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Caring For Yourself Can Be Good For Your Child – Part II

In last week’s blog, we talked about the importance of taking care of ourselves; how building in time for ourselves can make us feel more centered and less prone to anger. This week we’re circling back to share some specific ideas about self-care.

Self-care comes in many forms. When some people hear about self-care, what come to mind are manicures, pedicures and massages. They think they have neither the time nor the money for such luxuries. The truth is that self-care does not have to cost anything, nor does it need to take a lot of time.

Self-care can mean maintaining important relationships. Sure, you may not be able to travel out of town to visit your college roommate as you did before you had children, but you can schedule a “virtual coffee” with her once a month. You may find going out to dinner and a movie with your spouse is too expensive, but on Fridays after the kids go to bed, you can have a candlelit dinner in the dining room with a takeout treat and enjoy each other’s company.

Self-care can mean maintaining spiritual practices or creating new ones. If attending religious services was meaningful before you had children but is something you haven’t made time for since then, you may find a way to bring that back into your life. For some, meditation practices begin later in life. Many parents enjoy fifteen minutes of quiet before the rest of the family gets up. Some may drink their coffee without interruption as a form of meditation and mindfulness. Others listen to guided meditations on apps such as Headspace or Calm as a positive way to start their day.

For others, exercise is critical to their ability to deal with the stress and challenges of parenting. Pascale, a mother of two daughters whose husband died when her children were in elementary school, found that walking in the woods with her dog was an important tool for her after her loss, as she navigated the new stress of single parenting. Another local mom chose a gym based solely on the quality of the child care it offered. She and the children went there daily, and the child care provider became the family babysitter when Pascale went out for the evening.

Self-care can mean doing anything in which you find joy. Playing a musical instrument, gardening, taking a class or cooking are other activities that people find gratifying, meaningful or just plain fun! Take some time to explore one of these activities, or another one that comes to your own mind.

Parents often build self-care into their day in creative ways. A parent may bike to work a few days a week to get the exercise he needs. On weekends, parents of young children sometimes alternate letting the other parent sleep in. (Yes, getting a little extra sleep can be self-care.) Some parents take turns watching the kids once a month to allow free time for their partner. Finding a new activity with your partner is a way to connect and care for each other and yourself at the same time.

If self-care is a new habit for you, be kind to yourself as you begin to incorporate it into your life little by little. Know that while it may seem a bit counterintuitive to take time for yourself (just as putting on your own oxygen mask first in an airplane may feel “wrong”), it can be your pathway to replace anger, resentment and sadness with patience, appreciation and joy, allowing you to be a better parent. And that is good for your child.

Maureen McElroy is a certified parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP), a longtime leader at PEP, and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  This article was excerpted from an article that appeared in Washington Parent Magazine’s December 2018 issue. Read the full article here

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