Parents often lament the lack of time they have to spend with their children. But the truth is, spending time with your child won’t amount to much if you can’t maintain the necessary energy levels needed to connect, communicate and really be present as a parent.
Our energy is our most valuable resource. It impacts everything we do in our busy modern lives, including how we raise our kids.
But we often think that as long as we’re investing the effort into our children’s primary needs of food, shelter and clothing, ferrying them ‘round to their extracurricular activities and snatching a few minutes watching a family show or reading a bedtime book with them, we’re ticking the ‘good parenting’ box.
None of these endeavours is to be undermined, of course. But if we’re engaging on auto-pilot in most of them, we’re actually creating a disconnect between our children and ourselves and making our parenting job harder than it needs to be.
Focus on maintaining energy levels, not time
You see, time is a finite resource. And because of that, there are certain things we need to do with our daily time – eat, sleep, move, and communicate.
Energy, on the other hand, is a renewable resource. But it’s largely affected by time. Poor diet, lack of sleep, less movement and bad communication, can mean we end up exhausting rather than expanding our energy levels.
When our energy levels are low, our capacity to think straight, curb our frustrations and be efficient and calm is also low. And if we’re not thinking straight or curbing our frustrations when it comes to our daily dealings with our children, then no amount of time spent with them is going to help develop a healthy relationship.
But don’t worry. Luckily, there are several smart and easy ways to maintain, and even boost, your energy levels and be the present, loving parent that – if you just didn’t feel so darned exhausted – you know you would be.
The four types of energy that parents need to know about
Leadership coach and renowned performance psychologist, Dr Jim Loehr, claims that there are four different types of energy and that each feeds off the other. These are:
- Physical (the quantity of our energy)
- Emotional (the quality of our energy)
- Mental (the focus of our energy)
- Spiritual (the force of our energy)
If one or more of these areas of energy is not functioning healthily, it affects all the other three.
This makes sense. Countless studies have shown how sleep problems coupled with physical inactivity, both examples of physical energy, can lead to a depressed mood, which is generally caused by depleted mental and emotional energy.
Conversely, being weighed down with frustrations, stress or sadness can leave you mentally and emotionally fatigued and make you much less likely to want to do anything too physically exerting.
Reduce, conserve and replenish your energy
In all aspects of your being – i.e. your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self – then, the goal is to reduce the drain on your energy resources, learn to conserve them, and regularly replenish them.
The first steps in doing this are as follows:
Be aware of the situations and people that zap your energy. In circumstances that you cannot completely change or stop, look at what small action you could take to reduce the drain to its maximum.
If you’re constantly running some kind of stressful or debilitating narrative in your head, step outside your own perspective and consider the larger context of your situation.
For example, does your partner really expect you to help the kids with their homework all the time or is it that you’ve never asked them to share the workload and so they’re unaware of how demanding you find it?
Also, pay attention to your body’s signals. Do you regularly fight off signs of fatigue? Have you found yourself clenching your jaw or biting your lip when doing a particular task? If these tasks are causing you stress or anxiety, can you delegate them to someone else or, at least, approach them differently?
Create new connections to things and people that make you feel alive and motivated. As part of this, why not explore the particular things both you and your child love to do together, and make a deliberate effort to do those more often while doing less of the things both of you find less valuable.
Exercise: Energy journalling
To figure out how to reduce energy-sapping while conserving and replenishing energy levels in a more personal and meaningful way, try doing this exercise:
Take a sheet of paper and make four columns representing your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. Then, look at your own life, and examine how you can reduce, conserve and replenish.
Think about your energy levels at different times of the day, in different settings and circumstances. How do you feel first thing in the morning? How do you feel after meals, post-work, and when you’re going to bed at night?
My free Energy Journal will guide you.
Maintaining physical energy levels
For instance, if you’re a new mother, nurturing your physical energy may be your greatest challenge right now.
For starters, don’t beat yourself up about needing more sleep. I know too well how sleep deprivation affects your entire life. So, sleep has to become your utmost priority.
