As a parent, your instinct is to put your child first. As wonderful and unconditionally loving as that notion is, it often results in the parent getting trapped in a frantic and exhausting cycle of being stretched way too thin. Don’t get us wrong, it’s all well-intentioned, but what’s the point of being at your little one’s soccer game if you’re way too stressed and worn-out to be truly present? As Alissa Marquess suggests in Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, the key to being a more connected parent is a phrase that often gets a bad rap: self-care.
When it comes to putting themselves first, parents tend to feel guilty or selfish, or they feel like they should prioritize one of the ninety-nine billion other things they have on their plates. But consistently prioritizing the role of parent over the individual self can lead to anxiety, unhappiness, and even resentment. As a parent, making sure that you take care of yourself mentally and physically will ultimately support you in becoming the type of parent you strive to be (but don’t currently have the energy to exhibit). “Self-care isn’t a reward, it’s a part of the process,” Marquess says. (You can’t function as a rockstar parent if you’re running on no sleep!)
Does this idea still feel foreign? Fear not! We are here to support you. Here are four ways to help you be at ease with practicing self-care while parenting—because after all that you’ve sacrificed, you truly deserve it:
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Turn Guilt Into Gratitude
The most significant obstacle in self-care for adults is guilt. Even when we do finally secure a babysitter and have a night out, we feel guilty about not being with our kids. Transform that guilty mindset into one of gratitude. That means thoughts like, I’m so grateful to have a moment to care for myself so that I can be refreshed and present tomorrow, or I’m grateful that my child gets to grow from building relationships with other people. Repeating mantras like these will help change your perspective and let you enjoy every moment, whether you are with or without your children.
Parents are known for putting their own needs aside for everyone else’s, like saying we’ll eat after everyone else gets their lunch and the kitchen is cleaned, even when we all know that’s not going to happen. Just think about how much more efficient and happier you’d be if you just ate lunch when hunger first strikes? Break this habit by coming up with three simple non-negotiable rules that prioritize your own basic needs. They can be as simple as bringing a water bottle with you every day, stretching in the morning for ten minutes, or always eating breakfast.
On that note, you can take that idea even further by listing out a few things that “nurture your soul” and don’t take much time out of your day. They require little effort but make a big impact. It’s a good standby list of things to do when you’re feeling particularly down and stressed out. Bite-sized self-care can range from putting on your favorite scented lotion to making a cappuccino and actually sitting down to enjoy it. It’s the little things, folks.
Talk to Your Younger Self
Aside from the physical, we need emotional and spiritual self-care too. This comes in the form of self-love, something we tend to forgo as we get older. In fact, we often become our own worst critic. To combat this, find a photo of yourself as a child and put it somewhere you’ll frequently see. Whenever you see it, think about how that child deserves tender love and affection. You wouldn’t speak to your child self in the same way you speak to your adult self, right? The photo serves as a reminder to be more gentle with yourself—and trust us, that’s worth remembering. We all know the Dr. Phil quote, “Teach people how to treat you.” When you are kind to yourself, others will be kind to you in turn—including your kids.
Photo Credit: Drew Hays/Unsplash