As the Franklin D. Roosevelt quote goes, "When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on."
For those of us parents who are swinging precariously by the end of our ropes, this advice, while helpful, doesn’t actually solve a single thing for us.
We’re tired, drained to the last ounce of our energy, we’re battling sleepless nights, colic, postpartum depression, relational strife, an unsteady job market, preparing for our children’s futures, preparing for our own futures, praying for our children’s safety in schools, struggling to tackle difficult conversations, navigate school drop off and pick up, and virtual learning, and in-class learning…
The list of things that can consume a parent’s mind goes on and on, sometimes causing us to spiral right down to the end of that parenting rope, leaving us swinging and clinging for dear life.
If you’re having a day, week, month (or perhaps longer) holding tight to that rope here are three things you can do right now to soothe that rope burn and perhaps provide you with the hope and courage that you need for this season.
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1. Communicate Your Needs
A couple of weeks ago our little valley got hit hard by a snowstorm. I went to bed the evening before the storm hit without a cloud in the sky, but woke the next morning to so much snow that getting my car out of the driveway would be all but impossible. Sure enough, school was canceled for the day.
One day turned into three, and at the end of the three snow days, I realized that I was fried and at the end of my rope.
You see, while my husband and I both work, his job is full-time, whereas mine is part-time. We both have a fair amount of flexibility in our schedules, but this snow day made me realize that we had never actually communicated how we would handle sick days and snow days now that I had returned to the work-force, no matter how part-time my job might be.
As the snow fell and our kids begged to go sledding, we had to discuss who was going to be rearranging their schedule. We clearly had both assumed it would be me, but had never discussed it together.
I felt frustrated because while it did make the most sense for me to rearrange, I was also working on several deadline-sensitive projects that my husband had no idea about.
I fell into silent brooding and playing the martyr, never once telling my husband that I needed him to rearrange somethings as well.
We have to communicate!
Our spouses, family and friends, aren’t mind-readers. How was my husband ever going to know that I was feeling the pressure, that my work-load that particular week was heavier than normal, and that I needed his partnership?
He wasn’t, won’t and never will know what I don’t share with him.
Communication is a vital part of any relationship, how much more important is it when our ability to cope as parents hangs in the balance.
This need for open and clear communication applies to our tribe as a whole. Yes, we absolutely need to communicate with our spouses, but we should also be open with our friends and families.
Sharing our struggles with those closest to us and being vulnerable enough to ask for help can be the thing we most desperately need to keep us hanging onto that rope. Better yet, help from our community can be the aid that rescues us from the rope altogether.
So, if you’re finding yourself on that rope swinging, take the first step and communicate.
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2. Commiserate with a Close Friend
After my first baby was born I found myself spiraling into a dark hole of postpartum depression.
The thoughts in my own head were so ugly and scary that I was terrified to talk to anyone about what I was experiencing. I felt alone and nearly paralyzed by postpartum.
A few years later, when I became pregnant with my daughter I promised myself I would never allow myself to suffer like that again. While struggling with postpartum depression wasn’t something I could will myself out of, whether I struggled in silence or not was something I could control.
During the exhausting and beautiful first few months of my daughter’s life, I clung onto one of my dearest friends like a lifeline.
We gave birth to our second children within weeks of each other. One of the greatest gifts that she gave me, and I’d like to think that I gave her, during those precious first few months was the gift of company and commiseration.
She was a safe place for me to talk about postpartum. Together we could commiserate with each other about how tired we were, what our postpartum healing was like, or what struggles we were facing that particular day.
Talking to other parents about the weight of new parenting can often help us feel lighter, but this need to talk and share doesn’t end when our children are out of diapers. If anything, we need trusted friends and confidants even more as our children develop and we enter different stages in parenting.
This same friend who opened her home to me for endless coffee and playdates is the very same friend who I called up crying the week my son turned ten. She let me process all the emotions I was feeling about my “baby” turning double digits.
In the safety of strong relationships, we can commiserate about the various stages of our parenting.
Walking through each season along with trusted friends can often be an antidote to the isolation and struggles we face in our parenting.
If you are feeling overwhelmed as you parent right now, connect with a friend who has experienced similar seasons.
Talk about what you’re experiencing. Use the opportunity to fortify each other in love and lift each other up in prayer. Remember, we are not created to do life alone, the intimacy of a close friendship can heal us and help us hold on even in the darkest of days.
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3. Consider What Needs to Change
“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” —Albert Einstein
In each season of our parenting, we run into new and sometimes unexpected challenges.
Recently, in our home we’ve begun encountering behaviors in our children that have left my husband and me perplexed. The almost never-ending backtalk, the strong aversions to eating what has been prepared for dinner, the sibling rivalries instead of sweet cooperation has created stress and discourse in our family life.
While I’d love to believe that I’m the only parent who has experienced these griefs, I am all too aware that I am not. I haven’t met a mom or dad yet who hasn’t encountered the frustrations of parenting on some level or another.
When left unchecked or unchanged, these frustrations can lead us down a spiral; eventually, we find ourselves hanging at the end of that proverbial rope.
Without stopping and making a cognizant choice to change the narrative, we are (perhaps inadvertently) stepping into Einstein’s definition of insanity. When we are at the end of our ropes, we have to make a change.
In early parenting, we might be at the end of our ropes due to sleep deprivation.
We cannot function long term without sleep. Our bodies will physically give out. If you’re a new parent or a parent of a newborn, you’ve got to make a plan with your spouse and those in your circle to get some rest.
One solution might be a friend coming over during naptime to allow you to rest. Another option could be to hire a doula for a short period of time to help you work towards physical restoration.
If you’re in those preschool years and staying at home with your children you know how difficult it is to get out to run even the simplest of errands.
I remember that stage in my own parenting like it was yesterday. I recall both of my children melting down in the post office while I ran in to mail a package. We all left the post office in tears.
We expect our children to behave in public, but also that trip to the could have been done while our kids played at the neighbor's house. I could have made a better plan and avoided crying in my car mere minutes later out of sheer frustration. I needed to make a change and pick my battles.
As our children continue in their development we’re going to have to make adjustments and changes in the way that we parent. What worked while they were little may not work as they grow. We need to parent with both eyes open and with a level of flexibility.
Through parenting, we are going to experience the tender beauty of raising these little gifts, and likewise we’ll experience deep difficulties and frustrations.
We must understand that ultimately we, as Christian parents, are raising our children unto the glory of God.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent this side of eternity, and yet we have an opportunity to raise up the next generation of leaders, teachers, missionaries and ministers.
If we’re merely surviving each day at the end of our rope we’re modeling a lifestyle of sheer survival for our children. We aren’t meant to simply survive but instead are called to a life abundant in Christ.
Let’s take one step forward today, no matter how small it might be, towards that full life.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” —John 10:10
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