A friend once gave me some great parenting advice based on a humorous middle-of-the-night story. When her young child woke her up with an unspecified medical ailment, she decided to ignore it and go back to sleep, because if it was serious, she would need all of her energy to deal with it the next day. This parent had her priorities in order.
It is impossible to be our best as parents if we are physically or mentally exhausted and burned out. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of our children. And here are some reasons why:
Running around at a furious speed, meeting everyone else’s needs takes a toll on our mental health. Feeling burned out for long periods of time can lead to more serious problems like stress, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and fatigue. Self-care may feel like one more thing on a to-do list, but taking small, frequent moments to recharge can actually help improve your ability to function and keep going.
Parent burn out can also take a toll on our physical health. Stress weakens our immune system, which means we are more likely to get sick with common colds, the flu, or the stomach bug. Preventing this kind of stress and illness is easier than taking sick days. And if we don’t take care of ourselves when we are sick, it takes that much longer to get better.
An example for our children
We want to teach our children to be independent and take care of themselves. Teaching life skills is important, but the example we set for our children speaks volumes; children learn as much, or more from what they see us do as from what they hear us teach. When we take time to rest and recharge, our children see how to do it for themselves. Whether they will be understanding of your need to take a break and not give them 100% of your attention is another story for another blog post.
Being our best as parents
I think we fall into the trap of believing that being a good parent means never focusing on ourselves and only focusing on our children’s’ needs. Staying physically and mentally healthy helps us meet our children’s needs even better. When we are refreshed and recharged, we can be more patient and attentive with our children. That’s when we can enjoy them the most and build strong relationships with them. Filling up our cups gives us something to offer those who need us.
How do we practice parent self-care in the midst of meeting our children’s needs and all of the other demands placed on us? Here are a few ideas:
Take time for something you enjoy each day
Find small moments to appreciate something every day. For me, it’s stepping outside and feeling the sunshine on my face for a few moments. Maybe for you, it’s playing music that makes you feel good. Find something that you like and be intentional about paying attention to it for those small moments.
Find a way to remind yourself of the things you are grateful for. At dinner with your family, share one thing you are grateful for or share something with your partner or spouse at the end of the day. Keep a list on your phone and add to it when you think of new things.
Fresh air and nature have a calming effect on our bodies and minds. Even if it’s just stepping out onto the porch for a few minutes when you feel overwhelmed, spending time outside can help you recharge.
Think of your favorite memories
What are some of your favorite memories with your children? These happy memories also have a recharging effect on our moods.
Connect with other adults
This can mean talking with other parents to vent and share ideas, or just reaching out for adult social connection. Check out local parent groups on Facebook. Or try spending your lunch break with colleagues instead of at your desk.
Studies show that six seconds of physical touch promotes bonding and relaxes the body and the mind.
Being a parent might be the hardest and most unrelenting job out there, and we get no training or paid time off. Of course, it is also the most rewarding job. It is not selfish to take time for yourself so that you can be your best self for your children.