Monday, 5 October 2009

Self-Care for Parents

Becoming a parent has been so stressful and drains all my time and energy - there never seems to be any time for me. Do you have any advice?

It’s a huge adjustment becoming a parent - our focus goes immediately to our children because their needs and dependence are completely reliant on our responses. This can be overwhelming and the changes that take place in terms of our time and energy are considerable. However, it is important to realise that in order to be a good parent to our children, it is vital that we take our own needs into account as well as our child’s. There is no such thing as perfect mothering - but in order to achieve good mothering, all the family’s needs - including your’s - need to be balanced, and your children will benefit from your own needs being met, in that they will have a happier, more fulfilled mother attending to them.

First, begin to identify your needs and address them. Your needs are physiological: good nutrition, exercise, adequate rest. Your needs are mental and psychosocial: pursuing interests, socializing, time alone/having a break. Your needs are spiritual: participation in a church community or in prayer/meditation, spending time in nature - whatever feeds your spirit. It is true that there are times where some of those needs are temporarily sacrificed, such as sleep when caring for a newborn baby - but even then there is a lot that we can do to care for our own needs during that time. For instance, negotiating help from other people to attend to our housework and meal preparation so that we can sleep while the baby sleeps or take some time out.

Here are some tips for taking care of yourself and achieving balance where all family’s needs can be met:

  • Don’t be a martyr - martyrs don‘t make good mothers. Remember that whatever is gained in giving in this way, is taken away with guilt
  • Write down 5 interests, pursuits or hobbies that are important to you to maintain after childbirth (if you are pregnant) or that used to be important to you that perhaps you’ve lost over the years or given up since you became a parent. Make these goals that you would like to somehow integrate with your parenting. Discuss with your partner how you might find ways to integrate them (in terms of childcare and time management)
  • Ask for and accept help from others
  • Pamper yourself: it doesn’t have to be expensive! Turn your bathroom into a ‘home spa’ with flowers, candles, essential oils, bath salts, relaxing music, and enjoy the relaxation of a sublime soak
  • Fit in even 15 minutes a day for your own time: journaling, meditating, reading a magazine with a cup of coffee, or just being alone with your own thoughts. Take the phone off the hook!
  • ŸFind ways of incorporating into your day, things that you enjoy. It might be where you choose to go for a walk with your baby in the pushchair (eg. around the shops, through a beautiful park/reserve), it might be that you go to a child-friendly café to have coffee with a friend while your children play together on the playground.
  • Spend time socially with others. It may be that you find this through playgroups or coffee groups - but don’t limit your socializing just to these, although there may be seasons where this is the only possibility. Remember your goals and pursue interest groups with other adults so that you have some ‘adult-time’ where the activities and conversation do not revolve around your children
  • Say no to demands that compromise your needs and your children’s needs. If you don’t learn how to say no to your children or to others, you are going to seriously burn yourself out
  • Discuss fears and concerns/anxieties about finances, loss of previous lifestyle, or the blending of your career and family with your partner - or find a support group (or coffee group) where you can talk out some of these issues with other mothers who can relate to your experience
  • If you have made goals to make some lifestyle changes so that you can attend to your needs that have been neglected, don’t forget to discuss your plans with your partner and your children. By explaining your need to change some things, you are going to avoid any unnecessary backlash/protests that might dissuade you from following through with your goals. Recognize, however, in order for there to be a balance in the family of needs being met, there will no doubt need to be a compromise. That compromise should not always be on your part, but ought to be shared
  • Sometimes it can be easy to focus on the difficulties parenting and raising children brings. Spend some time considering why you wanted to become a mother, and what pleasures being a parent brings you. For instance, it may have given you an enormous capacity to love that you did not possess prior to having children!

Often what drives mothers/parents to neglect their own self-care is a list of “shoulds” that berate them mentally about what a “good parent” is. We need to challenge those thoughts. If we continue in our martyr role, not only do we become tired, stressed and resentful which obviously affects our ability to parent well - we are also a role model to our children about how we value and take care of ourselves and therefore, how they should take care of themselves when they are an adult and a parent. It’s important that we spend the energy finding a way to take care of ourselves while being a parent not only for our sake, but so that we are teaching our children that it is good for them to take care of themselves, too.

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