Self care, like lots of things in life, has become commodified. We’re told that to look after ourselves we need the best bubble baths, the most expensive wines, the most luxurious slippers. We’re sold the idea that if we want to reboot and reset so we can be the best parents we can be, we need to book a week-long, five-star getaway to a boutique spa with our best friends for hot-stone massages, silent meditation and yoga. While all those things sound, let’s face it, absolutely delightful, for most of us, they’re not even close to attainable. Even if we could afford them, getting away from the kids for a whole week is not only unrealistic, we’d probably miss them a bit once we were there. So as parents, how do fit real self-care into our actual lives?
While these versions of self-care might be nice, they aren’t actually what we really need. Really and truly taking care of ourselves is about investing (not financially) in our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs. It’s about creating coping mechanisms that mean when it hits the fan, we’re ready to face whatever comes, rather than feeling like we need to escape. Because parenting is hard (HA!). Temper tantrums, teething, poonamis, relentless questions, homework and all the other challenges that come with parenting often mean that we’re not able to pay attention to our own needs.
But neglecting our own self care is a surefire way to hit high levels of stress, approach burnout and become overwhelmed. None of these mean we’re able to be the best people we can be – in turn meaning we’re not able to be the best parents either. But when the to-do lists are longer than several arms and time is as precious and rare as all the diamonds in a Tiffany store, it’s hard to know how to fit it in. Here are our top tips for squeezing in real self care for parents.
Remember your passions
When we’re parents, it’s so easy for who we are to get lost. We become Lily’s Mum or Martha’s Dad. When we lose ourselves, we can lose our passions too. Before you became a parent or carer, it’s likely that you had things you loved doing. Maybe you loved to paint, or dance, or sing. Perhaps you were a keen baker or were passionate about creative writing. Doing things outside of who you are as a parent can boost your self-esteem and have a positive impact on your own wellbeing. Listening to music you love rather than music the kids love. Reading a book you enjoy rather than a bedtime story for the little ones. Painting with a brush rather than your fingers. Sometimes it’s just good to remember who YOU are. That in itself is a key part of self care.
Look after your body
It’s a cliche for a reason but looking after your body can help you feel healthier in your mind too. When it comes to self-care for parents, it can be hard to find the time to fit in a full exercise class but just moving our bodies can make us feel better if we’re not too close to burnout. Short yoga classes, brisk walks, 3 minute dance parties – there are a multiplicity of ways to fit in a mini sweat sesh if you look for them. But beyond that, it’s about trying to eat a balanced diet (who remembers that plate diagram from school?), avoiding certain foods if you’re feeling low or anxious, trying to establish good sleep routines and hygiene if you can and just generally giving yourself the same amount of care and attention you would give your kids. We know it’s hard – but it’s crucial.
Screen free time
We live in a world which is inherently connected – but sometimes those tiny computers we carry around in our pockets can make us feel more disconnected than ever. Screen-free time is something that every wellness guru preaches but it can become all consuming and a 24/7 engagement with our phones can increase our stress and exacerbate any feelings we have that we always need to be “on”. We limit our kids screen time, so consider limiting your own screentime. Put away your phone and find a time to unwind and relax without the incessant ringing and binging or vibrating of the outside world, demanding your attention.
Setting healthy boundaries is essential for managing our mental health and is one of the best ways to integrate self-care for parents . Definitely not something money can buy. One of the best ways to set clear boundaries is trusting yourself to say “no” when you feel overwhelmed. When we’re struggling, we can find ourselves overwhelmed by other people’s expectations and thus, say yes to things we don’t want to. “No” is a complete sentence. Remember that saying “no” gives you the opportunity to tend to your own needs or those of your family – and that should always be your guilt-free priority.
Check in with your to do list
It sounds counter-intuitive to check in with your to-do list as a self-care tool, but actually this classic tool for managing your work/life load is one of the best ways for getting overwhelm in check. When general errands, shopping, admin and all the trappings of day-to-day life are weighing on your mind, a check list that you can prioritise and cross things off as you go along makes things seem more manageable and identify things which really aren’t as urgent as they might feel. And it’s worth considering keeping a done list too. Both give you space to see where you can schedule in some down time.
Give yourself permission
Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult as a person who has responsibilities to allow yourself to put yourself first. But everybody needs space to relax and unwind. The more we give ourselves the opportunity to do just that, the more we’re able to give the best of ourselves when we’re parenting or working or being a friend. Start by trying to give yourself just 10 minutes each day to take a breath. Maybe you grab a cuppa, maybe you try a meditation. Maybe you do 50 star jumps (brave). If you won’t give yourself permission to put yourself first, consider this your permission slip to do just that. It’s an order.
Integrate self care into your routine
As with everything, integrating self-care into your routine takes time. And sometimes it takes effort. Remembering to put yourself first like a muscle that you need to train, so do yourself a favour and find a slot in your week or your day where you can always fit it in. Whether it’s 5 minutes, 10 minutes or an hour, there are always ways to fit a little bit of self care into your life and you’ll really feel the rewards.
If you have 5 mins…
Text someone you love. Give your body and soul some love by blending up a nourishing smoothie. Listen to a song that makes you want to boogie. Get a natural mood boost by sitting in the sun. Clean the sticky things that give you anxiety. Breathe. Watch silly videos on Instagram. Hug someone.
If you have 10 mins…
Raise your heart rate by moving your body. Give your skin a little love with a face mask. Meditate (check out Headspace or Insight Timer). Ground yourself by walking barefoot outside. Get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper by journalling.
If you have 1 hour…
Make yourself a meal that YOU want to eat. Listen to an empowering podcast. Take a power nap. Read a book for fun. Watch something that isn’t Peppa Pig. Do an online yoga class. Catch up with a friend. Go for a walk. Bake something tasty.