The balance of parenting

The date was March 22, 2001. It was a date that I had known the importance of for at least a couple weeks prior to its arrival. Yet, even when you know an event is coming and you do all that you can to prepare for it, there is still an element of surprise and awe when it happens. Sometimes these events end up having a literal, life changing effect on you and again, no matter how much you think you are prepared, you realize that you just aren’t. And that’s ok.

On this particular spring day, my life was changed by a screaming mass of flesh that shared my DNA and my charming good looks <insert sarcasm font here>. From this day forward, regardless of how I saw myself or what I thought my priorities were, I was no longer the man I was. I was a father, my son’s father. Nothing could change that now. Twenty months later, it happened again and a beautiful baby girl was added to my genetic creations.

I now began to see the power that these bundles of joy and poop could bring to the world. My focus changed in almost every aspect even if it wasn’t entirely noticeable from the outside. My work was for them, my home was for them, my energy was for them. Everything I did, in one way or another was to bring benefit to them. It was a tireless time and their mother and I did everything we could think of to offer them the best life possible. Even when that meant parting ways.

Over the years since that departure, I have had to do a lot of priority shifting to build and maintain a level of care and involvement in my children’s lives. I began to see an importance in keeping a strong focus on not only my kid’s needs but also those of my own. This was a difficult thing to do and the balance is something that I will likely be juggling for years to come. It was becoming apparent to me that as a parent, I was no good to my kids if I was energetically, emotionally and mentally spent. I needed some “me” time to recharge myself from work and the stresses of daily life.

At first, this seemed easy. I mean, how hard is it to blow off some steam and take some rest and relaxation time for yourself when you are now the only one under your direct care? I quickly found that I was good at taking “me” time. Really good. So much so, that tipped the scales a little too far at times and got lazy and selfish with the time I had with my kids. It was a hard realization to have when it hit me that the majority of the time I had available with them was doing things that were for my benefit. Sure, they played along like the good kids that they are and of course there were times that we all enjoyed. But it was hardly the enriching, bond building time that they needed.

Way to go, Dad.

So how do I find the balance? Well, over the past few years, that has been my focus. Find the balance of family fun and enrichment while they are here and seek to find ways to recharge more effectively and appropriately when they are not. Three years ago, I got an opportunity to work more actively on this balance and find the happy medium. Meeting my love and fostering our relationship, meant meeting her daughter and fostering a relationship with her as well. Though she does not share any genetic material with me, we do share a number of interests and that has been a base for our bonding. We laugh over stupid cartoons, we learn how to blow things up watching “Mythbusters” together and we rock out to each others musical selections. We hang out, talk and at times just act goofy together. I see her as my daughter, despite our biological separation.

It is in this time that I have spent with her, that I have been seeking to find the balance. I am no longer living alone and able to retreat away to my man cave. I am now in a situation where I need to be actively engaged in not only my life, but the lives of my fiance and all of our kids. As each person is unique, so are the needs in their lives. Each member of my family needs something a little different from me and it is my job to provide that. At times this may be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich as a mid day snack. At other times, it may be a listening ear late at night when the world seems to be crashing down. Regardless of what the need is, when it is asked of me, I see it as my duty to them to work to fill it. It may seem slightly old fashioned to some, but I do still see my role in the family as that of protector and guardian. This may never develop into a role where I literally need to save them from physical dangers or ward off impending harm with my imposing strength and iron clad will. At least, I hope not because I really don’t have either of those. But, it is a role that involves me seeking to keep them in a state of health, happiness and safety.

In this role of guardian and protector, it is my duty to ensure that they are covered with the basic needs; food, shelter, safety, etc. It is also my duty to try and protect them from the less obvious dangers that are lurking in the shadows. The mental and emotional tolls that childhood experiences bring can at times be more painful than the physical ones. These are the ones that can be warned against, but rarely prevented. The heart has to break at some point to know how to truly see love. Failure has to occur so that success can truly be appreciated. Friendships have to fade so that we truly understand how to give and take. I know I can’t protect against these things, but I can still try to help them heal and, if I am lucky, maybe even prepare them better for the next round. Its a constant fluctuation of energies in this effort to provide them with a happy home and a strong sense of well being.

However, this state of well being is not easily maintained and it takes a lot of energy. There are times that I find myself tipping the scale the opposite way now and again neglecting my own needs in favor of satisfying the needs of those whom I care for. Part of this is necessary in becoming a father and spouse. There are times that each member of the family needs to suck it up and sacrifice for the good of all. This may mean that the kids get a few more chores when the parents are sick, or dad picks up mom’s role when she is away and vice-versa. Regardless, we all face times where we feel the need to pick up the extra slack and come together as a family. But in doing so, we also need to recognize the needs within ourselves to take care of our own energies.

As important as it is that I not let the selfish side of me take over, it is also important that I not sacrifice myself as a martyr to my family. Again, what good am I to them if I am constantly weary and worn out. There is a reason that the flight attendants tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping your kids with theirs. If you can’t breathe yourself, how can you possibly be helpful to anyone else.

To find my balance, I am seeking to maintain a “me” time in my day. I will give all I can to my children. I will give all I can to my love. I will give all I can to my work, my world and my community. But I will also give all I can to myself. Each day, for at least an hour, I seek to focus on the needs my body, mind and spirit are communicating to me. In this time, I will cherish the energy that is mine and seek to renew the vital force within me. I will keep myself strong so that I can be strong for those I love.

How do you maintain your personal energy?  What do you do to keep your “me” time?

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