Strategies to take care of yourself while taking care of so many other things
“In the event of an emergency, secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting others”. Most people are familiar with this common airline safety instruction and self care metaphor. But what does is it really mean for parents of young children, especially in this new and scary time of coronavirus and social distancing?
Google “self care” and you’ll find endless lists of suggestions, often made up of activities such as meditation, face masks, mani/pedis, and going out to eat with the girls. And while these things are self-care and they work for many people, the reality for many parents of young children is that are rarely (if ever!) able to participate in this type of self-care. If we only think about self-care in terms of activities that require time, planning, and money, the reality is that many parents will be led to believe that they are simply too busy, too tired and on too tight of a budget to participate in self-care.
Research tells us that children of all ages do better when they have happy and healthy parents. But too often, parents put aside their own needs in order to continuously meet the seemingly never ending needs of their children and others. When you love someone as much as parents love their children, it’s easy to fall into the self-sacrificing trap of believing that “as long as the kids have what they need, I will be fine”. And while this might work for a time, sooner or later parents are going to run out of oxygen- leaving them unable to care for their children and loved ones to their fullest capacity.
So, how can busy parents put on their metaphorical “oxygen mask” in order to meet the high demands of parenting in today’s world? Unfortunately, there is no one size fix all tip or technique that will work for everyone. However, changing one’s view about what “counts” as self care and letting go of the guilt that many parents feel when it comes to caring for themselves might be the first step towards happier and healthier parents
Self care doesn’t have to be fancy. Try embracing simple self care. What are tiny things you already do or could easily add into your busy days? Think really small. Make a cup of coffee. Pet or play with your dog for a few minutes. Stay off social media at a designated time each day. If you’re feeling motivated you could make a self care “menu”- a quick list of easy activities that you know work for you. This provides a quick visual to use if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Second, give yourself permission to practice self care. By taking good care of yourself, you are also taking care of those who rely on you. If you run out of oxygen, how will you be able to help your loved ones put on their masks? Allow yourself to take a few minutes for yourself and allow yourself to let some things go. Does getting up a little early to shower and fix your hair help you feel good? Or maybe you prefer sweats and a messy bun some days. That’s ok too! If you’re going to make dinner anyway- why not indulge and make your favorite meal you haven’t had in a while? Or it could be a frozen chicken nuggets kind of night if you’ve had a long day. Maybe you can find a few extra minutes in your day to call a friend or family member. Or maybe you don’t have to answer that call that always leaves you drained right now. Wait to call them back until you are ready.
Most importantly- check in with yourself. At the end of the day ask yourself “How do I feel now that XYZ is done (or not done)?”; “Did that call with my friend make me feel more or less stressed?”; “Was that activity worth the time/stress/ money it took”? Find what works for you and use that knowledge as you plan your days in the future.
Parents of young children already have so much on their plate, and COVID-19 certainly isn’t making life easier. However in times like these when self care seems impossible, it becomes more important than ever before. Parents- you are worthy of self care. You can do it. So put on your oxygen masks and take a deep breath.