Since becoming a parent in early 2015 my DBT skills have been tested- pulled and pushed in every direction- much like my time and myself.
There are many skills that have been more than valuable in the last 16 months- as my little boy has grown from a dependant baby into a walking toddler, finding his independance, and pushing every boundary.
I’ve decided to round up what I feel are the most valuable skills to me, and every parent who is also on the DBT path.
The ability to accept the ups and downs of parenting is of course, vital. Whether that means accepting putting a career on hold, accepting a less than ideal birth or just accepting that right now your kid is whining/hungry/won’t sleep/demanding attention when all you want to do is take a bath.
I had to pretty radically accept from about 32 weeks into my first pregnancy when my waters broke early and everything I’d planned about my baby’s entry into this world was blown out of the water. From day 1 of his life I have been practicing this skill, and with a wild, demanding toddler I pretty much use it daily.
2- Mindful participation
In the early phases of parenting mindful participation was easy- I was so wrapped up in my bundle of newborn joy I could stare at his eyelashes for hours, without a thought about the dishes piling up in the sink, the work I was leaving incomplete or the ever growing list of things to do. Now, it takes a little bit more effort to truly participate, but when I do get down on my sons level and engage from a place of mindfulness, the journey is so much sweeter. To see his face light up as he discovers something new, the joy in him as I sit and play with blocks, pull faces or show him something new, makes me truly joyful too.
On the other hand, when I try to multi task or brush him off to play while I get on with something “more important” it simply backfires- we all end up more demanding, more stressed and less joyful.
Learning to participate in whatever delights my son in that moment gives me respite, and stops me worrying about that ever growing to-do list. Even if only for the amount of time it takes to build a block tower and knock it back down!
I’m a born procrastinator, yet motherhood has taught me to use pockets of time much more effectively. Baby napping? I Take some time out for me (or work on that to do list!) Family member around to help? I can relax for 5 minutes or send them out for a walk. Child playing independently (for once!)? I can catch up on emails or do a quick sketch to work on later!
Finding ways to use my time effectively and not sit despairing about my lack of it has changed my outlook. Many of my sons naps have been spent crying over my lack of time- but finding ways to be effective in the moment has become a vital daily-use skill!
4- Building Mastery
I suffered (and still cope with) some pretty heavy post natal depression after Phoenix’s early arrival. Even without PND most parents can resonate with the feeling on days whizzing by in a blur of nappies, feeds and not enough sleep. In that phase, it’s hard to feel as if you are achieving anything. It was all too easy for me to slip into barely coping and beating myself up for my perceived lack of value.
Pretty early on I started working on building mastery back up. Some days, my “sense of mastery” came from simply managing to get dressed or feed myself in the post natal blur. As the phases have developed, I’ve gained that feeling of achievement from doing bits of work here and there, completing housework tasks or going out to meet new people at mum & babg groups. Whatever it is, I now make sure to congratulate myself on what I have ‘achieved’ that day and slowly regained my sense of value and self worth.
This has been a huge healing tool in overcoming my PND and getting back to myself after such a huge life shift.
5- PLEASE skills
Similarly to above, every parent knows the challenge of looking after another human being. No matter the age we can become so wrapped up in the needs of our dependants we forget or neglect to look after ourselves, slowly degrading us and dragging us down. This obviously affects our ability to live and parent well, and often leads to burnout and/or breakdowns.
Remembering the PLEASE skills and finding ways to effectively meet my own needs at the same time as my sons has helped to combat that burnout feeling on more than one occasion!
Baby led weaning meant I eat at the same time as my son, walking with him in the sling or the pram several times a week helped meet my need for excercise and fresh air, I napped whenever I could and I pumped bottles of breast milk to allow my partner to help with feeds so, in those early days I could get some much needed sleep!
6- Self soothe (& ALL the distress tolerance skills!)
Despite all the above, there are days when everything feels like it is falling apart, I feel like the worst mother in history and all I want to do is cry. Those are the days I use distress tolerance.
Sometimes, if my partner (or another family member) is around I can take a ‘vacation’ in the bath, and forget my responsibilities for an hour. Other times that is not so possible and I rely on self soothing; smelling lavender or bergamot, putting on some happy music and dancing with babe on hip, or taking a walk in the garden to feel the sun on my skin.
There are countless ways distress tolerance has helped during my worst days and I am thankful I have those skills to employ for future crisis moments.
What about you? What DBT skills do you use to survive the ups and downs of parenting?
Do you find time to be aware of and enjoy the ‘ups’?
What distress tolerance skills have proved valuable during the ‘downs’?
I would love to hear your thoughts- leave a comment!