The spring theme of new beginnings was punctuated for me this year as…I became an aunt in mid March!
I cannot wait to meet and get to know my niece! (Her pediatrician advises we wait a bit). In the meantime, I am thinking a lot about what her newbie parents are experiencing, particularly her mom.
Granted, it’s been a while since I was in that phase of parenting (almost 13 years to be precise), but this baby’s birth story has made me hyper-focused on something that is thrust upon new parents and is a shared experience with most adults, regardless if they’re parents.
This something is labor, but of a specific sort.
I was awe-struck that my sister-in-law had labor pains for a mere fraction of the time I did with each of my kids’ births. Because our deliveries were starkly different, I became very aware of how quickly attention on her physical labor disappeared. While physical labor seemed to enter and exit her delivery room loudly and quickly, another type of labor stealthily snuck in to take up permanent residence with these proud and adoring new parents.
That is, emotional labor.
For those unfamiliar with the term, emotional labor can be interpreted in multiple ways. For this post, I’m referring to it in the context of personal life rather than employment, and my working definition is:
The mental and emotional energy required to remain (relatively) grounded in relationships, including the one with yourself, amidst seemingly infinite responsibilities.
Implicit in this definition (and more formal ones as well) is that emotional labor applies to anyone, not just parents. Another implication is that emotional labor is a major source of stress.
Fortunately, the birth of my niece at this time of year reminded me of a wonderful technique that can be helpful when stress from emotional labor rears its ugly head.
It’s called the 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise. Its premise is, if we tune into our immediate environment rather than our thoughts when we’re flooded by emotional labor, then we can calm the mind and become more grounded.
I like it because it engages all the senses in a very focused way in a short amount of time, and also because…it’s simple!
Here’s how to do it. When you feel compromised by emotional labor, take these five steps:
I’ve been taking in all the fresh sights, smells, and sounds of spring recently, and I’ve noticed that with such acknowledgments, my body and mind relax a bit.
It’s not surprising then, that when I heard that my niece was causing emotional labor stress with her nighttime wakefulness, “54321” leapt to mind as a possible aid.
Regardless of how many times in a week or even in a day we feel the need to practice this special countdown, it often feels like a new beginning when the exercise has been done to completion.
Indeed, the 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise is a form of labor, but it’s the kind that resembles the role of an aunt—you get to decide how loving, playful, and supportive you make it.
That’s something to acknowledge and focus on!
APRIL 9, 2021