De-Stigmatizing Self-Care for Parents
October 9, 2020
Image courtesy of Emma Bauso via Pexels.
Normally when people talk about self-care, images of child-free soaks in the bathtub and fancy aromatherapy candles or well-deserved massages at a parlour come to mind. But let’s face it-- those are luxurious on the best of days, and not everyone-- even childless and/or single people-- has the time to devote to that type of self-care.
For most, self-care falls by the wayside. There are children to feed and errands to run and spouses wanting to schedule a date night and work deadlines to meet and, and, and… the list is endless and often overwhelming.
And yet we all want more of it, and recognize that we need it. So how do we do that? How do we make self-care accessible to the everyday, busy, run-off-our-feet person?
- Redefine self-care for real life
- Self-care for mental health
- How to prioritize self-care in your very busy adult life
We promise you that if you have the time to read this article, you have the time to practice some self-care. It really can be that simple.
The real kind of self-care
Let’s get super-real here. We all recognize that our schedules are overstuffed with deadlines, the needs of others, the wants of others, and so on and so forth. Even though we look towards the weekends to be less stressful, they can often be so full of other needs-- such as neglected house projects or actual time with family-- that the self-care plans we made just don’t get done.
But as we stated in the beginning, that’s because most people equate the term “self-care” with a treat-yourself attitude. And that’s just not true.
Yes, you heard us right-- self-care is not defined by little luxuries or treats for ourselves.
Think about the term itself-- “self” meaning you, at your core-- and “care,” meaning nurturing and maintenance. It’s the “nurturing” part that media and commerce has latched onto and created this fantasy of calming, isolated baths with facials and such. And the “self” part often leads people to believe that it's done in complete isolation-- which can also create a distance between knowing you need to self-care and seeing how you can fit into such a crazy life.
In reality, adult self-care is a series of good, healthy habits that you need to do in your everyday life. They run the gamut from easy to “must schedule this in.” But we promise, you won’t find us mentioning bubble baths and massages.
Let’s start with simple and practical ways to “keep your cup full.” Whether it's losing your patience with kids, yourself, or work, it’s a signal that you need to pause. You need to be aware of your body-- where is it holding tension? Try taking three-- just three-- deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is enough to re-establish the mind-body connection, and is proven to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone). This will also refocus your attention on yourself, and allow you to tune into any other needs your physical body may have-- do you need to stretch a bit? Drink water? (We all need to drink more water!)
If you and your kid(s) or partner(s) are all losing your cool, the “take three breaths” approach to self-care can be done together. For kids, it teaches them the good habit early and helps them to learn self-regulation, and for your partners, it allows you both to gain some objectivity without walking away (possibly leaving unfinished business) and it reinforces the “partner” in the “ship.”
Figure out what else you all need in that moment. If you have kids who are old enough, this is an excellent time to teach them the skill of self-care by having a conversation about what you each need in that moment, and working on it together. Even if one-- or both of you-- needs to shed a few tears. Teaching your kids that it’s okay to cry is healthy! We promise!
Try to notice patterns. This means being more aware of your needs throughout the day, and adjusting your schedule accordingly. This is more work than deep breathing, but even small schedule tweaks can make a huge difference. For example, if you find afternoons at work feel overwhelming, try to figure out why. If there seems to be more people needing your attention, restructure your mornings to get the work requiring the most focus done early so that your attention is freer in the afternoons. If you dread mornings and need ten tons of coffee to shake yourself awake, maybe you need to restructure bedtime in your household so that everyone gets more sleep-- this may mean that your partner(s) need to help out more, or shutting off the electronics and reading bedtime stories to create a quieter atmosphere.
We also want you to be nicer to yourself. We all know the saying: “You’re your own harshest critic.” Boy, is this true! But we need to stop that. Constructive criticism is okay, but not that nasty voice that makes us say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to our kids, mom, or best friend. How many times have you said to yourself: “Oh my god, you idiot, how could you?!” Recognize when that happens and forgive yourself, then make the deliberate choice to replace it with something nicer: “Everyone makes mistakes, and this one is fixable. And I am capable of fixing it.” If this seems silly, just remember-- your kids are watching. Do you want them to learn to speak to themselves in that manner?
We didn’t think so. You all deserve better. So speak it, do it, and live it.
Make time for mental health
We can hear you now: “How can I make more time in my day at all, let alone for mental health?! I can’t even find time to make dinner!”
As we demonstrated above, sometimes it’s honestly as easy as taking three deep breaths a few times a day. But sometimes, it requires more time.
You’re not a bad parent or partner for needing time alone, and you’re not weak for needing to see a counselor.
It is important to have time away from other relationships in order to reconnect with yourself. Maybe it’s only once a month, for fifteen minutes, but it’s necessary. You have an identity that incorporates all aspects of your life-- you are not defined by the one or two of them that take up the majority of your time. You are not just a friend, parent, spouse, colleague-- you are you, and carving out that little bit of time to stay connected to that core self will help you to not become overwhelmed (that “drowning” feeling) by everyone else’s demands on your time, heart, and mind.
We think everyone should have a therapist. Therapists help us with everything from maintaining good mental health to perhaps finding it for the very first time.
Mental health is tricky, and those of us that struggle with mental health issues like anxiety or depression can sometimes feel as if we wouldn’t know good mental health if it konked us over the head with a crowbar. That can make self-care hard to do, and yet all the more important.
Self-care means that you see your therapist regularly, take your medicine as close to properly as you can, and engage in activities that boost your mental health and physical health.
It might also mean that you rethink your mental health treatment plan. If your current plan isn’t working, talk to your therapist. Maybe you need to switch medicines. Maybe you need to try a different approach, like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which rewires your brain to function better without downtime or invasive surgeries.
So as you can see, self-care isn’t exactly fluffy bunnies and sweet-scented flowers. It’s work-- worthy work-- and it gets your needs met effectively. Not as an afterthought. So how do you get your hands dirty?
Tips and tricks for prioritizing self-care
Where can you add self-care to your life?
Think overall and long-term, and make a list. This approach is highly recommended for everyone, and is especially necessary for those who are working on a mental illness or health issue.
Take the time to make a list of your needs, and try to divide them into three categories: long-term, immediate, and recurring. You may have some overlap, and that’s okay. Then come up with a group of strategies for each group. For example, long-term can involve meds, therapists, and family meetings. Immediate might be three deep breaths or repeating a positive or loving mantra to yourself. Recurring needs probably require more planning, so that might involve scheduling playdates for your child to create regular date nights to work on a relationship or an exercise class to help boost feel-good endorphins and physical health. The point of doing this approach is to create a safety net or support plan that builds self-care into your schedule.
If you see a therapist, make a point of asking them for ideas as well. It’s also a good idea to discuss it with kids and your significant other(s). This normalizes self-care and good mental health, builds trust bonds and healthy habits at all stages of life.
The whole point of self-care is to identify your needs, and taking care of them as soon as you can in a healthy way. Making it a habit instead of a luxury produces some amazing results in all aspects of your life.