Dear Miss Faith,
I’ve been feeling extra tired lately because I’m pregnant with #2. I’ve been working on taking more time for myself and am taking two breaks a day where I drink a glass of water and knit while my daughter (age 2.75) plays. This used to work fine, but lately every time I sit down with my little cup of water she has a meltdown, often throwing her toys angrily on the floor and demanding that I come help pick them up. I’m giving her lots of attention at other times of the day, and I don’t ignore her while I’m sitting, either; I often tell her a story while I’m sitting. But somehow it’s not working. How can we get through this?
Good for you for working on taking care of yourself, and don’t give up. I’m a huge believer in “couch time” for myself, and have helped lots of kids adjust to what is often a new reality for them. It’s absolutely possible to do; I do it by starting small and building up, letting the children know that I am still available emotionally, even when I’m on the couch. Here are some ideas on how to go about it:
Don’t announce The End of the Fun. When you say, “OK, I’m not going to be available now,” then kids suddenly NEED you! Instead, make it a natural part of the day as it flows along. This might be by settling down for a bit of a shorter rest whenever you see her playing happily, or it might be by inviting her to come and snuggle or read a story with you as you settle down, then staying seated as she gets up to continue her play. Remember, children live in the moment, so help each moment flow naturally without making children think about changes to come.
Let her know that you’re still available energetically, even while you’re on the couch. Remember how children can play independently while we do housework: when we do it spaciously, with enough attention for our task AND for children to come in and out of our work, interacting with us as they need to. This holds true for when we’re relaxing, too. So instead of thinking of your rests as being times that you should be able to check out from parenting, sit down on the couch and settle your attention in a circle around you that includes your child. It sounds like you’re doing some of this already, by telling a story while you sit. Get a few more tricks in your bag: one of mine is using humming to let my energy fill the room; I’ve often found that when children can hear me, they feel like I’m with them even if I’m across the room. If she needs you, invite her to come over and join you as you relax.
And yes, being available emotionally sometimes means that you need to be available physically, as well. Get up and help her/connect with her as needed, but be drawn magnetically back to your couch and your knitting as soon as you are able. As your daughter feels assured that you are in fact available, she’ll be able to let you sit for longer and won’t have to demand that you get up right away to prove that you’re ‘with’ her.
Remember that playing alone is a bit like a muscle that children need to develop. Instead of trying to schedule two 15-minute breaks, try doing more frequent, shorter breaks. Also, while you are absolutely available and will get up as you must, help her develop these muscles by learning to wait for just a moment longer each time. “YES, I will get up and help you, as soon as I finish this row of knitting. Would you like to come over and watch while I finish it up?” Or, “YES, I will come as soon as I finish my glass of water.” Pick up your glass and start sipping, then sip steadily until it’s done, and get up. If she asks if you’re ready yet, let her look into your glass and answer for herself. Giving her some way of knowing how much time is left (and it’s a relatively short time) can help her wait that extra moment or two. If you don’t have anything that she can see, you can use a counting rhyme as a count-down: “YES. Let’s call up the Big Fat Hen, and then I’ll help. One, two, buckle my shoe…” all the way to the end. Help her, then go back to the couch, inviting her to come with you if she wants.
Use Humor when you’re annoyed. If she starts whining or being needy, throwing toys around, etc., use humor or imagery to invite her to come and join you. “Oh, no! You threw Teddy on the ground. He’s crying!!! Bring him over here to me so he can snuggle. Poor Teddy. Poor Teddy, don’t cry. You can snuggle with me over here. I wonder if (your daughter’s name) will come snuggle with us, too?” And then if she does, “Hooray, Teddy! She came over!! Now we can all snuggle together!” If she won’t come over, and won’t stop throwing her stuff, use humor to let her know your feelings: “Wow, you want me to get up and come over there? Oh, my poor, aching feet!!! Ok–ok–here I come.” Get up, creaking and groaning, and hobble over in a really exaggerated way. “Oh, oh, oh, I can hardly walk.” This is likely to get big giggles. Help her briefly, pretending like you can barely lift anything. Then hobble back over to the couch and flop down again. “Whew! Thank goodness I’m back on the couch again. That exhausted me!” Letting her know these things in playful ways–instead of showing her your annoyance–can let her know how things are in ways that are connecting instead of disconnecting.
And finally, hang in there! If she was OK with you taking breaks before but is now being more demanding, it may be that she’s reading your energy about you feeling anxious for her to be able to do things on her own, with the new baby on the way. Adjusting to a new sibling is a big deal, and one that starts at conception. If you let her know through your attitude (not verbally) that you have enough love and enough spaciousness for her AND her new sibling, then she’ll be able to relax again.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith