By Dr Tom York, NHS-registered GP and private GP at GPDQ – UK’s doctor-on-demand app
Christmas holidays are a wonderful time for families to take a break from school and work to spend some quality time together, but to call this period a holiday misrepresents the hard work parents put in to keep levels of merriment ramped up to maximum! As soon as it’s time for the children to return to school, all refreshed after their break, we parents must return to the grindstone until the next ‘holiday’.
So, what can we do to make our lives a little easier and our days run a little smoother? I’ve compiled a selection of top tips for parents to help overcome the Winter blues and sail seamlessly into springtime.
Making double the food is never double the effort. Choose something that you can make in one pot like casserole or chilli, cook enough to feed an army, decant into containers and voila, everyone’s lunch and dinner for the next few days.
You could also try ordering a recipe delivery box for a few meals per week. Some have options for families. They take the stress out of shopping and choosing what to cook and also add some variety to your weekly palate. If you buy double portions, then the leftovers can be used for lunch the next day.
Neither lack of time nor lack of energy should be an excuse not to do some exercise. High-intensity interval training is quick, effective and can be done anywhere. Working out may feel like a huge effort but it’s amazing the extra energy you’re rewarded with when you start putting your body under a bit of stress.
Remember, no one ever gets to the end of the day and thinks, “I really wish I hadn’t exercised today”! Try to fit some aerobic exercise into your schedule i.e. such as a morning swim or run before work, or you could cycle / walk briskly to work.
The weather might be cold and dark at this time of year, but we still get some gloriously sunny, crisp, wintery days. Make the most of them by going on a family walk. Getting the kids out of the house helps relieve some of the winter weekend cabin fever and the only thing better than a chilly walk is coming back to a toasty warm house.
All parents know only too well how difficult it is to function in a haze of sleep deprivation. Despite this, it’s often too tempting to stay up an extra half hour to watch another episode of that TV program. Don’t do it. Go to bed.
If you wake up before your alarm clock then you gain some bonus time to read or do whatever you want. If your alarm clock wakes you up, then you really needed that extra half an hour of sleep and your day will be that much better for it.
It goes without saying that staying hydrated is good for you and generally makes you feel better. Trying to monitor your fluid intake by counting millilitres is boring and unnecessary. Just always keep a bottle or glass of water with you and you’ll drink plenty without even thinking about it.
Check your hydration status by looking at the colour of your urine; a light straw colour is what you should be aiming for.
Cut down your screen time
Try just using your phone as a phone. You may get social media withdrawal, but a lot of people feel liberated when they delete a few key apps and are able to focus on the world around them rather than what’s happening on their shiny rectangle.
You can also try making the bedroom a ‘no-phone zone’ to help you connect with your partner. Spending time together can be hard enough when you have children so why spoil the few chances you get?
Write a diary
Once a week, sit down with your partner (and a glass of wine) and talk about all the funny and enjoyable things that have happened that week. Writing down positive thoughts and memories helps you feel positive and fulfilled, even if certain parts of your week have been tough.
Keep a record of your children’s development and the ridiculous things they say and do. There’s no way you’ll remember everything so write it down and give yourself some fantastic future reading material.
There’s nothing more stressful than trying to do something important whilst also looking after a young child. Playing with your own child is one of the best things in the world but only when you can afford them your full attention. If something important needs your concentration, then your child needs to go somewhere else.
Tag team with your partner so one of you gets on with the joys of admin whilst the other is on childcare duty. After an hour or so, switch over. You’ll find you get so much more done than if you’re both trying to do both at the same time.
Couples who become parents are still couples. Your focus and priorities change but without remembering why you fell for your other half in the first place, relationships can weaken under the strain of parenthood.
Make a habit of having a monthly date night. Better if you can deposit the children with a willing relative, but even if you just have an evening at home when the children are in bed, make an effort to dress up, get something a bit special to eat and drink and reconnect with your partner.
As much as I’m sure you love your family, a little time alone helps you revitalise and recharge. Several times each day, take a pause, stop what you’re doing, clear your mind and just breathe deeply for a few minutes. Whilst doing this you should feel a great sense of calm descend over you. Also, it helps to improve your mental wellbeing throughout the rest of the day, reducing anxiety, focusing your mind and improving your resilience to the stresses of parenthood.
Once a month, try to block off an afternoon when your partner takes the children and you have free reign to do whatever it is you want. Forget about the emails that need sending and the DIY that needs doing and just indulge yourself doing anything at all you feel like. When you return the favour, take the children on a fun afternoon out to spend some quality time with just you and them.
Being a parent is hard work so anything you can do to make your life a little easier must be a good idea. I won’t pretend to stick to my own advice all of the time, but these are the things I try to do as a parent to keep myself and my family healthy, happy and sane.