Parents Need Time-Outs, Too
By Jen Holman
My friends have a baby that’s not yet 1, their third. They’re trying new sleeping arrangements out of sheer necessity. Remember those days? Walking around in a stupor, certain it’s the other parent’s turn to get up with the baby—and the gut-wrenching despair when it isn’t.
Actually, it’s probably more likely you don’t remember that time. The groggy, zombie-like state of being that accompanies the first year or two of parenthood both drags on for an eternity and passes in a flash.
Our third child was a surprise, you know. I’ve tried to revisit the days not that long ago to remember how we made it through the hard times, but I can’t seem to recall any details. It’s like childbirth; the human spirit has an amazing ability to gloss over the bad stuff. Something that at the moment is so unbearable can later be looked back on with fondness. It wasn’t that bad! Oh yeah, I’d go through that again. Totally worth it! This ability to glaze over trauma is obviously a part of some grand design to ensure the survival of our species. I mean, can it be explained otherwise? Pain! Ah! Kill me now! One month later: Sweet Baby needs a brother or sister. Yes he does. Oh, yes he does.
Those early days are so jarring to first-time moms, so exhausting. We have no idea what we’re doing, or what to expect. New moms worry about milk supply and milestones, bonding and scheduling and college. We worry the baby will stop breathing in the middle of the night, for goodness sake. That worry wears on a person, and combined with the lack of sleep and whackedout hormones… well, mommin’ ain’t easy.
It’s true what they say about hindsight. I can see so clearly now what I should have done differently as a first-time mother. I was overprotective and nearly reclusive, which left me feeling isolated and blue. I wish someone had told me that needing a break didn’t make me a bad mother. I wish someone had peeled the baby from my breast and said, “Go cruise Target or something; you’re losing it.”
Now, whether I would have listened or not is another thing entirely. Somehow I got the idea in my sleep-addled brain that because women had been rearing children since the beginning of time, I had to show my solidarity by powering through it, too. I know what you’re thinking. Certainly, looking back, I see it, too: a) that’s just dumb, and b) few did it alone. My husband is a wonderful father and partner, don’t get me wrong. But he didn’t have a clue what he was doing, either. Whether it’s dad or grandma or a well-meaning neighbor, my advice to new moms is this: don’t feel guilty about taking advantage of offers to watch the baby for an hour or two. Have a nice dinner and remember what it’s like to wear pants. Healthy parents make for healthy children. It’s like preventive medicine—if you don’t take care of yourself, sooner or later you’ll end up in the emergency room, and nobody wants that.
Our youngest is 3 now, so we’re well past the infant stage. Too much screen time, arguments amongst siblings, and jockeying for attention are the issues of the day. Sometimes, when they all come at me at once, I want to run screaming from my own house. And you know what? I do. Running and working out have become a welcome respite.
Here in Central Arkansas, there are so many lovely public places to take a breather. I love the feel of crossing Two Rivers Park Bridge into the towering stand of pine trees. It’s like tiny bits of worry and pressure are scrubbed away as I make my way through them. Hiking Pinnacle Mountain is a treat, too, and reaching the top feels like I’ve conquered at least one small part of the world. Across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, many people think the best scenic bluffs and river views can be found at 135-acre Emerald Park. But even if it’s walking out the door and circling the block, a little break always helps. Now that spring is here, getting out for air and exercise can help us return refreshed and refocused and way less rampageous. With a little experience behind me, I can say it now. Needing a break doesn’t make me a bad parent. In fact, I’d argue the opposite is true. A good parent knows the warning signs, they recognize a short fuse—and they know when to give themselves a time-out.