By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Rest. It’s not a word that we find synonymous with parenting. Parenting brings with it a laundry list of non-restful words. Let’s see if we relate to any of these adjectives: work, labor, exertion, pressure, toil, stress, tension, strain, tenseness...if you relate to any of these words, odds are you’re a parent.
Let’s all agree that we love our children. That they are some of the biggest joys in our lives. But let’s also be real. We are tired. We get worn out. We lose our patience, and stress causes us to snap. This, in turn, backfires and hurts our relationship with our kids or any calm atmosphere we’ve hoped to foster in our homes.
Lack of rest equals a lack of joy. Period. Exhaustion starts in the body and travels to the mind, but then it comes to lodge itself within the soul. Once there, it can be a long and arduous place to climb out of. This means a good night’s sleep isn’t enough anymore. Our spirit is tired. We need reviving.
A crucial part of parenting—which a lot of parenting advice doesn’t cover—is permitting yourself to rest. One could argue that it is a vital part of parenting. Incorporating safeguards into your life so you can feel and be rested means you can also give more to your family, cultivate a more peaceful home, and invest more deeply into your children.
But as with all goals, these things take sacrifice. We live in a culture of go, go, go! Committing to everything and anything. The world has deemed it essential for our children to be invested in many extracurricular activities, to have high grades, and to excel and achieve. So, while we expect these levels of success for ourselves, it’s also being passed on to our children. Guess what happens? We sacrifice play, we sacrifice laughter, we sacrifice togetherness, and we sacrifice rest. And what does lack of rest equal? A lack of joy. As we run the hamster wheel to accomplishments and successes, we drain the joy from our lives. True joy. The lasting kind that leaves us refreshed and bonded to our children in ways that extracurricular activities never will.
So what can we do to feel more rested as parents and to provide examples of peace and joy for our children? Here are a few ideas, some of which may be hard to swallow:
1. Cut out half of your commitments that are not essential.
School is essential. So is work. As is church. So, let’s take those off the table as something we can sacrifice. But what about the fact that little Megan is enrolled in dance, gymnastics, and peewee basketball? And what about your own gym membership plus the Wednesday night ladies' night out and every other Friday night club meeting?
The question to pose to yourself is: what are essential commitments versus preferred commitments? This means while you may love and enjoy everything your family is involved in, it may still be draining you too much. These activities require a lot, and it’s not just time but emotional and mental energy.
What makes this difficult is realizing that want is different from need. What you need may really not be the busy, on-the-go lifestyle you’ve cultivated. Instead, you may need two nights at home a week, just you and the family, engaging in a board game or letting the kids play while you and your spouse talk over coffee at the table. The idea is you’re not always on the go. It is okay to stay home. That’s not laziness. That’s not neglecting your child’s future. That is protecting your family and your health.
2. It is key to create healthy boundaries in order to obtain rest.
Boundaries aren’t easy to construct and can be equally challenging to maintain. But they are essential to our rest. This means you’ll probably need to pull in those kiddos, too, and include them into these boundaries.
It has never failed to surprise me how many parents do not have regular wind-down and bedtime periods. In other words, often the children run around willy-nilly as the parents struggle to finish up for the day, and then—oops! It’s already 10 PM—get the kids to bed, and then by 11 PM (on a good night), they fall into bed to collapse until the alarm goes off. How about, in this scenario, you set some boundaries?
Depending on your children’s ages, wind-down time starts in their bedrooms at 8 PM. This means any homework not completed just—well—doesn’t get completed. Come on, our kids’ mental health needs a break too. I’d rather my kids get a B than excel academically but fail in mental health. From 8 to 9 PM, the child is alone in their room. They can read, have quiet playtime, or whatever you feel suits your family. But at 9 PM, it’s ready for bed and lights out by 9:30. Even your middle school children will gain from this—although they’ll likely protest. But these boundaries not only begin a much-needed rest period for all of you but teach your children to care for their minds and bodies, too.
3. Make time not to accomplish something.
This one is super difficult. For me, it’s probably the worst of any of them to achieve. This is the personal one. The one that means you sit down and take time to breathe. Most importantly, to pray and do a devotional. To reconnect with God on an intimate level. To draw in the spirit of rest by reading a book or listening to the birds sing while you sip on your coffee. It’s a period of adult “time out” when you’re no longer checking things off the to-do list and instead just being.
Why is it difficult for us to just be? Even for twenty minutes, to allow our bodies to relax into a chair at 1 PM on a Saturday afternoon, sip some tea, and read an article in our favorite magazine? We have bought into the tyranny of the urgent. We have accepted the view that relaxation is akin to laziness, quiet meditation can be done “later” (it rarely is), and commitment to other things is more profitable than a commitment to your family to have some downtime.
In reality, life will grab and pull us from all directions. We can also engage in the ever-popular “self-care” concept, but I prefer to redefine even that. This isn’t just self-care. It’s not a time to become one with yourself and value yourself above others. It is, instead, a time to value others enough to know that without a full tank, you will simply cease to be effective. You will perform and achieve the required motions while missing out on deeper and perhaps more spiritually significant moments in life.
So, while these three things are difficult and perhaps completely appalling, take them to prayer and seriously consider your response to each one. Weigh the consequences of making no changes. Weigh the consequences of making changes: the good and the bad. But then, be intentional with what you decide. If your choices do not contribute to restful joy, then, my friend, consider that your red flag.