Last week I had one of those days. An argument with the husband segued seamlessly into a full family meltdown trying to get the kids to school with their requisite projects, homework and PE kits, fancy dress for another Book Day or what have you. I got a parking ticket and shrunk my favourite jumper in the wash. After arguing with every single person I came into contact I realised it had to be on reflection something to do with me not the entire world. But why? I scheduled, made lists, shopped, diarised. I’m on top of it, goddammit. It suddenly occurred to me that all I want to do is rest, run away, sleep. I look at my exhausted husband and decide instead of competing for the ‘I’m busiest’ badge as we usually do, a different strategy is called for. ’STOP!’ I yell ‘PULL UP THE DRAWBRIDGE.’
The term ‘Drawbridging’ has been used recently to describe reclaiming a period of quiet time for mums and babies to bond after birth. In the good old days we would have had a week or two in hospital and arrive home all rested. Now it seems we are on a revolving carousel of social show and tell and facebooking, updating the whole world about the minutiae of transition from foetus to first poo ad infinitum. Drawbridging is the essential lost art of mindful protection of your family and personal time. And vital sobriety for busy people, especially I think at this time of year. I also like to call it the Art of JOMO.
My kids are now 11 and 8 and as I look at my tired husband, prod my new set of wrinkles and listen to everyone moaning about another sore throat, it occurs to me this strategy needs be a regular family approach not merely the emergency stomping ground of new mums. In these crazy days of 24 /7 accessibility, social media, tech, after-school clubs and our cultural pillars of business and achievement at all cost, we need to adapt and survive. And I do it myself. ‘How are you ?’ they say ‘Oh, good but just so busy.’ Well it needs to stop. Us mums need evolved strategies for our modern families and flagging energy levels.
So how do we Drawbridge and embrace our JOMO? Psychotherapists firstly we can look at our timetables and reduce non- essential stuff. For the kids the obvious starting point is the list of ‘enrichment activities’ after school and at weekends. We may think these are opportunities but, says Ingham, ’Rushing from A to B constantly can negatively affect the quality of our relationships and the constant interaction and acquisition of new skills and the pressures of fitting in are a lot for kids to deal with.’
Drawbridging is simplifying, taking stuff of the list and tuning into each other as a family without your usual distractions. Activities could involve watching a film together, playing games, gardening, walking and importantly coming off tech. Remember everyone is different. If playing Sylvanian Families for a bit makes you want to scream ( my idea of heaven BTW) then find activities to suit you.
Psychotherapeutic Family and Women’s Counsellor Chanelle Sowden says ‘This family and alone time can provide high quality attention which is often what we are often most starved of and searching externally for.’ In other words it’s time to get to grips with what we actually need rather than what we think we need.
Drawbridging allows us to reflect on family timetables and routines and see if they are actually working for us. We can ask ourselves to ask questions about who we are and what we need, says Ingham. Since my son started big school Pancake Wednesday has become an institution in our house. We get up a bit early just one day a week and have breakfast together. I obviously buy the pancakes, rather than make them. I am not God.
Drawbridging is excellent for mental and emotional health, and with teen and pre-teen depression souring in the UK , Psychiatrist and best- selling author Fiona Murden stresses the importance of switching from ‘doing’ into ‘being’ mode to counteract today’s frenetic pace and safeguard kids.
According to psychologists, down time switches our systems to parasympathetic mode, allowing us to rest, digest and repair. If the are constantly on the go, we are in fight/flight mode and our systems we are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol which can cause an array of health problems and we are stressed out.With kids’ brains still developing this is even more crucial Their frontal cortexes are developing which is the part of the brain that governs communication and relationships.’ This helps them form secure attachments with us, which is the blue print for other healthy attachments in their lives.
The big word on Therapy Street at the moment is Emotional Resilience. This skill of being able to bounce back, maintain equilibrium and cope with the stresses of life, experts agree can be helped by good routines, boundaries and self care. Drawbridging is beneficial for everyone as it gives us time to process information and regain equilibrium which in turn improves resilience. A Virtuous Circle which promotes happiness and health, if you like Rest and relaxation regulates our emotions and improves a whole range of physical and emotional functions like sleep, food cravings, concentration and reduces irritability. Hooray! I have permission to go back to bed.
