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Family Health

If You Don’t Take Care of Yourself, How the Hell Are You Going to Take Care of Someone Else?

Jan 6, 2020

One very important, and often overlooked, aspect of good enough parenting is looking after yourself.

In fact, I believe you will be more able to care for, nurture, guide and enjoy your children if you take adequate time for self-care.

In many ways, self-care means just what you'd think: taking care of yourself.

It means making sure you get enough rest, exercise and good nutrition. It means taking regular breaks and time.

The Psychology Foundation of Canada's offers 7 tips on incorporating more rest in your daily lives. Read about them here

It means avoiding (as much as possible) situations and activities that can drain your energy and make you feel bad (overwork, overuse of drugs, alcohol, caffeine and junk food, toxic people).

But self-care also means your activities and pursuits that make you feel good, replenish your energy and help you bounce back from stress. That can mean everything from yoga or meditating to simply doing things you love to do and being around people you love to be with. Self-care is not only good for us as working parents, it's also good for our kids. It helps us be more attentive, patient and understanding parents and enables us to make the most of the time we spend with the people we love the most.

But how do you find time for self-care when you are a working parent, with multiple roles and responsibilities and a weekly schedule that already seems pretty full? If you’re having trouble finding time for self-care, this problem-solving approach may help you.

Step 1: Understand that you’re not alone.

Finding time for self-care is a challenge for many parents. So, talk to your working parent friends about how they find time for self-care. Sometimes, just knowing that you’re not the only one can help you feel a little better and more hopeful. You may also get a lot of valuable tips.

Step 2: Remind yourself that self-care is important.

Practicing good self-care helps you feel better mentally, emotionally and physically, and that makes you a better parent, partner, friend and employee. Self-care builds and supports your mental wellness. Self-care can help you enjoy your life and parenting more.

Step 3: Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to move forward with self-care?”

Here are some places to start.

Think about how you are spending your free time right now. What activities outside of work, child care and housework are most important to you? Are you spending some of your free time on activities you don’t really enjoy and aren’t necessary? Can you cut down on volunteer work or other outside obligations that aren’t really necessary for your personal or family’s well-being?

Look for one initial positive step. You may have lots of self-care activities you’d love to do. Make a small list of activities you’d like to make time for. Start with something you really can achieve.

Keep an open dialogue about what you need. That means talking to your partner (if you have one) about self-care. And agree to support each other’s self-care goals.

Step 4: How do I do it?

Be realistic. Maybe your long-term exercise goal is to train for a half-marathon. But brisk walking is good, solid restorative exercise too. Can you exercise for half an hour at home, instead of taking an hour to travel to a gym for exercise? Can your meal out with your spouse or a friend be a quick breakfast at your local diner rather than a more elaborate dinner out?

Can you combine restorative activities with family time, for example, like a family movie night or a hike in the woods with your children?

Start with self-care activities that you enjoy. Enjoyable activities will be more self-reinforcing and therefore more likely to become a habit.

Step 5: Keep doing it.

Enjoy your activity and pay attention to how it restores your good mood and energy. Make it a regular item in your weekly or monthly calendar.

Get child care support — ask your partner to look after the kids or trade babysitting with a friend. Keep reminding yourself that self-care is not lazy or self-indulgent or irresponsible. It’s an important way of maintaining your well-being.

Step 6: Understand that your self-care process isn’t perfect.

There will be days or weeks when you aren’t able to make time for self-care. Try not to let the lapses make you give up. Just look forward to next week, when you will be able to have some “me time.” 

Article Author Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann
Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann

Dr. Ester Cole is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto providing services to school-age children, youth, families and schools. She was the Chair of The Psychology Foundation of Canada and the Parenting for Life program, and the past president of the Ontario Psychological Association and the Canadian Association of School Psychologists. She has published and lectured widely, and has been active on committees provincially, nationally and in the American Psychological Association.

John Hoffman is one of Canada’s top parenting and child development writers. He has written extensively for The Psychology Foundation of Canada for 22 years, including web articles for Stress Strategies and Staying on Top of Your Game and booklets for the Parenting For Life, Kids Have Stress Too! and Stress Lessons programs. He was also a featured writer and columnist for Today’s Parent magazine for over 20 years. 

Follow The Psychology Foundation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and visit psychologyfoundation.org to access 24/7 A Resource for Working Parents.

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