Many parents feel overly stressed by the multiple demands of family life and raising children. Making sure kids are fed, dressed, learning something in school, building good relationships, and staying safe takes a great deal of time, effort, and emotional energy. However, when a psychologist such me asks “How are you taking care of yourself?”, parents often question why this might be relevant or, sometimes, how can they find the time to do this. Although maintaining good self-care may seem less important than parenting, parents who regularly attend to their own needs are more effective caregivers and less prone to “burnout” than those who do not.
What do you mean by “self-care”?
Self-care means doing the same things for yourself that you want for your children and others you care about. While we all have basic survival needs, we also need regular opportunities for social, emotional, creative, and inspirational growth. We need time and space to keep ourselves physically healthy, learn, connect with other people, process our own feelings, keep ourselves calm, and develop a sense of personal purpose and inspiration. Even when life is demanding, making sure these needs are attended to can increase our resilience. In many cases, though, parents feel as if they must give up doing these things for the benefit of their children.
How does good self-care improve parenting?
Effective parents are generally able to tolerate frustration, communicate positive attitudes and expectations, and maintain good energy and stamina. When we do things to limit stress on our own bodies and minds, we become more capable of focusing on others’ needs in a constructive and proactive way. Also, children benefit from positive modeling, and parents who place value on keeping themselves well set a powerful example for their kids to do the same in their own lives.
What can I do to take better care of myself?
Keep expectations manageable and reasonable. Start small and decide on one area you want to focus on more often. Make a list of things you personally enjoy doing and would like to make more time for in your life. Empower yourself to take even 10 to 15 minutes each day to do one of these activities and talk about any guilty feelings with friends or other caregivers so they have an opportunity to provide support. This should have a positive effect on your physical or mental state and may even encourage you to add other self-care practices to your routine. Be sure to schedule these activities ahead of time and on a regular basis, so they have a place in your life.
Balancing our attention to our children and ourselves can certainly be challenging. However, it is crucial for parents to be strong, patient, and thoughtful, and to inspire our kids to show their bodies and minds the respect they deserve. Try to make some time for yourselves and ask for help if it’s tough to do so. You and your children are worth it!