Choosing to prioritize your self care as a parent has never felt harder or been more important. Unaddressed stress with no relief can trigger a myriad of issues if continued indefinitely. Stress and poor self-care often trigger mental health and physical health problems, or make already existing issues worse. By ignoring their own well being and needs, parents become overwrought and this can have negative impacts on parenting styles and their family relationships. When stress is the driver in our lives, we can sink into a mode of functioning on auto-pilot rather than being present and intentional. We can become detached and irritable. Relationships can suffer, our own mental health can suffer, and our children’s mental health can suffer as well. Suffice to say, taking care of ourselves isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. So how do we focus on our own self-care as a parent?
There have never been more expectations of parents than right now. If you are a parent reading this, you know the list of daily, weekly, and yearly tasks and do-lists that need to be completed to keep that ship afloat and how the pressure can mount day after day. The stress of the expectations of modern, American parenting can be tremendous and with little guidance on how to navigate this, many parents can feel overwhelmed and like they are drowning into the never ending demands and stressors of daily life.
1. How we think is how we feel. Examine how you think. It can be easy to resort to automatic thoughts that hinder our own self-care because how we are talking to ourselves creates unintended emotional reactions. “I just can’t! There is too much that needs to be done!” (makes us feel overwhelmed/anxious) or “my kids need me more than I need to eat/sleep right now” (makes us feel guilty/unworthy). Try to pay attention to how you think and what you are saying to yourself. Work to talk to yourself reasonably. “I’m doing my best, getting out of the house right now and taking a break is important.” or “I want to model for my children that taking care of yourself is valuable”. Practice talking to yourself with kindness and understanding.
2. Seek support when you can. If support is available, use it. Whether it’s family, paid childcare providers, or friends, use it.
3. Do what works. Ask yourself what’s realistic and gives the most benefit. Assess the resources available. Prioritizing your wellbeing as a parent of a newborn looks different than a parent of teens. If your idea of self-care is causing more stress, remind yourself this is not currently a workable plan for you and that’s ok. Every family is different and finding what works for you and feels best to you will be the best plan. Remember, there is no set plan for self-care that’s universal.
4. Focus on basic needs first: Meeting our basic needs are the most critical and foundational. This means sleep, eating, showering, etc. If these needs are not met, doing anything beyond this will seem impossible. If you haven’t slept, you won’t be very effective at much else.
5. Find meaning and joy: Parents can feel like they get lost in the daily chaos of parenting. Finding meaning and value in these daily tasks can help remind us of why we are choosing to parent daily. The grind can feel real, but when we infuse this daily work with love and value it can help us feel more grounded.