As a parent and caregiver, I don’t always realise it until my sons are fast asleep at night, so busy am I throughout the day fleeting to meet first one child’s needs, then the other’s (and back again!).
But when the lights are out and my boys are finally in bed, I start to feel it. A weight draped over me the whole day like an invisible cloak, lifts itself off my old and battered body. Like the tension of a tightly wound-up spring suddenly released.
At least that’s how it felt during the early years of parenting.
Sadly nowadays, that ‘spring’ has lost some of its “springiness”. So now it takes longer for me to offload the weight of a long day of caregiving. Perhaps my body’s conditioned over time to stay tense, and it’s not ready to give up the familiar sensations of a set of tight shoulders, a heavy forehead and a stiff back!
Even when I can finally plop myself onto my inviting bed, my caregiving duties for the day over and done with, sleep and rest still take their time to visit me!
There are many days our home routines run me so ragged I can barely stand. All I want to do is plop onto my bed and never get up!
The truth is, parenting drains me daily.
Cos I always feel (and sound) like a broken record when it comes to supervising my kids, especially C and his daily regime. I feel like I’m being “interrupted” as I try to get through the day with him. One moment I am telling him to bring his school shoes into the house after he gets home. Or else I’m asking him to hold the spoon the right way at mealtimes. Or I’m reminding him to wipe off the saliva threatening once again to drip from his chin onto the floor.
In less time than it takes to shout “Tokyo Olympics 2020” (or is it 2021?), I’m listening to myself repeat those same admonitions to C again and again, each time louder than the last!
And this goes on nearly EVERY SINGLE DAY!
Parents everywhere, especially those with autistic kids, can commiserate I’m sure, especially on days when care-giving feels utterly overwhelming. And that can often already be the feeling we awake to in the morning as the sun rises!
Which is why I think it’s time I review how I look at my days; when they start and when they end. Because if I have to start each day already weary with the prospect of being “interrupted”, then the rest of the day is going to feel like I got up on the wrong side of bed!
To review and get some answers, I recently turned to something I learned on a trip I made three years ago.
The day starts when the sun sets
It was November 2018, and my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Israel.
On that trip we encountered many a Jewish tradition, but one in particular stood out for me.
Now most of the world would say that a day starts with sunrise. In contrast, Jews consider sunset as the start of the day.
When I first heard this, I was puzzled. Why night-time and blackness as the start of a day? Shouldn’t the dawn brought forth by a glorious sun slowly climbing up from the horizon, be the ultimate symbol of a new day’s beginning? When the world rises up from slumber and gets on with life? Aren’t shiny, beautiful things that bring us pure joy and delight better viewed in the lovely light of day, than the dismal dark of night?
On that trip, I learned from the tour guide that starting the day at sunset, when the family typically comes together to bond over dinner, reinforces the central tenet of family and community in Jewish tradition. Over a hearty meal, life takes place, as the family shares food and talks about everything under the setting sun.
Then when dinner and family time is done, the next part of the day is a time for rest and rejuvenation; in short, bedtime! Here, the idea is to restore one’s mind and body through fitful sleep, in preparation for the final part of the Jewish day: work, symbolised by sunrise.
In other words, a day should begin with community and self first, not chores, work, and (yes) even caregiving.
Sounds good to me!
My day needs to begin with night!
For too long now I’ve struggled with weariness by the time the sun sets; what for me has all along been the end of a day. That’s because I have associated the task of caregiving with the start of the day when the sun’s up.
Perhaps I’ve been looking at this all wrong.
What I need to better survive my parenting days, especially with my C, is to take a leaf from the wise Jewish community. To see that my day really starts at night, not with jobs to be done or chores and errand runs; but with family bonding and self-care time.
Thus recharged, I’ll then be able to deal with those chores, work, caregiving, and what’s to come; when the sun goes up in the final part of the day.
At the very least, defining my day this way gives me hope that my daily life begins with love and rest, not labour and routines.
That for me is a weight lifted.
And it all begins when I flip my day for night!