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Parents - get some rest!

Why busy mums and dads need to take rest seriously.

I know what you’re thinking ... “Rest? What’s that?”

“Parenting and rest? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

“You mean ‘retirement’, right?”

Jokes aside, let me convince you not only that rest is an important part of parenting, but also that good parenting can’t happen without rest. That's certainly the case for me and my husband.

We have two little girls—a baby and an almost-four-year-old. We also have a fifth invisible “member” of the family: depression. Unfortunately this fifth member has a major impact on the others. It means that we have to make rest a priority, otherwise things start to fall apart. (please note that rest doesn’t cure the depression. Instead, it keeps life manageable so that none of us run off screaming into the sunset.)

What is rest?

Is it sleep? Holidays? Going out for coffee?

In the Bible, the concept of rest comes from God. He instructed his people to rest and do no work on the seventh day (i.e. the Sabbath) because he himself rested from his work of creation on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8-11; Genesis 2:1-3). The Sabbath was a day of refreshment—a day during which they ceased toiling, enjoyed the fruit of their labours and worshipped God. Furthermore, the idea of God’s rest encapsulated something I’m sure everyone dreamed about in the ancient world: rest from one’s enemies. Peace.

In the New Testament, these ideas are applied to the end times. Here, God’s rest refers to heaven—rest from toil, peace (for God has crushed his enemies, and therefore ours), enjoyment of God’s new creation and eternal fellowship with the Divine (Matthew 11:28-29; Hebrews 3:7-4:13). But the only way you can enter this rest is by following Jesus. As we await Jesus’ return, in rest 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 exercise, leisure, socialising and creative pursuits—things that are a good part of God’s creation and are meant to be enjoyed.

Why is rest important?

So why rest? Here are seven reasons:

1. Because God says to. In the Old Testament, there are serious penalties for disobeying his command (Exodus 31:14, 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36). God is not a workaholic or a taskmaster; he wants us to stop and enjoy his creation.

2. Because parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to re-fuel in order to keep going. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and won’t make it to the finish line.

3. Because lack of rest can lead to poor physical health and performance. God created us as humans, not machines: we are not capable of going and going without a break. Recent studies show that people who are sleep-deprived tend to have the same levels of performance as people who are intoxicated. Furthermore, people who get enough regular sleep are less likely to get sick, so view rest as part of your arsenal against colds, flu and gastro.

4. Because lack of rest can lead to poor mental health. When you’re tired and overworked, it’s easy to despair. But when you’ve slept well and had a little time to yourself, everything feels just a bit better.

5. Because resting makes you a better and more godly spouse. Well-rested husbands and wives are happier husbands and wives, and therefore tend to make their spouses happier too. In contrast, busy and stressed out husbands and wives stress their partners out. Well-rested couples also tend to relate to each other better and are less likely to squabble.

6. Because resting makes you a better and more godly parent. A well-rested parent is a happier, more patient, more tolerant and more energetic parent, who is better able to meet the emotional needs of his/her children.

7. Because resting regularly sets a good example to your kids. You are showing them that rest is important and that life isn’t just about work; it’s about worshipping God.

How to get some rest

By now I hope I’ve convinced you that rest is important. But you’re probably thinking, “That’s all very well, but how 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 are a few things that work for me. (If you have things that work for you, I’d love to read them in the comments). To begin with, every Sunday afternoon, I look at what’s happening in the week ahead, list what needs to be done on each day and then schedule in rest. At the moment, rest happens at the following times:

  • Tuesday afternoons when my in-laws come to look after the girls;

  • Wednesdays and Thursdays when my eldest is at preschool. (I use Wednesday mornings for exercise, and because my baby is very portable at the moment, I often take her out to the movies or we visit friends);

  • Friday afternoons when we visit my mother and her partner;

  • A few hours on the weekend (negotiated with my husband);

  • Date night (which is either a Friday or a Saturday night, depending on our commitments).

  • When I’ve finished doing the planning, my husband and I look at the week together and then schedule in his rest time. (This usually includes one night out a week, which he spends with friends.)

  • I keep a lookout for fun things to do (both for my family and for myself)—for example, the Vivid Live Festival, exhibitions at the Powerhouse Museum, tasty cafés and new release movies. I note such things in the (electronic) calendar and then add them to the weekly plan if the opportunity arises.

  • I keep a Rest and Relaxation list and continually add to it. It’s just a list of things I like to do—watching TV/DVDs/movies, reading, knitting, writing, eating good food, visiting art galleries, going for a walk, etc. I keep this list because sometimes I forget what I enjoy doing—particularly when I am depressed.

  • Holidays: I am supremely bad at planning trips away or even staycations. It helps when we can plan something around an event, like a family wedding.

A final thought

Often we parents can be very harsh with ourselves, thinking things like, “Other people have it harder and manage to do it all with less help; I just need to put in more effort”, “I need to be less lazy” and even “I just need to suck it up”. If this is you, let me encourage you to view your circumstances more objectively. Don’t compare yourself to others; it’s like comparing apples to oranges and it’s never helpful. You are you: no one else is in your situation. Work out what makes things sustainable for you. Work out how to build rest into your life. And give glory to God—the God of rest.

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