Remember it’s just a phase, it will pass and get better and easier. So choose to catch up on sleep when and where you can. If you are exhausted, you can’t function well and you can’t give to others because you are depleted. Sleep is the only way you can continue to give without resentment and anger.
Outside of sleep, add some small exercises that can help you feel physically healthier. Eat well. Drink lots of water. Go out for a walk – with or without the buggy – while calling a friend, a family member or even a colleague to connect and chat with someone.
Bottom line: Think of how you can optimise your time to add in some sort of movement and healthy actions. Just start small and build up.
Maintaining emotional energy levels
Stress is the disease of the 21st century. Without emotional resilience, we are on the path to burnout and depression. But to be emotionally resilient you must have the necessary energy levels to cope with the challenges that life throws at you.
Setting boundaries is a simple way to help you reduce and conserve energy levels. Say “no” when you mean it instead of agreeing to take on activities or workloads that will end up diverting energy from yourself and your family.
Take breaks during the day. Set an alarm or add reminders to think of what you are doing at any given time and ask yourself, “is this activity really serving me? Is it urgent or even necessary?”
You might discover that the emails you’re currently responding to are not that pressing and that curling up with a good book or hunkering down to help your child finish a jigsaw is a much more emotionally satisfying way to spend your energy.
If you’ve just finished an activity, ask yourself “what is the next best step I should take to improve this day?”
The point is to start doing only what brings you joy and comfort, not strain and stress. That doesn’t mean, forgoing the laundry or refusing to respond to your boss’s missive! But it does mean finding ways to make activities more pleasurable. You don’t like cleaning or the school run? Add music when doing both, delegate, or if that’s not possible, reduce the time to the minimum required.
Maintaining mental energy levels
Listen to the chatter and the thoughts that run consistently through your mind. Are they negative? Do they make you feel bad about yourself? If yes, get curious as to why you think the things you do about yourself. Look at how it affects you and make a deliberate effort to reframe or turn those thoughts around.
Surround yourself with positive people who cheer you up and make you feel good.
Watch out for your environment too. A dirty, messy place can take away your energy. So, tidy up and declutter. Add favourite colours and scents too. Get your kids involved in a way that’s fun for everyone, maybe by allowing them to choose a new colour for their room or paint pictures they can hang on their walls.
Make you’re home a happy place for you and everyone in the family and this will automatically increase mental energy levels.
Maintaining spiritual energy levels
You don’t have to be religious or follow any spiritual practice to have spiritual energy. According to Loehr, this type of energy is “the connection to a deeply held set of values and a purpose beyond our self-interest”.
Standing by your values and not allowing others to undermine them as well as putting them into action in ways that make you feel pride and purpose, can help you to maintain this aspect of your personal being.
Equally, allow yourself to consider issues from a place of love rather than a place of fear and frustration.
For example, I used to be so exasperated at my daughter for waking up during the night and not being able to fall easily back asleep. Alongside the anger I felt towards her, I was resentful of my husband for not hearing her cries and sleeping on blissfully while I stumbled out of bed to deal with the situation.
I was so frustrated that I was showing up as a crazy mom both day and night.
Eventually, I changed the narrative. I put myself in both my daughter’s and my husband’s shoes and approached the issue from a mindset of love.
Really, I knew that neither was purposely trying to wreak my sleep. I also knew that when my daughter woke in the night, crying and calling out my name I wanted to be there for her; to be the calm, comforting mom that she deserved. Also, if I allowed my spiritual energy to be squeezed dry, I would be even angrier and more agitated the following morning which would not be good for anyone.
So, I stopped trying to figure out a way to make her sleep and went with the flow, accepting that was just a season, and it too would pass.
So much of how we maintain the necessary energy levels to parent successfully involves stepping back and taking stock of the situation. It’s not always easy, but it can be simply done. Especially if you know that the benefit is a happy household and a fully energised and joyful you.
If you’d like help in managing your energy levels as a parent, book a free coffee chat with me today.