You’ll hear Parenting Educators focus again and again the importance of taking care of yourself as a parent—and it’s with good reason. You can’t be on top of your parenting game when your own needs aren’t being met.
But even under the best conditions—let alone a pandemic—it can be hard to put your needs above your families demands. So how can you be sure you are meeting your needs during these exceptionally challenging times? This week, we offer realistic tips to support you in taking care of yourself the best you can right now.
Self-care reality check
With the high traffic mommy blogs and social media influencers guiding the portrayal of what modern parenthood “looks like,” it’s easy to feel like your own life doesn’t stack up. But behind all those filtered images of Zoom yoga and wine happy hour with friends, are normal parents, leading normal lives. Real lives don’t always look like the pictures of smiling families calmly enjoying a picnic in the park together. We don’t need to compare ourselves with unrealistic images of perfect families. Let’s embrace the messy, sometimes chaotic reality of our real family relationships.
Not that we all wouldn’t love to pamper ourselves with a spa day or trip alone to the store right now, but consider for a moment that self-care is not the same thing as “pampering” yourself. Self-care goes deeper. Self-care ensures that your emotional and physical health are being prioritized, with the aim of optimal health and happiness.
It is entirely reasonable to feel anxious, distressed, confused, even angry right now. We are experiencing a collective trauma. It is reasonable that we’re all learning how to do this pandemic together, and self-care can seem like an overwhelming prospect.
We all want what’s best for our families, right? Well, research has told us over and over that in order to give our best, we need to be our best, which means we have the capacity to give something we already have.
One aspect of self-care is effectively dealing with your emotions so you can better support and care for your children, as well as set a good example for them in regards to how to manage big, uncomfortable feelings.
By practicing self-regulation, you are showing your children how to calm themselves when they have big feelings. You can say something like, “Let’s take a big breath together and give ourselves a minute to think about this,”
When you start to notice your emotions escalate, try to:
• Pay attention to your emotions, thoughts and physical tension. You might notice you are clenching your jaw, or breathing more shallowly. You might think, “Oh my goodness, do we have to do this AGAIN?” or you might find yourself snapping at others.
• Whatever emotions, thoughts or physical reactions you tend to have when you’re stressed are unique to you, and you know what they are.
• If you need to, take a small break, possibly in another room or outside where you can collect your thoughts and calm down. Your children will appreciate some reassuring words, such as: “I’m feeling upset at the moment and I can’t be as calm as I would like in this conversation. So I’m going to sit in my bedroom and read for 10 minutes to give myself a chance to settle down.”
• Share your thoughts and feelings with a supportive friend or family member. Find time to chat over the phone, text, or computer.
• Breathe deeply, in through your nose and out your mouth with a slight pause before the exhale.
• Use exercise as a way to reduce stress, improve your mood and physical health. Exercise has proven mood-boosting properties, and there are lots of fun ways to get the heart-rate going, including a family dance party, soccer game, or running challenges.
• Practice mindfulness: A type of meditation where you intensely focus on what you are sensing and feeling in the moment without judgment. It takes your thoughts into the present moment rather than worrying about future events.
Another often overlooked aspect of self-care is just basically taking care of your body and making healthy choices. In between making meals and snacks for your kids, marathon feeding a newborn, making sure your toddler brushes his teeth properly, and untangling the rat’s nest growing in your child’s hair, it is so easy to pass over your own showers, breakfast, and teeth cleanings. As best you can, make room in your day for good personal hygiene, healthy eating, and enough hours of sleep. Bonus: take a few minutes extra in the shower to feel the warm water streaming down your body, and picture the stress flowing down the drain.
Your self-care is yours and yours alone
The beauty of real self-care is that it looks different for every person—and it doesn’t have to match your neighbor’s or your best friend’s. If gardening is the thing that allows you to relax and regain your focus, do that! If reading is what calms you down and slows your heart rate, that’s great! If taking a walk helps you clear your head, awesome! The point is, there are many effective—and healthy—ways to help you cope with uncomfortable emotions. It may take trial and error, but eventually you will find what works best for you.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).