The fast is beautiful, spirituality refreshing and hard…and it can get so much harder when you become a parent! Suddenly you not only have to fast but now you have to a be a good parent at the same time (something that can feel pretty impossible even when we’re fully nourished). This year I’ve given myself seven strategies for fasting with three kids with as much mindfulness, patience and good-humour as possible.
1 – Prep Your Meals
Making sure we get enough to eat can be tricky with young kids (ever got to dinner and realised you forgot to eat breakfast and lunch? Me too!), and I can’t count the times that it’s gotten to 5pm and I’ve had to pack everyone up and run to the store for some crucial ingredient that I had forgotted had been used up. Usually it’s no big deal but getting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table can become a real source of stress when I’m fasting and the kids are hungry too. Taking the time to plan our food shopping and prepare our meals in advance can make those 19 days run much more smoothly.
Mornings feel easier when I wake up to a clean-enough kitchen and I’ve gotten all our breakfast ingredients, for me and the kids, ready the night before. Plan for their lunches (and emergency dinners for when they can’t wait till sunset) by stocking up on quick, healthy foods, and if you have a freezer use it! Each February I plan to make double portions of every evening meal we eat and freeze half. If you don’t have a lot of space to freeze meals you could prep your meals in the morning and slip them into the fridge, ready to put into the oven an hour before sunset. For me knowing that dinner is taken care of makes hungry, tired evenings so much easier.
2 – Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is pretty key to being the best parents we can be all year round, but getting to bed early is especially important during the Fast (and when I know I could be up a few times in the night, it’s crucial!). Dealing with hunger and a lack of energy is often so much easier when we’re well rested – we’ll be less likely to snap and more likely to stay calm and rational if we’ve had a good long night’s sleep. During the Fast I have to make sure I Ieave evening meetings and friend’s houses early, give myself a bedtime (or better yet, just start my own bedtime routine as soon as the kids are asleep), leave my devices in another room and get cozy.
Bonus: If you’re kids are still napping and you’re a stay at home parent you can take advantage and go all new-born phase – I remind myself it’s OK to let housework slide and to sleep when they sleep.
3 – Keep a Positive Attitude
The mind is a powerful thing – we know that our thoughts have the potential to change this world into a rose garden, or prevent it from flourishing – so we need to keep those thoughts in check. The moment I tell myself fasting makes me grouchy l become a grouch, and when I tell myself I’m too tired I feel my energy slip away (research suggests that if you tell yourself you’re well rested in the morning it gives you more energy than a cup of coffee!). Try reminding yourself of the spiritual nature of the fast, that fasting is good for our minds and bodies, and that every pang of hunger is a reminder of how blessed and lucky we are to have enough food to nourish ourselves and our children.
4 – Slow Down & Prioritise
For me, fasting takes more focus and energy now that I’m a parent and I can’t do as much during the Fast as I did before I had kids. Keeping up with being a calm and attentive parent is enough – for me, the fast isn’t the time to have a perfectly clean house, to clear my to do lists or start new projects. I think it really helps to give yourself permission to slow down and focus on your kids, your mood and your prayers.
5 – Plan Evening Quiet Time
If your kids are no longer babies, but still young enough to want you around for help and supervision, plan restful activities for the time between the end of school and sunset. Sometimes even watching and listening to my kids’ high energy activities from the side line is enough to make me feel overwhelmed. Try watching their favourite movies or colouring together, build a Lego town that can stay out and grow the whole month or plan long bath time fun with all the toys – anything that feels calm and happy for everyone.
6 – Be Honest
We don’t have to pretend to our kids that fasting is easy – it is, after all, supposed to stretch us and teach us how hard it is to go without. If we’re feeling tired or irritable it’s OK to tell them, to ask for their help and cooperation, and to pray together. Even verbalising this to very small children who can’t really understand can help us let out the pressure in a calm and conversational way, instead of loosing our cool and raising our voices.
7 – Give Yourself (and Your Kids) a Break
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not your usual upbeat, energetic, organised parent. We’re not machines and the fast is supposed to be a challenge. The likelihood is, even with all the preparation and focus in the world, we’ll all slip sometimes – maybe we’ll snap at them, be late for school or engage in petty arguments. During the Fast I try to remind myself that it’s OK to under-react, let the little things slide and make life easier for ourselves and for our kids. Maybe I’ll cook food I know they’ll eat without a fight, let them go to bed without a shower, or take the bus instead of walk — anything to prevent frayed nerves and raised voices.
These are my plans for fasting this year – what are your top tips for a happy and spiritually rejuvenating Fast?