7 self-care ideas for parents

Photography: Ange Gallo

By Hannah Schenker

Being a parent is hard work. There’s no denying it. Whether you are juggling a job alongside, or you are your child’s sole carer at home full-time, it really is a tough gig. You are putting so much energy into providing for your kids – feeding, clothing, bathing, educating, talking and way more, all hours of the day. It’s all too easy for your own needs to be pushed aside as you try to provide your child/ren with everything they need for a healthy and happy childhood. But self-care should be on your to-do list as well, because anything that helps to make YOU feel good, will benefit everyone.

You are probably rolling your eyes at me right now, thinking “Honey, you obviously haven’t lived in my house, there are simply not enough hours in the day!”

Just hear me out. Here are 7 self-care ideas for you, because you absolutely deserve it.

Number one is to prioritise self-care!
Yes, this is first up because honestly, you probably need to hear that it is OK to do this. Many of us are running on empty, trying to be everything to everyone and getting by on the scraps of what’s left after everyone else is taken care of. This is precisely what will wear you out even more, because the tank needs filling up! What kinds of things fill you up? What unique things make you feel good? Is it having someone else cook a meal for you? Getting a massage, or a haircut? Having a couple of hours to go to a yoga class, or have some time out just to take a bath and read a book? Perhaps you just need 5 minutes right now for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Or maybe self-care looks like making sure you drink more water by starting to carry around a water bottle, or keeping your blood sugar up by having healthy snacks in the house. It’s time to start scheduling these things in, and yes it may mean you need a babysitter or to enlist some extra help from your partner or a friend, or it may mean you need to set your child up with something to occupy themselves for a bit…so do it. When you feel well looked after, even if you are only being looked after by yourself, this will spill over into your children and family, positively affecting everyone. Treat yourself the way you treat your children, your partner or a dear friend.

Move it, move it!
You might be allergic to exercise, or maybe you’ve just fallen out of your old routine. It’s time to bring it back, but start gently. You probably feel like there’s no time, so please refer to No.1 on this list again. A brisk walk with your child in a stroller and a friend will get those endorphins released and make you feel good. Maybe there is a local class you can sign up for. Hate exercise? You’ll have to get creative and make it fun, otherwise you won’t do it – perhaps a little dance-off in the lounge with your kids every afternoon is all you need.

Get your expectations in check.
Perfection doesn’t exist, so that’s a relief. Instead of loading yourself up with the stress of feeling like you have to have a Pinterest-ready house, full of Pinterest-ready foods and crafts in order to be a “good” parent, why not try making balance your goal, and realising that real life doesn’t always look how you would like it to. Self-criticism really does affect us in deep ways, so practice a little more acceptance of where you’re at, right now.

Express yourself.
When you are so focussed on others, it’s easy to disregard your own emotional life. But unexpressed emotions have a lovely way of showing up in other places – like sudden outbursts at your child or partner, or even physically with clumsiness or injuries. Just as you try to give your child the space to express their emotions, so you should do for yourself. Cry if you need to cry. Talk to a friend or someone you trust about what’s going on – whether it’s anxiety, anger, frustration, whatever. Having an outlet is really important.

Practice asking for help.
Asking for help is not a weakness – the most successful and awesome people on this planet know when to ask for help, because they know that it’s not possible to do everything on your own. It’s not necessarily easy, but you might be surprised at what happens when you go ahead and ask. There are plenty of people in our lives who would love to help, they just don’t know what is needed until you tell them!

Celebrate your mistakes.
As above, perfection doesn’t exist, and life throws all kinds of curve balls at you! So when you’re running late for an important appointment, your car breaks down and your kid throws up in the back seat, take a minute to look around, burst into hysterical laughter and realise that cursing and shouting isn’t going to change a damn thing. You will figure it out, like you always do, and that in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal. You got this.

Practice saying no.
While you might love to be invited to events, or asked to bake something for the school fundraiser, or to watch someone else’s kids for a bit – sometimes you just need to say NO. They won’t love you any less, in fact making clear boundaries saves everyone involved a lot of unspoken tension and stress.

There are a lot of things on this list, so it’s a good idea to just go with one that sings out to you, and try to incorporate that a little more into your life. Practicing self-care is certainly not about neglecting your child/rens needs, it’s about helping you to become the best parent you can be. It’s also not as simple as booking a weekend at a spa – it’s about the day-to-day negotiations with life itself. By bringing any of these habits into your life, you will also be modelling fantastic habits for your children.

Of course there will be plenty of moments when taking time out for self-care is simply not possible – just as we can’t always give our child what they need. In times like these, self-care will look a lot more like radical acceptance – listening with compassion to what is going on, as you would for your child. Noting what’s happening and how you feel about it: “Distressed, the baby is screaming, there is a broken glass on the kitchen floor, my head is sore, my body is tense…” You don’t have to change anything, but simply witnessing what’s going on and recognising it in your body can help to transform the moment.

Then, remind yourself that you will make some time for self-care as soon as you can.

Hannah Schenker is a freelance writer, editor and regular contributor to The Natural Parent Magazine. She lives with a touch of magic in Golden Bay, New Zealand. 

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