Being a parent can be one of the most stressful roles in life. According to one UK study, 68% of women and 57% of men with mental health problems are parents, and anxiety is the most common one during pregnancy and after giving birth. Having to care for little humans takes so much time, energy, and resources that it can be difficult to pay attention to your own needs, and recognize when you need to be cared for. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you will have very little to give to your kids.
So, how exactly do you take care of yourself? Self-care is more than a hot bubble bath or a glass of wine at the end of the day–it needs to produce long-lasting, sustainable rhythms in your life so you don’t regularly burn out. Here are some strategies, in no particular order, to start practicing good self-care today:
Know Your Limits
As moms (and sometimes dads), we feel it is our duty to “do it all” with respect to our household–cook all the meals, do all the laundry, get the kids ready for school and take them to all their activities, do all the dishes…etc. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect wives and mothers and leave no room for our own flaws or limitations. We think of ourselves as failures if we don’t have the energy to do everything or perhaps simply don’t want to. We compare ourselves to other mothers who seem to be doing it all perfectly and enjoying it at the same time.
But this is not a realistic picture of motherhood. In reality, we all have limitations and none of us are capable of doing it all, even if we may appear so to others. Decide what you feel capable of doing for the day, and let it be enough. Don’t be hard on yourself for being human. You will be much more productive and efficient when you know when to stop.
Listen to Your Body
One way we can begin to recognize our limits is by listening to our bodies. Our bodies let us know when we need to slow down and rest. Look out for these signs of burnout:
This is not an exhaustive list, and you know your own body best, but if you start to experience any of these symptoms, it is important to take a step back and assess what is going on. Our bodies try to tell us things, but too often we ignore them and keep straining forward to our own detriment.
Once we begin to listen to our bodies, we can determine what they need–maybe a nap, a shower, or a long walk in the park. If we can catch ourselves earlier rather than later, we can take the time we need to replenish and recharge.
Another way to make sure we are caring for ourselves well and respecting our own limitations is by prioritizing tasks. If the list of things that need to be done in the day is longer than we know we can manage, we need to choose the tasks that are the most important and leave the rest for another day. It can be challenging at first to learn this skill, but with practice, we will learn how to work smarter instead of harder by prioritizing tasks. We will then be able to be more present with ourselves and our families at the end of the day–even if some things fall by the wayside.
Make a list of what you value most in your life, and then make a list of all the things you are currently doing, and see if your current daily tasks reflect your values. If they don’t, decide what tasks need to be dropped or taken up in order to make them align.
It’s true that some things do just have to get done, but what do we do when we don’t have the energy, time, or resources? How do we practice good self-care in these situations? We can delegate!
Consider the chores and tasks that you do on a regular basis and decide which of these could be done by someone else in the family. You can divide up household chores among the older kids, or hire a gardener to take care of the yard. It may cost some extra money or take some training of your kids or spouse, but it is well worth your well-being. If you try to do everything, you will inevitably fail and exhaust yourself in the process, so recognize what you need some extra help with, and round up your people.
Pour From a Full Cup
These tools can help you free up some time for yourself. What can you do to re-charge your emotional bank? Reflect on your needs while having your coffee or tea and make a list of things that you would enjoy.
Don’t give in to the cultural lie that tells you you have to “do it all” to be a good mother or father. The truth is, you will be the best parent to your child when you are taking good care of yourself first. You can’t pour out of an empty cup. Use these self-care strategies to be the best parent you can be and pour out of a cup that is overflowing.