“Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth before assisting others.” Of course you cannot take care of your travelling companion or child if you do not first take care of yourself. It goes without saying. Those of us in caretaking professions such as nurses or hospice workers know the facts. Burnout. Depression. Anxiety. All can be a direct result of neglecting yourself at the price of taking care of others.
Parenthood is no different. In fact, it is the ultimate caretaking profession. A colleague who is the mother of two small children recently told me, “If they are awake, my kids need something. Food, attention, supervision, encouragement, or a band-aid. It’s always something!” And, in my own experience, children continue to require our personal resources well into adolescence. To a parent, none of this is news. Furthermore, most of us can easily recognize our own symptoms of burnout when we are not taking care of ourselves. Those are the days where our tempers are short and our patience is thin. Those days that we fail to bring our “A game” to parenting.
Knowing the importance of self care, we parents still neglect to nurture ourselves. And, quite frankly, it’s difficult to find the time in our already over scheduled lives to make this a priority. But self care does not have to include a day long trip to the spa or a kid-free weekend getaway, although I highly endorse both. Self care can be included in daily activities as well as overall changes in how we approach our caretaking careers. In short, there are a multitude of ways we can nurture ourselves while modeling self care for our children.
Sleep Prioritizing our own bedtime can assure that we are getting the quality sleep we require.
Ask for help As a parent, having great resources is a necessity. Though you would likely not leave an 11 year old in charge of your toddler, the school age kid next door can be helpful in entertaining you child while you take care of laundry or cooking. Also, that kid would likely welcome the opportunity to earn a few bucks walking your dog or washing your car.
Learn to say no Perhaps this isn’t the best year to be the PTA president, volunteer coordinator for the church social, and the coach for the neighborhood soccer team. When asked to help, give yourself time to thoughtfully consider the time commitment and trade offs it will cost.
Build a support team Being a part of a carpool to school or extracurricular activities is a true resource. Parent networking can yield referrals for baby sitters, pediatricians, and tutors to name a few.
Exercise Taking the time to engage in regular exercise has proven benefits for stress management. Exercise does not have to mean competing in an Ironman triathlon. A 15 minute walk with the dog or weekly exercise class with friends are worthwhile.
Schedule alone time Of all the things parents schedule in a given week, a few minutes of daily time to ourselves is equally worthy. Time to read or meditate helps recharge our batteries and reconnect with ourselves. Meditation has been proven to increase the attention span and decrease anxiety. Both of which are favorable traits for parents.
The life of a parent is one of constantly trying to maintain balance. It’s not easy to find the time for a run or lunch with friends. But these behaviors are priceless to model for our children and necessary for our own emotional health. By taking the time to care for ourselves, we can demonstrate stress management and balance. Ideally, we can help our children develop the important skills of being able to say “no” and manage their own overscheduled lives while taking the time to nurture ourselves.
Shelley Coleman M.A., L.P.C.-S.
Shelley Coleman is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor. She is in private practice in Lakeway where she provides play therapy, child and adolescent counseling, family therapy, group therapy, and parent education. She can be reached at Shelleybcolemanlpc@gmail.com