Lately I've been talking to my clients here at Grove Psychology about hats. That seems a strange conversation to be having with your psychologist, but hear me out. I mean metaphorical hats or the roles that we play in our lives. This particularly applies to parents - we are often devoted to our children, making sure they have a good routine, get to bed on time, brush their teeth, eat their greens, get to sporting activities and so on, that there isn't much room for anything else. The downside to this is that other parts of our lives can often become neglected and we start to feel unhappy with our life or situation. We start to feel stressed, and perhaps even in engage in unhelpful behaviours to manage these feelings such as drinking more, withdrawing from the family, becoming resentful of our partner and so on. Left unchecked, this unhappiness can lead to bigger problems such as depression.
I've suggested to my clients that we have 3 hats that we wear at anyone time and that we need to give attention to all of those hats. Those 3 hats, in no particular order, are Parent, Partner and Self. Let's explore these hats a little further.
As a parent, most of us wear our Parent hat pretty much full-time, particularly if we have younger kids. It's hard not to wear this hat - our children need our attention (which is really important for their development) and we naturally want to give our children our attention, as well as all the other things we think will give them the best start to life. That's why so many mums and dads are out on a cold Saturday morning in July supporting their child's sporting team. We're helping our kids with their homework in the evening, taking them to see friends on the weekend, rushing to after school activities - it can be hectic and time-consuming as well. It's definitely worth it, that's why we do it - but sometimes we forget to take our Parent hat off.
When we forget to take our Parent hat off, we often do this at the expense of our Partner or Self hat. I've asked many of my clients in this situation - "when was the last time you and your partner had a date?". I either get a blank stare or a mumbled, "jeez, probably before kids". Sometimes, maybe once a fortnight or once a month, we need to put on our Partner hat and go and "date" our partner. It sounds funny, but it's vitally important for a healthy relationship that we actually spend some time with that person, and sorry watching t.v. in the evening doesn't count, nor does a family outing. I'm talking about 2 or 3 hours of uninterrupted time together doing an activity. This could be as simple as going out for a meal, or doing a fun activity such as mini-golf - but something that is different from the daily activities that we participate in. Check in with each other - ask about work, or how they are coping with the kids, or are we achieving the goals we set out together (or make some goals if you don't have any).
Finally, the Self hat. These are activities that are solely for you. What hobbies have fallen by the wayside because of time constraints? If you had 2 or 3 hours a fortnight to yourself, what would you do? Would you catch up with a friend? Go shopping? Cross-stitch? Go fishing?
All 3 hats are important (and there may be more hats in your life) and all need attention to varying degrees - they may not be equal, for example I think the Parent hat will require more time than the Self hat - but if you wear one to the exclusion of another, you will most likely start to experience signs of stress and unhappiness. If you are wearing your Self hat (or career hat) more than your Partner or Parent hat, you'll notice that you're disconnected from the family, and likely you are not happy either.
I often talk to my clients about the aeroplane safety metaphor. The flight attendant will tell you in an emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. It's important to make sure we look after ourselves so we can help others (eg our kids). That means, for a few hours a month, we have to take off our Parent hat and wear a different hat. If we're happy, usually our kids are happy too.