Risk assessment becomes an integral part of any parent’s thinking process, but for a single parent with a limited support network it can quickly develop into an obsession. Especially if there are disputes over custody or parental access, which can magnify worries and fears exponentially.
We all want to wrap our little ones up in cotton wool and protect them from the big bad world. Yet for the most part we accept that we’re doomed to achieving only limited success, especially once they establish peer groups and a build a wider social network.
But we’re still going to swim up stream for as long as possible, because well, that’s what we feel compelled to do. So we continue to risk assess the hell out of their lives in an attempt to prolong innocence despite all the odds stacked against us.
For the most part our focus remains laser-like on our nippers, and we gloss over our own well-being as if it’s an afterthought. Yeah we know we ought to take care of ourselves a little more, but we tell ourselves we’ll get round to it.
Adequate sleep is a luxury others can afford to indulge in, but something we can only dream of, albeit briefly! We’d pay attention to eating a bit more healthily, but it’s easier to throw something convenient down and eat on the go. Time for exercise might be a fantasy, and we rationalise that as we’re on the go all day anyway, then it’s not really necessary.
To illustrate how this affected me on a personal level, I’ll describe how my worst fear caused me to change my way of thinking, and my life. In fact it probably saved my life.
In 2000, I was working in a particularly dangerous and high stress environment where frequent adrenaline spikes were the norm, with little opportunity to address the physiological impact their cumulative effect was having upon the body. I was working a variable shift pattern that included regular, but not consistent night shifts. My body clock was completely shot, and my financial position was a constant source of worry.
In addition to this I’d recently gained custody of my 8 year old son, and was desperately trying to be with him every moment I could. Given my shift pattern, this frequently meant sacrificing sleep in order to do the school runs, and maintain a steady routine for him.
His coming to live with me was something I’d yearned for, yet came as a surprise. He declared in no uncertain terms that he wanted to be with me, and I was going to move heaven and earth to make it so. Without going into detail, he was safer with me, but there was resistance to our staying together and for months I was in constant fear of him being snatched away at the school gate, or suddenly being faced with a legal battle for custody.
I’d been living in a shell of a house with minimal furniture, which I now had to transform into a home; and did I mention my finances? Put it this way, I was worried about even putting enough food on the table for the two of us.
On one particular night, working alone, I began a long shift of sleep deprivation and exhaustion during which I’d fill in the gaps between jobs by ruminating over my current situation. But this night was different, I had chest pains. Nothing that stopped me functioning , but there was a tightness in my chest that made it an effort to breathe properly.
Should I go off sick? Probably. But this had come and gone before and I didn’t want to appear vulnerable when I needed to appear strong right now. Faulty logic for sure, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
A short time later I had to make haste down a dark country road in order to get to an urgent job. A little too much speed, the wrong gear which loosened traction around a bend, some mud on the road, and the next thing I knew I was upside down with the car on its roof. Sitting amidst shattered glass, I looked out and saw what were once the contents of my vehicle strewn along the road.
The strange thing was that I was completely calm. This hadn’t been the biggest of crashes, and beyond some whiplash I wasn’t hurt. While I knew there were going to be ramifications within my career, I didn’t care. You see this was not my biggest fear. It wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to me, yet the events of that night suddenly brought into stark focus what had been clawing away at my mind for the past few months, and what was in the background 24 hours a day.
My biggest fear, and something I now had to confront, was ‘who will look after my son if anything happens to me?’
I guess I was aware that this was a burning issue that needed addressing, but it’s one of those things that are so big it’s just easier to avoid dealing with. I’d felt as though I had little control over my situation and didn’t have much option but to soldier on.
I remember the ambulance guys concerned faces as they repeatedly took my blood pressure. They couldn’t understand how it was completely normal given the circumstances, and assumed I must have been leaking blood somewhere. You see the only thing I cared about at that point was getting home to my son.
The accident had been a blessing and a wake up call.
I couldn’t continue to put my life at risk when my son’s security and safety was in the balance. I took a role closer to home that had a far more sensible shift pattern, and more importantly was far less dangerous. I overhauled my finances to make things easier, and paid more attention to nutrition. In other words I began to look after myself.
Did my biggest fear disappear? No. But it existed alongside the knowledge that I was doing as much as I possibly could to look after myself. To lessen the risk of it becoming a reality.
So I pose the question to you. Are you looking after yourself?
You may not be able to get as much regular sleep as you’d like, or afford the best organic food. But you can develop a mindset that makes the most of the cards you’re currently dealt. It’s a habit that ensures that as your circumstances improve, you continue to make adjustments in your lifestyle that benefit your physical and mental well-being.
A more healthy you means you’re more able to be the best version of yourself for your kids. It also means that you’re less likely to develop health issues that could potentially take you away from them.
There are never any guarantees, but why not hedge your bets and give yourself the best possible odds. While not being a betting man, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have carried on much longer the way I was living back then.
Regardless of your circumstances I’m pretty sure that there’ll be something you can change within your life to improve your health. Why not do a stock take, make it a regular thing, and both you and your loved ones will reap the benefits.