Every night, in houses around the world, a similar scene plays out. As the day winds down, baths are drawn and pajamas are fetched. Bedtime stories are read and lunches packed. One last goodnight kiss is given, again. The bedroom door is closed, Mom breathes a sigh of relief as she turns for the couch… and is met by Dad, anxious for his chance to connect.
The details can vary. Dad might be doing story duty; maybe Mom is coming in from a late night of work. What’s universal is the sense that there is not quite enough of us to go around. There are days - and nights - when it can feel like there is no way we can accommodate all of the people who need and want us.
How do we stretch ourselves further? How do we find the energy to consistently connect with the most important people in our lives?
I don’t know, exactly. I have to admit that this is an area where I’m still often plagued with more guilt than answers. My husband always seems ready to have a good heart-to-heart right about the time I’m falling asleep standing up, or he’s lobbying for a family game night when I’m fantasizing about quality time with the TV.
This is a perceived lack I hear women discuss more often than men. That, coupled with the dynamic in my own house, leads me to believe that there might be some difference in how men and women go about caring for their kids. Specifically, I suspect that women spill out more of their life source - both with their kids and with anyone else they encounter during the day - while men seem to be able to interact with people without necessarily investing themselves completely. My husband, at least, certainly has better boundaries between himself and others than I do. He encounters; I connect and exchange, leaving a piece of myself behind.
Perhaps I could learn something from him about holding back a little - although I admit I’m not entirely sure how I’d go about doing that.
Instead, I try to build up my reserves. I focus on refueling with rest, creativity, and doing things that sustain and refresh me. I take time to not care for anyone, in other words, and that makes it easier to care for everyone.
I’m trying to practice managing expectations, too. When it comes to my kids, my instinct is to always be there for everything, afraid that one day they’ll chide me for the game I missed or the extra chapter I declined to read. I never come close to living up to that ideal, of course, but even wanting to leaves me depleted by guilt. It makes more sense to be realistic about what one person can possibly provide two other human beings.
Also, I’m fortunate enough not to be just one person when it comes to parenting. I’ve learned in recent years to make use of the partnership I have with my husband. That means not feeling guilty because he is in charge of the littlest’s bedtime, but instead being grateful that we’re in this together.
My husband’s needs don’t need to be managed, on the other hand. More often than not, they need to be prioritized. Our connection is just as important as the one with the kids - and it will outlast the caretaking role I have with them. He is less demanding than a child, but that doesn’t mean that he should be pushed aside for when there is time.
This is still a work in progress for me. The spirit is willing, but sometimes the flesh is just too dang tired.
How do you make sure everyone you love is being taken care of?