Many of us aspire to be present, engaged, thoughtful, patient and connected parents. We would like to imagine ourselves as the paragons of calm and zen when our toddlers refuse to eat the apple because it was sliced ‘wrong’ or when our baby is awake for the 10th time at night.
But reality bites! We can experience parenting as exhilarating, heart-growing, soul-expanding, but it can also be exhausting, frustrating and anxiety-provoking. Parenting, together with life’s other thrills and challenges like work, relationships, exercise and family, means we end up giving of ourselves in various ways to various people at various times. So often the last person on the list of priorities is us.
The truth is there is absolutely no way we can even aspire to be the parents we want to be to our children, striving for that elusive thing called balance if we are not taking care of ourselves and making this a priority.
Cheryl Richardson insightfully explains the importance and the knock on effect of self-care in her book, The Art of Extreme Self Care
“From years of personal experience, as well as from the work I’ve done coaching many caring and hardworking men and women, I’ve learned that when we care for ourselves deeply and deliberately, we naturally begin to care for others— our families, our friends, and the world—in a healthier and more effective way. We become conscious and conscientious people. We tell the truth. We make choices from a place of love and compassion instead of guilt and obligation.
Self- care is good for us and has a ripple effect on those around us. If we are not taking care of our own minds and bodies, we are not in a great position to be taking care of others. We need to take that airline advice seriously, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before placing it on the child.” If we aren’t breathing, there’s no way we can tend to our kids, be it on land, sea or air.
We often hanker after a manual with predictable steps that can solve our problems, but, we all must find what it is that nurtures us and feeds our individual souls. As we all know time is precious, so we need to make sure that what we are doing is good for us as individuals and not just ticking a box because its what the Jones’ are doing. Sometimes being a parent may mean we have lost touch with the things that nurture us because we have become so immersed in parenting.
It can be helpful to sit down and draw up a list of activities, places, people or objects that bring you joy. You can do this over some time.
This list may include things you used to do, things you currently do and things you would like to try. They can be anything from, being around beautiful things, to having coffee with friends, to running, to reading a book, to meditating, to laughing, to flying off to an island – whatever comes to mind.
Try not to judge, overthink or come up with reasons why things are not possible. Just use it as an exercise to start getting in touch with the things that nurture you cause it’s hard to stay in touch with these things when you are knee-deep in nappies.
So we know this self-care thing is good for us, we know we have to be doing it but really all that said how do we get this done?
Many of us shy away from scheduling things like self-care or date night for a host of reasons. We can convince ourselves that we don’t want to feel contrived, we don’t want to schedule every aspect of our lives, we will do it when we feel like it and so on.
The truth is the stars are hardly ever perfectly aligned for us to take or make the time because something else inevitably comes up or trumps the importance of this time, so it gets side-lined and just doesn’t happen.
This is not a luxury. This time needs to be respected, prioritized and therefore scheduled so that it doesn’t just fall into the great abyss.
Yes, weekends to a mountain retreat or island holidays are great, but that stuff is really cherry on the top stuff. In order to really sustain ourselves, we need to be doing things on a regular basis so that we are not burned out and completely at the end our tether.
The things you do need not be expensive or even time consuming so make sure to find something that sustains you so you can continue sustaining others.
Some things may not require a babysitter, but some things may. Asking for help can be tricky for some. Be sure to identify what you need and communicate this and be respectful of the person who is helping.
Partners may need to negotiate time with each other, and single parents may need to ask others for help. But don’t let the need for support stop you in your tracks as a reason to not take care of yourself.
As a Parent Coach, I often work with parents who feel that their children need to know that they are the centre of their universe 24/7 and therefor mom or dad going for a cycle is presented as “daddy has to go out to an important meeting.”
Yes, our kids need to know that they are always loved, but it is also healthy for them to know that we have interests and needs beyond them. Role-modelling this in an empathic way can help our children manage separation better.
We can say things like, “I know you really want daddy to stay and you are so upset, I am sorry you are so upset, daddy wants to go for a cycle and then he wants to come back to you again later.”
As I said, there is no cut and paste solution for everyone. However, I can say that there is a great deal of research that highlights the benefits of mindfulness and meditation on our general wellbeing.
So, if you want some crib notes on what to add to your self-care, look into meditation and mindfulness practises that resonate with you. The great thing about this is that you are not dependent on money, weather, other people or even a huge amount of time to do this and the benefits are huge.
These early years of parenting can be overflowing with cuteness and love but let’s not kid they can often feel like we are in the trenches!
Prioritising our own care is something that is within our control when so much in parenting can feel out of control. Make sure to make this happen and take really really good care of you.
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