Yesterday was a particularly good day. What made the day so wonderful, is that all 7 of our family relationships were fed. But aren't there only 3 members to my family? Yes. Then, how do I get seven relationships with 3 people? It starts with the idea that 1+1=3. In any relationship between two people, there are actually three entities that must be fed and sustained--each of the two individuals and the unified relationship itself. Depending on the type of relationship between the two people, it may need lots of time and energy, or very little, but it will always require some of both. This fuzzy math is best visualized by the unity candle. Often, the families of the couple light to two smaller candles as a recognition of the families helping create the individual. Then, the two individuals light a third candle, representing their new partnership. Note, however, that the two individual candles remain lit. This is because each individual must remain and sustain him or herself, in addition, to feeding the partnership relationship.
What's interesting about relationship math is that it is exponential in its growth, so that the addition of a child to a family creates 7 relationships to be sustained. You still have the 3 relationships from before, but now you add 4 more-your child's individual identity, each parent's relationship with the child, and the family unit. Each additional child adds even more relationships as each child must now develop a relationship with each sibling and the children themselves form a unit separate from the parents. That's what makes time management so important. We must carve out time for ourselves as individuals, time for the parents as a couple, and time for the family as a whole, all while giving each child enough parent time to strengthen those relationships as well as build the child's ability to support him or herself as they grow older.
This is no small task. As parents, we tend to do a good job with our individual relationships with the child as well as the family unit relationship. We also work hard on helping our children cultivate their own identity, although success in this area is often mixed. Most of us struggle to find time to rejuvenate ourselves, although we may catch small moments with haircuts, massages, reading a book, or just having a quiet cup of tea before the rest of the house wakes up. The relationship that often gets forgotten is the parents' relationship. We tell ourselves that, as adults, we know that the child needs more of our time and that our partner will understand. And this is true, to a degree. However, at some point, you must put energy back into that relationship or it will die.
It also does no good to put energy into that relationship, or any of the others, and forget self-care. The failure to nurture one's self can lead to an over investment in the child or partner. Thus, the parent who puts all of their energy into the child can lose not only their partner, but him or herself. This is because over investment in a child often results in the creation of a fused identity with that child, making it difficult for the child to find and create a unique identity because the parent is too invested in each and every decision the child makes--indeed, the parent's own identity depends upon it. Thus, the failure to create the time for self-care results in a weakening of the relationships with the other members of your family. By depriving yourself, you deprive your spouse and child(ren), as well. A prolonged failure in this regard can result in a complete breakdown of the relationship.
Don't get me wrong. As a parent of a 2 1/2 month old, I am well acquainted with self-sacrifice and the role it plays in parenting. I don't have even remotely as much time for self-care as I used to and remembering I am wife as well as mommy can be pretty difficult. Nevertheless, there are ways to make sure we get the time we need, for ourselves and our partners, so that all of the family relationships remain strong and nurtured. For example, when one parent needs time for self-care, the other parent can spend that time building their relationship with the child--two relationships are strengthened at the same time. Taking a family vacation to a place one or both of partners love or always wanted to go can fill up the individual as well as promoting the family unit. Utilizing friends and family to watch the children in order to take a date night, or just a quiet evening at home can help the partnership relationship as well as provide opportunities for the child to learn more about herself by being away from the parents.
Truth be told, one of the things I love about letting Lil' Bit hang out with other people (friends, relatives, etc.) is that I learn a lot more things I can do as a parent to comfort or entertain her. Whether it's ways to make her burp, how to sooth her when she cries, or remembering that as she gets older, things she wasn't interested in before may have become fun, new and exciting playthings, I have learned so much from watching other parents care for Lil' Bit because they do things differently. These experiences also make me more appreciative of my time with her. When I've had her all day with no breaks, the minute Phil walks in the door, I am ready to hand her over. But, if I've left to run errands or, say, shovel 15 inches of snow off the sidewalk, when I get back inside the house, I am ready to hold and snuggle my daughter and have a lot more love and energy to offer her. My self-care rejuvenates me. That little bit of energy given to my self, recharges me and grows exponentially, giving me an abundance of love and energy that I can give to Lil' Bit.
So, getting back to yesterday, here's why it was such a great day. Morning playtime was family unit time (1). Phil got some self-care time while I cared for Lil' Bit, which also provided me with mommy time (2 & 3). I got self-care time when Gramma Pam and then Phil watched Lil' Bit so I could go to the salon, and Phil got daddy time (4 & 5). Lil' Bit's godparents took her overnight, so Phil and I got to have partnership time by having a date night (6). And finally, Lil' Bit got individual identity time by getting cared for by seven different adults, each of whom interacted with and supported her differently (7). And so it was, that we managed to feed and nourish all 7 of our family relationships. Not too shabby for a Thursday.