve never heard before? Very low indeed. I used to politely let people tell me their long litany of advice and just ignore it if it didn’t suit me, but now most of the time I thank them quickly early into their spiel and tell them that hearing advice on this topic really stresses me out right now. I think I’ve offended a few people, but I need to do it to preserve my sanity.

Hearing about how other babies sleep. Stories of the babies who are sleeping badly make us feel like we aren’t alone. Stories of the babies who are sleeping well give us hope. Stories of the babies who have done both makes us remember that all things good and bad change when you have children, faster than you think it will ever happen.

Asking for help. My son “A” doesn’t take long naps most of the time, so sleeping when he sleeps doesn’t really help me much with getting the longer chunks of sleep my body really needs instead of yet another tiny sleep sprint. Getting the occasional long nap works wonders and may the universe shower with blessings everyone who has given me that gift.

Focusing mindfully on love and my baby. No matter how tired I am, making the conscious choice to connect as deeply as I can with my feelings of love for A helps me feel better. That’s why I’m going through all this, right?

Taking care of my body in other ways as best I can through diet, water, physical activity and so on.

What have your rough patches for sleep been like? How do you take care of yourself through the sleep-deprived times?

Image above by Paul Sapiano used under Creative Commons License.

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