It was 5.25am in 2017; a usual day. Like most mornings, my alarm went off. Undeterred by the cold, my tiredness or niggling headaches, I got myself out of bed, poured a cup of coffee, changed into my exercise gear and off I went for a morning run with my bestie, Manal, who is also a personal trainer. An hour later, 6.30am, I was back home, in high spirits, feeling energetic and ready to conquer the day.
An hour later again, I was depleted, begging my children to put on their shoes and negotiating with my six-year-old each ingredient contained in her lunchbox. As my patience went in decline, my temper was rising. All my standard strategies for organising my children were failing me. I started calculating whether I’d get the 8am bus for the 8.30am meeting or whether I should start texting with an excuse for my anticipated lateness.
By the time I had dropped off my son to daycare and daughter to school I was in tears. Then Manal called me. As I sat on the 8.30am bus (having missed the morning meeting), I told her I was finding it difficult to manage with it all. By now my niggling headache was turning into a migraine and my tiredness had become exhaustion.
I wondered how I even managed to get through the run with my latest cold invariably contracted through daycare and fatigue. I told Manal I wasn’t sure if I should run anymore in the mornings. She suggested that I always struggled at the start of a workout but by the end – with lots of support – it became a piece of cake. She said I just need the same type of support on the parenting treadmill.
That’s when I decided that I needed the equivalent of a personal trainer for the basic parenting stuff: getting out of the house in the morning, going out for dinner as a family, homework, bath time and bed time.
Someone who could look at my technique and refine it; someone who knew what my goals were for my family life and helped me achieve them; and just someone to make all these little things feel manageable and enjoyable.
It was a revelation to me that I needed help. I was the type who scoffed at Tizzie Hall and her Save Our Sleep new-age bible (who gives parenting advice with a name like Tizzie?); rolled my eyes at people who hired sleep coaches for their newborns; and tuned out of the latest parenting craze in mother’s group. I’ll do it my way thank you very much. After all, my parents all these interventions and I managed just fine.
But I wasn’t managing. Full-time work that bled into evenings and weekends, two young children, non-stop household chores (didn’t I just clean the food scraps off the floor?), it felt like a grind. My partner is amazing but extremely busy and going through the same struggles. I needed someone to help me reset (as my daughter’s kindy teacher would say) and reshape some of my parenting strategies.
I needed an intervention, desperately. I needed the same type of support that helped me on a long run to help me through basic family routines.
So in came Sharon. She was a bit of a hurricane to be honest. She came in to our home like she was about to run it. And she did. After being very firm with my partner and I about how we needed to be committed to change, she got to work and she meant business. She declared that things are going to start afresh and there will be a lot of hard adjustment.
She said that we needed to lift our expectations with the children – the kids needed to put on their own shoes, prepare themselves for the bath and even make their bed in the morning.
I was regretting having Sharon come in with her imaginary ideals, and wondering how I would explain myself to my partner.
But then Sharon said: "I’ll come tonight and tomorrow morning and the next night and all the times you need me until we get things on track." So she did. And suddenly everything felt better and actually got better – much better. My four-year-old would have a meltdown and Sharon would simply say, no need to placate – wait for the wailing to stop and then have a loving conversation. And it worked.
Or there would be a messy room and Sharon would explain how to make cleaning it up with the kids into the most exciting game. And it worked. Or when fighting began between the kids, Sharon would just show the kids how to role play getting-along. And it worked.
Sharon’s support reminds me of my long runs when it felt too hard and I’d be too sore, and then Manal would give me a suggestion about breathing, posture or foot landing and suddenly things felt easier. I still call on Sharon when things need ‘resetting’ in the home. And each time I feel stronger for it – in every way.
I would’ve saved lots of tears (from myself and the kids) if only I’d known sooner that a personal trainer for parenting existed and that I didn’t need to feel that calling on help was failure or that ‘business as usual’ was the only way to parent.
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