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Parenting and rest

Saturday, 11 February, 2012

Things are busy! No time for blogging! But below is a talk I gave at beach mission this year on the subject of parenting and rest.

To give you a bit of context, our team ran a kids holiday program at one of the local schools. (This makes the term “beach mission” misleading since we were in schools the whole time and never made it to the beach.) I was part of the section responsible for looking after the adults—that is, any of the parents who decided to stick around for a coffee while their child was in the program. The first 45 minutes would just be for chatting and getting to know one another. Then at around 10:15 am, one of the members of our section would give a five-minute summary about what the kids were learning in the program that day (i.e. Monday = creation; Tuesday = sin; Wednesday = Jesus; Thursday = resurrection; Friday = heaven). After that, one of the members of our team would give a short (usually 10-minute) talk. I did two—one on parenting and rest, and the other on parenting and marriage. The parenting and marriage one won't be put online, but here's the parenting and rest one:

Introduction

So today I'm going to talk a bit about parenting and rest.

I know what you're thinking:

Jokes aside, I hope in the next little while to convince you that rest is not only an important part of parenting, but also that good parenting can't really happen without rest.

Our story

That is certainly the case for me and my husband Ben. We've been married for nearly 12 years. We have a little girl named Astrid who is almost 17 months old. We also have a fourth invisible “member of the family”: depression. My husband (and he wouldn't mind you knowing this about him, by the way) has struggled with depression for a number of years, and so have I. Speaking very generally (and feel free to talk me about this later if you like), Ben's depression is more on the genetic/chemical side of the spectrum, whereas mine is more situational. My mood is usually affected by external circumstances, which means that when things improve, I do too.

I'm also a classic introvert—in the sense that I tend to regain energy through being alone. This means that I find looking after our daughter hugely challenging: usually what happens in any given week is that I go and go and go until I hit the wall—often on a Saturday. And then I have to spend a significant chunk of time alone or else I go crazy.

For us, making a rest a priority doesn't cure our depression. But it keeps things manageable so that life continues to tick along without either of us running off screaming into the sunset.

What is rest?

But what do I mean by “rest”? Sleep? Holidays? Going out for coffee? What are we talking about here?

In the Bible, the concept of rest is derived from God. The people of Israel—God's people—were instructed to rest and do no work on the seventh day (that is, the Sabbath) because God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day. The Sabbath was a day of refreshment—a day on which they ceased toiling, enjoyed the fruit of their labours and worshipped God.

Furthermore, the idea of God's rest encapsulated something that I'm sure everyone dreamed about in the ancient world: rest from one's enemies. Peace. Respite from all that assails you.

In the New Testament, these ideas are applied to the end times. Here, God's rest refers to heaven—a heaven that entails the end of our bitter toil, peace (for God has crushed his enemies, who are also our enemies), delighting in the fruit of God's new creation and eternal fellowship with the Divine. But the only way you can enter that rest is through Jesus, because it's his sacrifice of himself on your behalf that makes it possible for you to enjoy that rest. As we're still waiting for Jesus to return to judge the living and the dead, resting now looks forward to that final “resting place”. By resting, we express our trust in God's sovereignty, goodness and ability to fulfill his promises.

So when I say “rest”, I am referring to sleep, holidays and going out for coffee. But I'm also talking about things like exercise, leisure, socialising and creative pursuits—things that refresh us—things that are a good part of God's creation that are meant to be enjoyed.

Why rest?

So why rest? Why, apart from the fact that resting sounds very appealing? Here are seven reasons.

  1. Firstly, because God says to. It's funny: you'd think that not resting wouldn't be such a big deal to God. Yet in the Old Testament, there were huge penalties for disobeying God's command.1 I think it shows just how serious God is about rest. Rest is a wonderful and precious gift from God. God is not a workaholic or a harsh taskmaster; he wants us to take the time to stop and enjoy things—his world, his people and, above all, himself.
  2. Secondly, why rest? Because parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to re-fuel every now and then in order to keep going—to keep going with the daily routine, the endless housework, the fatigue, the sibling rivalry, and so on. If you don't rest, you'll burn out. And you won't make it to the finish line.
  3. Thirdly, why rest? Because lack of rest can lead to poor physical health. God created us as humans, not machines. We are not capable of going and going without a break. People who get enough regular sleep are less likely to get sick. Given that most kids tend to be little germ sponges, you want to have as many defences against colds, flu and gastro as you can. Furthermore, people who are sleep-deprived tend to have the same levels of performances as people who are intoxicated. Lose two hours of sleep out of eight and it's like you've had two or three beers; lose four and it's like you've had five beers; lose a whole night and it's like you've had 10 beers.2 Still want to get behind the wheel of a car?
  4. Fourthly, why rest? Because lack of rest can lead to poor mental health. When you're tired and overworked, it's easy to despair and think there's no way out. But when you've slept well and had a little time to yourself, it's amazing how much better everything seems.
  5. Fifthly why rest? Because resting will make you a better spouse. A well-rested wife is a happier wife, and a happy wife tends to make her husband happier too because she has more to give to him. In contrast, a ridiculously busy and stressed out wife tends to stress out her husband as well. Well-rested parents also tend to relate to each other much better, and are less likely to snap at each other, argue or lose their tempers.
  6. Sixthly why rest? Because resting regularly will make you a better parent. A well-rested mum is a happier, less stressed, less irritable, more patient, more tolerant and more energetic mum. A well-rested mum is also better able to meet the emotional needs of her children. Strangely mothers are often the ones who set the tone for family life: if mum is feeling stressed, upset or anxious, the kids tend to pick up on it, internalise it and then reflect it back in bad behaviour.
  7. And finally, seventhly, why rest? Because resting regularly sets a good example to your kids. It shows them that rest is important—that life isn't just about work, work and more work. My parents are workaholics who rarely take holidays. As a result, I am very bad at rest, and the impact of this on both my husband and child is pretty awful.

How to rest

Right: hopefully I've convinced you of the importance of rest. But I'm sure you must be thinking, “That's all very well, but how on earth do you find time to rest in between looking after the kids, doing housework and making sure the wheels don't fall off everything?”

Here I am hoping we can help each other. I can tell you what I do, but what I do may not work for you because my personality leans towards structure, organisation and planning. If you're more of a spontaneous and unstructured person, I'd love to know how you do it because I'm sure you think about it in much more creative ways than I do.

So this is what I do:

An aside

Just as an aside before I finish this talk and hand things over to you: I think we mothers can often be very harsh with ourselves, thinking things like

Let me encourage you to view your circumstances objectively. Don't compare your situation to others'; it's like comparing apples to oranges, and it's never helpful. You are you: no on else has your family, your in-laws, your husband, your kids, your income and your temperament. You need to work out what will make things sustainable for you. How can rest can help you keep going with the business of being a mum/wife/worker/superwoman, etc.? Only you can answer that question.

Over to you

Okay, enough about me. Over to you.

Endnotes

1 cf. Exodus 31:14, 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36.

2 Jennifer Ackerman, Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2007, p. 166.

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