Actually, last week’s meltdown notwithstanding, I think I’m pretty adept at drawbridging around my own time. My husband says I invented JOMO or The Joy of Missing Out (as opposed to the well publicised FOMO , Fear of Missing Out. ) I have a vocabulary around it. On Fridays we put on the ‘Pyjama Armour ‘ and get into ‘The Zone’ which is the sofa with a cup of tea and a blanket. If I really mean business I have ‘The Duvet Fortress. The kids know if they come down after 9.30pm I turn into Evil Mummy.
These days I delete social media apps from my phone on the weekend to ward off any random FOMO from school mums night’s out pictures and get my chill on. I reinstate them on Sundays sometimes so I can indulge in a bit of Chardonnayfreude ( delighting in the misery other others’ hangovers) over my cuppa though. If you are an extrovert apparently, you may need less drawbridge time and more social time. It’s a bespoke art it seems.
On a serious note, on paper as parents we know we need to be careful not to fill our home time with so many child-centred activities we get burnt out trying to be perfect parents. But we can’t help but feel Drawbridging just a wee bit indulgent perhaps? We need to remember says Murden that parenting is a marathon not a sprint and whilst mums often say they feel guilty sitting and doing nothing, by resting and relaxing out we are modelling and promoting the use of boundaries to prioritise self-care which is an important responsibility as parents.
If Drawbridging feels unfamiliar, we may need to practice it. See how twitchy we get deleting social media from our phones for the weekend, or lying for a minute and watching the clouds move. Play with your calendar and experiment. We might even need to learnt to sit with the discomfort of other peoples’ responses when we put our own needs first for a bit. It’s not selfish. It’s essential. And remember, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be forever. Just pick a day here and there and see how you feel.
There is wisdom in the seasons my mum always says. Winter is the perfect time for practicing the art of Drawbridging : lighting the fire, getting cosy, watching films, cooking and taking it a bit easier. And it’s about balance. We don’t want to isolate ourselves or disappear from civilisation but sometimes you need to dial it down. In farming you need fallow fields to replenish the soil, animals hibernate. It’s part of the cycle. Take off the busy badge. Move away from the belief that being busy makes you worth more. It doesn’t. When people ask you what you did at the weekend take pride in saying ‘Nothing’.’
5 Ways to Drawbridge for your family
Take time to get used to playing games together, eating together or doing activities such as exercise (no phones, screens, friends or multi-tasking)
Deliberately schedule in the quality time together until it becomes natural
Make sure that the time is fun and a happy, feel-good experience with lots of positive reinforcements (not a time for discipline or being stressed) Make a list of the activities that are nourishing and fun.
If you have more than one child try ‘Love Bombing’ with each child where they get your undivided attention for a day or period of time to do an activity of their choice, consciously meeting them in their world and allowing them to lead the conversation.
Prepare for the drawbridging by completing household chores and other boring activities such as food shopping and running errands so that they don’t dilute the quality time.
5 Ways to Drawbridge for yourself
Be honest with what really meets YOUR needs. Self-care doesn’t always have to be a bath with candles, it may be being artistic, creative, journaling, baking, dancing, singing or even therapy.
Observe (without reacting) how it feels for you to be on your own, do nothing, please yourself, decline or cancel plans or delay responsibilities. Whatever the feelings are that come up as you drawbridge hold in mind that this is an important part of our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Pay attention to what your body is telling you. We are all affected differently by the infinite variables in our lives e.g. the seasons, the different times of our monthly cycle, the things that trigger us. It’s our responsibility to speak up for ourselves about are individual needs. It’s not selfish.
Be honest with others about what you’re doing. It may feel uncomfortable sharing that you are prioritising yourself instead of taking on more responsibility or accepting another invite but hiding or denying things feeds guilt. Giving yourself time is a priority and by speaking openly about it you give permission to others to feel ‘OK’ doing the same.
Consider the idea that you are enough just as you are. This promotes the idea of just ‘being’, rather than ‘doing’. There is often more praise attached to what we’re ‘doing’ or achieving and the value of just ‘being’ can get lost and feel unfamiliar which can contribute to low self-esteem, feeling under-appreciated for who we are and cause burnout.
Written by Kate Baily