The Importance of Practicing Self-Care as a Parent
When you were pregnant, how often were you encouraged by friends, family or medical professionals to invest time and energy into taking care of yourself?
For some reason, this attitude, both in society and within the psyche of us as women, does not carry through to after your baby is born. It’s almost as though the association between self-care and the mummy-to-be is cut along with the umbilical cord. Snip! And just like that, there is a disconnection. No longer does self-care mean good mothering, it suddenly means selfish mothering.
Although it is natural, normal and necessary to put your children’s needs ahead of your own, more often than not mums tend to over-action this message. Let’s, however, put your job as a parent aside for just a moment.
It is common for women to subconsciously internalise the message that we are expected to give and serve others. It is in our biological make-up to want to help others, especially once we give life to another human being, however wanting to give and giving out of self-imposed expectation are two very different things. While it’s wonderful to make selfless gestures or give your time to good causes, you need to be wary of meeting other people’s needs at the expense of your own all the time.
As a mum (and indeed, as a dad too!), caring for yourself is a behaviour you have to train yourself in and commit to.
Taking good care of you means the people in your life receive the best of you, rather than what’s left of you.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is not selfish and is not self-indulgent; it is not something to be guilty about.
It is very important to understand that self-care is essentially made up of two different categories of activities. Firstly, there are your ‘basic needs’; things that are important predominantly to your physical wellbeing, such as bathing, eating, brushing your teeth and hair, and being clothed.
Secondly, there are your ‘cup-fillers’; activities that you enjoy, that you consider fun, make you feel happy, fulfilled and inspired.
Sometimes these self-care activities can cross-over — a long hot shower can be extremely enjoyable and is also important for our health. With that said, it is perfectly ok if some days all you can manage is your basic needs.
So, acts of self-care could include anything from taking a nap, to exercising, spending time with friends, catching up on a favourite TV show, getting your hair done, taking a bubble bath, watching a sunset or reading a book.
Self-care activities that fill your cup look different from person to person, and they don’t always need to be done alone or without your kids. In addition, if scented bubble baths and meditation bring on a major case of the eye-rolls, then you probably won’t feel replenished by doing them. Don’t like yoga? Don’t do it! There is no wrong or right way to ‘do’ self-care.
Benefits of Self-Care: Parents
Benjamin Franklin once said:
“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water”
When self-care is absent in your life, you can feel overwhelmed, exhausted and unappreciated by the people around you. Your sense of self-worth disintegrates, and before long you start to realise the need and value in reinvesting in your own wellbeing.
Neglecting your own self-care can lead to short-fuses, poor decisions, depression, anxiety and feelings of meaninglessness — none of which is good for anyone, let alone a parent. Over a long period of time, it can even leave you feeling drained and passionless, without a sense of who you really are and what you enjoy.
Ultimately, taking the time to give yourself what you need leads to greater happiness, calm, emotional resilience, clarity, motivation and energy. You are restoring the internal balance that is often disrupted as a result of endless giving; to our children, our partner, our work… and the list can go on.
Benefits of Self-Care: Others
Taking care of yourself provides you with the energy you need to keep up with your kids and give the best of you to them. The moments you spend with your family will matter more and things will appear to run more smoothly around you due to the positive shift regular self-care practice can have on how you see life events and handle them. This means feeling less impatience, anger, guilt, or frustration that we often project unconsciously during our interactions with our children and others.
Do the Math!
Once you start spending time doing things for yourself, they may seem huge at first, but try write it all out and you’ll soon realise the time you take for yourself isn’t so crazy.
Looking at one week, list all the things you do for your children; hosting play dates, taking them out for lunch, going on bike rides, playing at the park, trips to the library, taking them to sports, school, the zoo etc. Now list the things you do for yourself. The first list is surely always longer than the second.
Now look at how many hours your children are awake compared to the number of hours you spend away from them. Whether you’re a working, studying or stay-at-home parent; whether your children are of pre-school, primary school or high school age; the numbers don’t lie. There is nothing to feel guilty about.
Lastly, finding time for self-care isn’t difficult; just 5 mins a day can make a world of difference to your mood and perspective on life!
Remember: your kids are watching everything you do. The only way your children are going to learn about their own self-care is from your actions. When it comes to how you treat yourself, children learn how to look after themselves, treat themselves, spend money on themselves and love themselves from what they see you, and other adults they love and admire, do.
So start shifting the way you see self-care; what it is, what it looks like and what it means to you and your family. Looking after yourself and regularly refilling your cup is the most critical step to living a happier, balanced life as a person with children.