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Hit the Pause Button

Mom and Dad need to take care of themselves, too.


Illustration by James O'Brien

When my children were teenagers, I often nurtured myself by retreating to my bedroom and picking up a book. A few paragraphs of something like Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? would remind me that angst over teenage behavior was expected. Having that consolation, I would start to feel renewed.

It’s easy for caregivers to feel a generalized crankiness, especially amid the cacophony of all life’s demands. But stopping for a few minutes to soothe ourselves, with the same kindness you show your children when they are upset, can relax us into realizing that we’re just reacting to the usual pressures of parenting.

Sometimes taking care of ourselves means that we need to give ourselves actual time off—to check out, as I did by reading in my bedroom, rather than getting upset at our kids. Kim Polasek, the mother of two-year-old triplet boys, lives in Crockett and commutes daily to her job as a teacher in Lafayette. After being with children all day, Polasek has learned when she needs to stop and tell her husband, “I need 15 minutes without kids right now.” Sometimes on weekends, it’s a kid-free hour or afternoon.

Then, when Polasek is back taking care of her energetic trio, she’s more likely to roll with their challenges. When the triplets are fighting with each other, Polasek can lift her spirits through self-talk: “Remember you tried to have children for five years. Look how darling they are.” And it works.

Janine Pearson, Martinez mother of three, found a way to get some time for herself, as well as some one-on-one time with her husband and her kids, by starting a babysitting co-op. She says it has changed her life. Trading childcare allows her to go to the gym, have regular dates with her husband, or take one child out on an adventure.

Taking care of yourself isn’t always about getting away, though. Sometimes, it’s more about just taking a deep breath as you encounter challenges with your children.
Walnut Creek mom Tera Clizbe works as a representative for a health-care company and has a husband and two small children. Her job demands travel every week. Sometimes her absence makes her kids cranky. “When I get home, I pause and put my cell phone and BlackBerry away.” She consciously ends the workday before she puts on her mommy hat, pausing a moment to get in touch with her own feelings before she reconnects with her children.

Walnut Creek family therapist JoAnn DePetro says connecting with family on an emotional level and just having fun can work wonders at alleviating parenting stress. “There are too many pressures around success in this area,” she says. “People can forget to have game night or hot dog night.”

In her book Busy but Balanced, parenting author Mimi Doe says that one way we can stay present for our children and ourselves is by pausing for priorities. It might sound difficult—almost contradictory when we feel so much pressure to keep rushing—to stop and decide what’s important to us. Doe says, “To remain in the moment and truly listen to our eight-year-old daughter explain the plot of her current favorite book … is tough. The phone is ringing, the dog is barking to go out, and there’s no dinner in sight. It is in this very moment, however, when we can choose serenity or stress—for us and for our child. … Take her hands in yours, and breathe in her story.”
To know when to push the pause button, we have to step out of our inner noise and ask, “What does my heart tell me in this situation?” Just taking a moment to check in with ourselves makes us feel less frazzled.

Nurturing ourselves usually involves “getting out of the game,” even if it just means changing our thoughts. Lift yourself out of worries about your child’s SAT or the stock market. Seek out people who emphasize the joy in life. Try driving a different way home. Play Monopoly rather than cooking dinner, and serve snacks instead. Take a walk, and focus on the stillness deep within every object in nature, especially yourself.

Kicking back with kids

Looking to carve out some grown-up time? Head to these local eateries that provide big play areas so you can relax while dining.
Little Star Café: This casual dining spot is coming this month to Walnut Creek. Parents will be able to linger over a meal while kids roam between the restaurant and playroom. The café will also offer parents kids-free opportunities with a tot drop from 2 to 5 p.m. weekdays and kids’ dinner and movie parties some Friday and Saturday nights.

1536 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-7800, www.littlestarcafe.com.

Tumble & Tea Cafe: For a tasty lunch and some personal time, try Tumble & Tea in Oakland’s Temescal area. The cafe has comfortable seating for adults and a large play area for kids. The owner hopes to open a similar cafe near Pleasant Hill sometime in 2009.

4210 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 601-7378, www.tumbleandtea.com.

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