As the New Year is about to begin, let’s take a moment to look at ways to make time and space for meeting your own needs….
Giving Yourself Permission to Take Care of Your Needs
The first big step is to acknowledge that you have your own individual needs and that you have the right to sometimes be “selfish” and put your own needs first. Doing this will make you a happier, relaxed, more energized parent, which will lead to happier kids. It’s like when you’re on the airplane, and they say “if the oxygen mask drops down, first put on your own mask, and then assist small children.”
Working with Your Child’s Schedule and Needs
Sometimes you can fit in self care while caring for your child. What distracts your child enough that you can get a moment to yourself? Will they play happily in the bathtub while you sit on the floor nearby watching a movie on a laptop, or giving yourself a manicure? Can they play in a playground while you read a great book? Can you take them for a walk, while you listen to a podcast or call a friend? Can you take them to a swimming pool with floaties on and do water exercise while they splash around? Can you have a mostly uninterrupted lunch with a friend if you let your child watch a video while you do so?
Make a list of “5 minute self care ideas” – little things you can do for yourself when you have a moment.
Is there something you would love to do, but just can’t figure out how to make it happen? If so, start making a plan. First, it’s good to figure out why you want it, and what part of it is most important to you (e.g. if you find yourself longing for a movie, figure out: is it getting caught up in a story that matters – if so, watch videos at home after you child is in bed. Is it being out in a theater that matters – if so, take your toddler to a daytime matinee of a kids’ movie, or find a sitter so you can see a grown-up movie. Is it really just important to have two hours of uninterrupted time where you’re responsible for nothing? Well, then the goal is to be child-free, and it doesn’t matter much what you do!)
Once you’ve made a plan, then have a plan for contingencies: if X happens, what will I do? If Y happens, who will deal with it? Think: what’s the worst thing that could happen? When would I know it was time to give up, and try again some other day? Have alternatives planned. Even if the plan fails, you will have accomplished one very important thing. You will have demonstrated that your own needs are important, and placed a priority on nurturing you. Celebrate that!! And have a plan to try again.
Asking for Help
Ask other people (friends, families, or paid professionals) to help out. In addition to asking for help with taking care of your child(ren), ask them to help you take care of yourself! Often parents will get their partner to take care of the child, or hire babysitters so they can do the things they have to do, like grocery shopping or doctor’s appointments, but they feel guilty asking for help so they can do something “selfish” that they want to do, like meeting a friend for coffee, or just taking a morning off. It’s OK to ask for help getting your desires met as well as your needs. And if the first person you ask says no, find someone else to ask!
Parent Educators: here’s a free printable handout on self care for parents, which includes all these tips.