Defining Self Care: Parent Edition
Language around self-care is everywhere– in advertisements, on social media, in books, on “mommy blogs.” Oftentimes though, self-care can feel like a luxury busy parents cannot afford. If you are in a stage that is heavy on parenting responsibilities, doing something for yourself can sometimes feel borderline selfish because of all the competing demands from your children. Or you may know that it’s important but when it comes to actually implementing it for yourself, there never seems to be a good time or an activity that actually leaves you feeling refreshed. Caring for yourself is not just a nice idea when you get around to it, but essential for your effectiveness and longevity as a parent.
Defining Self-Care and What We Believe About It
Let’s start with talking about what self-care actually is. A “treat-yo-self” mentality often comes to mind when we talk about self-care in our culture– bubble baths, massages, pedicures, and drinks with our friends. These things can be a form of self-care, but they are not the only thing. Self-care is more holistic than just feeling good for a brief time, it involves engaging in practices that help you care for yourself as a whole person (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) routinely.
We need to change our mindsets around self-care if we hope to make meaningful change. Start by identifying what your underlying belief about self-care is. Do you tend to believe that it’s excessive, unnecessary, or selfish to practice self-care? Do you tend to struggle to make the time for it because you often believe that your needs don’t matter in comparison to other people’s? Do you struggle to know what is refreshing and life-giving to you because you believe your worth is found in self-sacrifice and busyness? Do you believe that if you stop working/parenting/hustling for even just a little bit that things will fall apart without you? If you can pinpoint what obstacles you face to practicing self-care, look below the surface and try to name the underlying belief behind that behavior (or lack thereof). Naming it will allow you to determine whether it is based in reality or how you want to proceed. If not, it’s important to start replacing that belief with what is true. That may look like a simple mantra like “self-care is not selfish” or the belief that when we are intentional about caring for ourselves, it gives us a greater capacity to care for those entrusted to us.
Where Do I Start?
Now that we’ve got a helpful mindset, how do we actually put it into practice? We need to start with identifying what activities (or lack thereof) are actually refreshing to us individually, what helps us to feel like the best versions of ourselves. Self-care is individual and will look different for each person based on our personalities, preferences, and seasons. Consider what things bring you joy, fill you up, and make you feel like yourself. Consider these ideas to get you started in our 4 holistic categories.
- A walk around the neighborhood or a beautiful and peaceful place
- Going for a run
- Exercise that is based around enjoyment and gratitude for your body, not results
- Stretching or yoga poses
- A massage, mani-pedi, or other spa treatment
- Journaling about your feelings or current life circumstances
- Creating something as an outlet of expression (art, music, culinary, etc)
- Laughing or talking with a good friend
- Keeping a gratitude journal
- Schedule a “worry time” and strive to avoid worry and anxiety outside of that 30 minutes
- Praying and/or meditating
- Looking at the stars, appreciating nature, taking a hike
- Listening to music that connects you to the divine
- Sitting in silence
- Deep breathing practices
- Creating a “brain dump” list of what is making you anxious
- Getting childcare for the craziest time of day and leaving the house!
- Taking a break from anything on a screen for a set period of time
- Reading a book or playing a game that stimulates your brain
- Going to bed early or sleeping in late
As with anything we hope to do long-term, start with something small and attainable. Pick one thing and try it this week. Write it on your schedule, commit to it as if it were an appointment. And then reflect on whether it had the desired effect or not, recognizing that one activity will often not change your life but rather a more consistent rhythm of self-care is what will lead to change.
We recognize that self-care isn’t as easily accessible to everyone. There may be economic pressures, lack of affordable or trustworthy childcare, or a high level of need that your child is experiencing right now. There are certainly times when we as parents need to sacrifice our own needs in order to care for our children and there are times when resources are low and time to ourselves is hard to find. While we acknowledge these extenuating circumstances, there are always small and inexpensive ways we can take even moments for ourselves. It can be as simple as stepping outside and taking some deep breaths or doing a grounding activity. You can choose to prioritize sleep one night over doing the sink full of dishes as an act of compassion toward your tired body and mind. We can acknowledge our limited resources without allowing it to be an excuse for caring for ourselves in basic but essential ways.
What Does This Mean For My Kids?
Let’s start with the guilt that often comes when we choose our own needs as parents. What if I’m about to head out for my walk alone and my child comes running over and asks me for my help with something? Of course we assess the seriousness and urgency of the request, but just because someone else wants or needs something from us does not mean that it always has to come at the cost of your own time. Can someone else help? Can it wait? After you make the choice, you’ll likely have to be intentional about not allowing the shame to set in about being a bad parent.
Consider and remind yourself of how caring for yourself directly impacts your parenting. What kind of parent are you when you have low/no emotional or physical energy? How easy is it to slide into resentment towards your own children when you’re constantly running on empty but feel like you’re attending to their every need? When you are able to care for yourself, you are able to function out of a more stable and calm place. Not only do you feel better, but you treat those around you better too.
One of your most important roles in parenting is modeling ideal behavior. Kids are experts in seeing when someone says one thing but does another. If we care for the health of our children, physical and mental, then we’ll encourage them to do things to care for themselves. If our kids hear that but see us neglecting our own physical or mental health though, the impact is less strong because they see the inconsistency. Taking time to care for yourself teaches your child that each person’s needs matter and that you see yourself as worth caring for and investing in. Mental Health therapy can be a valuable part of self-care, either for you or your child. If this seems like a next step for you or someone in your family, please contact us at Milestones so we can be a part of you caring for yourself and the people you love!
Carrie Campbell, LCSW-C