Most of us will have heard of the term ‘self-care‘ by now, but for many of us – especially parents – the notion of self-care can seem like a lovely idea in principle, yet a tad unrealistic and inaccessible. Slotting it into the chaos and unpredictability of our lives can feel impossible, especially when children are thrown into the mix.
What we need are practical, down-to-earth ideas for incorporating self-care into our busy, sticky-fingered, never-ending-pile-of-washing, can’t-even-go-to-the-toilet-in-peace lives.
We Do Have Time
When we’re parents, a great chunk of our time goes on looking after our children, or on things related to them. It’s no secret that we have an awful lot less time to ourselves – however, that doesn’t mean that we have no time at all.
Some things take very little or no time. For example, we could get a mug that we love for our morning hot drink. It could be a mug that perfectly fits our hand and is the ultimate cosy companion. When we do our weekly shop, adding a box of our favourite tea or bar of our favourite chocolate to the trolley can give us a little lift when we find it in the cupboard mid-week. Blasting our favourite album or podcast while we run the parent-taxi or clean the kitchen can make these tasks way more enjoyable. As a bonus, our child might be old enough to dance around the kitchen with us while we clean.
As parents, there will be times when we might have to make our self-care a priority and other things might need to take a back seat for a bit. We can’t pour from an empty cup. There might be appointments that we need to get to, our car might need an urgent trip to the garage, or we might desperately need a day at home to sort things out and get on top of everything. Sometimes these things have to take priority over certain things our kids want us to do. At the end of the day, as long as everyone is safe and as healthy as is reasonably possible, we’re doing okay – everything else can come second.
Do It With Your Kids
There are some things that we can rope our kids into. Introducing them to self-care at a young age can provide a solid foundation for them to build on as they go through life. By including them in our self-care, it not only gives them ideas for things they could try but also normalises self-care and opens up the lines of communication between us.
Some of the things we could try include taking a walk to get some fresh air, doing some yoga, journaling, reading, building a blanket fort, meditating, taking time out to craft, or even ‘boring’ self-care once they’re old enough, such as emptying the dishwasher, hanging out the washing, meal planning, cooking, or cleaning.
If we live with another responsible adult or two, whether they’re our partner, family members, or housemates, we might be able to share the load when it comes to childcare. As much as it’s lovely to spend time together as a family, sometimes we have days where we just need some time off.
Rather than doing something as a pair of parents or a couple of carers, we could tag team – one adult looks after the children for a bit, then the other one takes over. This can allow us some alone time, for the period when we’re not supervising our charges.
It can be difficult to accept help but it’s also important.
Accepting help from other people can often be tricky, but people wouldn’t offer to help us if they didn’t want to. If the roles were reversed and the person asked us for some help, and we were able to provide it, then we would probably say ‘yes’.
Help doesn’t always come in the form of people. Sometimes it can come in the form of products. For example, there could be a meditation app that helps us to start our day calmly, or a ‘super-quick-at-chopping-vegetables’ product that saves us a heap of time. We might use alarms on our phone to remind us to do things, or a whiteboard on the back of the front door to remind us of urgent jobs. Help could also come in the form of money, either from friends and family or from the government. Ensuring that we’re getting all of the benefits we’re entitled to, including those we have to apply for yearly such as ‘warm home discount‘, can help us to manage everything in our life with a little more ease.
Limit Mindless Scrolling
Social media can be a time-sucker. Not only that, but it can leave us feeling naff. Whether we do it consciously or not, we will inevitably end up looking at all of the ‘insta-perfect’ lives with spotlessly white kitchens and perfectly-balanced, healthy meals cooked from scratch, presented in an artistic fashion on the dot of 6pm daily that their children happily eat without asking for chocolate instead or flicking peas at one another. These ‘insta-perfect’ families aren’t real or realistic, and they’ll make us feel rubbish because we can’t compete with that.
Being mindful of who we follow, and how much time we spend scrolling, can help us to free-up time for other things and stop comparing ourselves with unattainable standards. The act of ‘unfollowing’ these accounts can be an act of self-care in itself.
Use Your ‘No’
Kids are often brilliant at using the word ‘no’. We could do with taking inspiration from them and using our ‘no’ a little bit more.
Using our no allows us to clear space in our diary and mind. This can give us the space to say ‘yes’ to other things – things we’d get more out of. If we’re not sure about something and our gut and mind are in an argument over whether it should be a no or a yes, then there’s no harm in building in a pause before we commit ourselves. We don’t have to respond to everything right away, and a pause can give us space and time to work out whether we really want to do it, what the implications of it might be, and whether we can feasibly fit it in.
Kindness costs nothing. No matter how busy we are, we can afford to be kind to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves involves taking care of our needs physically; eating enough of the right things, sleeping enough (within the limits of what our children will allow), taking ourselves to appointments when needed, and resting when we’re exhausted (as much as we’re reasonably able to). It’s also about looking after ourselves mentally; cutting ourselves some slack, speaking kindly to ourselves, going easy on ourselves when we make mistakes or have a rough day. Rather than beating ourselves up, it’s about showing ourselves some compassion.
Make Yourself Accountable
We’re all very good at making plans, but when it comes to carrying out those plans, many of us fall down. Telling other people about our self-care plans can help to keep us accountable. For example, we might decide to start meal-planning but when we sit down to write it one child starts fighting with another and the youngest wakes up and starts crying so we completely lose patience, give up and bundle them all into the car before heading to the shop meal-plan-and-list-less.
Telling those we live with that we plan to do things can help us to stay accountable. Rather than our self-care plans fading into the background when life gets busy, others can help us to keep them active by gently reminding us of them when they slip down the priority list.
When it comes to parenting, there can be a lot of guilt around using screens to occupy our children. As much as it’s not great if our kids are staring at screens all day every day to the detriment of their school-work and of family time, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our children watching or playing with screens every now and again.
We all need pockets of respite throughout the day – kids included. Using screens can force our kids to stop and rest for a little while which can stop them from running out of steam later on in the day. It can also give us a bit of a breather. We might choose to use the time to rest, or we could use it to catch up on a little bit of ‘life’ – loading the dishwasher and wiping down the table, unloading the washing machine, or getting on top of school admin.
Screens aren’t all bad, either. There’s are lots of educational programmes and apps nowadays. Just because a game is on a screen, it doesn’t automatically make it ‘bad’. If we’re worried about what our children are watching or accessing then we could think about setting up parental controls to limit their access to certain things until they’re old enough.
Leave The House
Leaving the house with children in tow can be hard work and sometimes feels like it’s not worth the effort.
If we stop going out then we can become very isolated and ‘trapped’ within our own space. Even if others are visiting us, it can still feel very lonely and as though we’re disconnected from the outside world. Doing the school, pre-school or nursery run can be a great way of getting out of the house. If we have time and live close enough, we might like to think about walking or cycling there and back. Not only does it give us a burst of fresh air and exercise, but it can also introduce us to other parents and carers in the area which can lead to mutual support and/or friendship.
For those of us who have children that aren’t yet old enough for school, there might be some free baby and toddler groups at local religious centres or community spaces. They usually don’t start too early, giving us time to get up and get ready before we go. These groups can help us meet others in our local area who are in a similar position to us which can help with the loneliness that sometimes accompanies being a new parent or carer.
Meet With Friends
Meeting with friends can be a really important part of parenting or caring for little ones. Friends can offer mutual support, advice, and ideas.
If leaving the house feels too much, we could invite people over for a cuppa. Having someone our own age to speak to and have a more adult conversation with can help to dampen the loneliness that can crop up when looking after little ones.
Cosy, Calm Space
Having kids in our lives often comes with an element of chaos. Children aren’t often born with an inbuilt ‘clean and tidy’ gene. Many children enjoy flinging their food around and most will want to tidy around ‘Lego’ structures they haven’t touched in days because they’re ‘still playing with it’.
Creating a calm and cosy space can help us to feel calmer. Having lots of storage for all the child-related paraphernalia in our lives can help spaces to feel less cluttered, and might encourage our children to put things away. We could consider lowing the lighting in rooms we like to chill out in so that they feel calmer. Cushions, rugs, throws, and blankets can be a great way to help places feel cosier – they’re particularly good with kids because we can just stick them in the wash whenever they get mucky (as opposed to sofa cushions or carpets which can be a nightmare to clean). Another advantage of these sorts of things is that they’re great for building dens – something we can do with our kids on days when we all need to rest and relax.
Having spaces with low sound, low lighting, and lots to snuggle in can help our kids to wind down after a busy day, too.
Don’t Hold It In
Absolutely everyone who parents or cares for children will have times when they struggle. It isn’t an easy job this parenting thing. Kids can challenge us and push us to our limits. On top of dealing with a tiny person who doesn’t communicate on our level, or at all, we’re also likely to be running on not-quite-enough-sleep which only makes everything feel harder.
There is no shame in struggling with parenting or caring, whatever our role and whatever we’re struggling with. Talking about the stuff that we’re finding difficult (as well as the stuff that’s going well!) can help us to cope with it. We might find that others are struggling with the same thing, which can help us feel less alone, or that they’ve had a similar problem in the past but have come through it, which can give us hope. The people we speak to – whether it be friends, family, or professionals, might also have ideas of things that we could try.
Very few issues are unresolvable. The more we hold in, the more we’re likely to struggle and the more stressed and anxious we’re likely to feel. Finding things tough doesn’t make us rubbish parents or carers. It makes us human.
Celebrate Little Wins
Looking after children is hard. Sometimes, though, we have ‘little wins’. Our 18-month-old manages to eat an entire banana without any ending up behind their ear. We get a ‘please’ from our 3 -year-old without prompting. Perhaps our 8-year-old wins ‘star of the week’ at school, or our 15-year-old comes to talk to us about something rather than shutting themselves in their room.
Whatever it might be, we will all have times where our heart lifts slightly. We might feel proud, relieved, and realise that actually, we’re doing okay. Taking note of these things and perhaps sharing them with a partner or friend can help us to remember them, or be reminded of them when times are tough. The little wins can be the things that help to carry us through.
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