I am sure you have all heard of the oxygen mask analogy on a plane, where we must put on our own before fastening our child’s. This really is true of all challenging parenting. We must attend to our own needs, before we can support our children appropriately. Believe me, I never used to do self-care. I thought that self-care was selfish. I didn’t understand the need to let the mind relax or wind down, and was continuously busy doing something. This led to a diagnosis of anxiety and depression and a period of physical exhaustion. Not knowing about mindfulness or relaxation until I started training as a therapist, meant that I was unable to help myself through my cyclical periods of heightened arousal or shutdown and I resorted to pills which then made it feel as if I was viewing life through cellophane. After being zombified for about a year or two I came off the pills and now use mindfulness, meditation, relaxation strategies and self-care to cope without them and am able to feel like me again, but the best version of me. I am not saying that we should just come off our pills, this is not true, they just didn’t work for me. Some people cope by using a combination of medication, therapy and self-care. Each person must do what it best for them under the guidance of their personal needs, their doctor's and/or clinician's advice.
Self-care isn’t just taking a bath…but it could be if this is what floats your boat. I have a number of options that help me regulate my body and keep my cup filled nicely, including dancing and singing to fun music, running, swimming (particularly in the sea or a lake), rollerblading (yes I did start doing this at 38 years old during lockdown! Lol!), snowboarding, spending time with positive friends, spending time with my family, doing yoga, praying, meditating for short periods of time (5-10 mins), reading a book, taking a bath, drawing using the ‘how to draw’ youtube channel, colouring and watching trashy reality TV!
Basically, in order to keep ourselves mentally well and healthy, we have to do things we enjoy periodically so that life brings joy alongside hard work and challenge. This is cool, isn’t it?!!! I initially stopped doing things I enjoyed completely when I became a mother. I would do everything for my kids and get all the housework done, alongside working 5 jobs at one point, but I told myself that I would get my happiness through other people, in this example, my family. This wasn’t the case though. I resented my husband for not helping me enough and I even started to resent my children. However, implementing a self-care plan helped me bring some joyful and/or peaceful moments back into my life and also taught my family that I had the ability to put in boundaries and stick to them. This, in turn, was a healthy turning point as it allowed my children to start implementing boundaries in their own lives as it was seen as a positive thing to respect ourselves.
My routine now involves at least 10 minutes a day of an activity that I enjoy and when I am doing my activity I let my children know that this is Mommy’s time and they need to respect this. They are 9 and 11 years old now and so it is easier for them to understand not to impinge upon this scared self-care but I imagine if you have young children it may be harder, in fact, I remember it being near impossible. Maybe someone could keep an eye on them while you have some time to relax and do something you enjoy? You could do your self-care when they have a nap or go to bed. If you are a single parent, maybe you could put your child/children in front of the TV or tablet for 10 mins while you have your time? God, forbid we let them watch TV or tablet! But seriously, if you don’t use a self-care plan you will face burnout as a parent and then end up with exhaustion just like I did. Then you are no use to anyone.
There is a thought shower below that you can fill out as you may have been so focused on parenting that you have forgotten what you enjoy. Add as many as you like!
Below is a simple self-care plan that you can fill out. Try to do at least 5-10 minutes a day and some lengthier self-care over the weekend or when you have time in your week. Maybe when the kids go to bed?
Time spent doing it
How I felt before (1-10 1=bad mood and 10 =good mood)
How I felt after (1-10 1=bad mood and 10 =good mood)
Be kind to yourself…parenting is really hard! It doesn’t come naturally and each child is different. Don’t listen to people telling you how to manage your child, you will inherently know, you just need to tap into this superpower.
Your kids mirror you…so if you are having a bad day and feeling dysregulated just check out your mini me’s. They are likely to also be having a bad day and feeling dysregulated. As a therapist, I often hear parents ask me why their child is so anxious, while they are standing in front of me shaking with fear themselves. I know it’s tough, but we need to try to regulate ourselves in order for our kids to be able to do this. It’s ok to be honest, and name that we are anxious or a bit frustrated that day, in fact being authentic is very beneficial, but modelling some coping strategies alongside will actually regulate our own emotions while showing our kids what to do when they feel the same way. If we work, our families often get the worst version of ourselves after we have spent the day at work, giving our colleagues the most glamourous, ‘I have got my self together’ version. When we come home, we are tired and stressed and this is the best time for self-care before interacting with your kids.
Working with survivors of trauma I am often clothed in their issues when I get home from work, so I strip off, don my running gear and head out for a short 20 minute run to shake off the day. Some people prefer a shower, while others enjoy cracking a beer and watching sport for half an hour. Whatever you need to do to be the best version of yourself again so you can parent effectively in the evening, do it!!! And if you don’t have 10-30 mins, take the time to do some controlled breathing on the way home, listen to an audiobook or some music that you enjoy, sing, dance, pray, whatever. But try to shake off the stresses of the day so you can enjoy the last part of your day by spending some quality time with your family. If you work from home you can take time away from the computer to periodically deep breathe (breathe in for 4, hold for 2 and out for 6) or stretch (yoga poses are great!).
If you are the one at home all day looking after the kids, maybe you could switch with your partner, a friend, family member or neighbour so that you can have 10-30mins by yourself to get a break so you come back in feeling recharged and ready for the evening and bedtime routine. People say they can’t fit in self-care for even 5 minutes a day, but they somehow manage to check their phones. Maybe switch up this activity for a few mins of meditation, mindfulness or breathing instead. Honestly, it will do you the world of good! Try it today, short bursts of self-care!
You can do it!
Some great resources: