15 Simple Self Care Tips For Parents
This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but honestly I have never been good at self care. I think this is very common among parents, particularly those who are primarily responsible for childcare- our days rush by in a blur of meeting everyone else’s needs, and we’re all too often left spent, our energy used up with none left for ourselves.
Well, sod that.
I saw a quote online the other day that had me nodding in agreement. It was, “Self care is not saying ‘me first’, it’s saying ‘me too’.” Sometimes prioritising yourself is essential- we can’t give what we don’t have, which is why on planes they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. You’re not much use if you’re passed out, right?
I also think that it’s extremely important that we model to our children the kinds of attitudes we want them to embrace. In a society where “I’m so tired,” “I’m completely run down,” “I’m so busy“, “work’s been insane” are trotted out like badges of honour, it is a radical and brilliant thing to model to our children a lifestyle where we take care of ourselves so that we can be as healthy and happy as possible. It’s also about managing our ego, which is something I actively try to do and show my kids. Sure, it can give you a buzz when it seems like you’re irreplaceable, that work couldn’t possibly function without you- but that’s rarely actually true, and instead just feeds into a narrative where you end up hurting yourself for really not much in return.
This attitude also enables other people to lean on you instead of developing into better people- my eight year old now knows that if she gets to the point where she is snappy or rude because she’s hungry, she’ll be held accountable for her actions because she is perfectly capable of getting herself some fruit, toast or cereal- she is empowered and equipped with the knowledge of how to make her own food, as well as independence and personal accountability. Be a person who expects good things from people, and you’ll likely see them.
So, how does one practise self-care as a parent- especially if you are always surrounded by people demanding things from you (I’m thinking stay at home parents, working parents, homeschooling parents)? I’ll share with you here the small ways that I would recommend parents to take care of themselves.
- Listen to music you like. This creates a pleasant environment for yourself; one in which you can set the mood for the moment and either motivate yourself, indulge in memories that the music brings, or have a laugh and a dance.
2. Shower or bathe when you feel stressed. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night; whether you technically need one or not, just get in the water. It is a clear physical sign to kids that you aren’t available to get things for them (and it’s amazing what they manage to do when they’re motivated). If I’m feeling tired or cranky or unproductive I’ll often jump in the shower and it’s like a reset button, I feel fresh and those few minutes to myself clear my head really help.
3. Have something to read. I haven’t read fiction for years for myself, but I love non-fiction articles and sitting down with a magazine or book (I recommend Nat Geo, New Internationalist, books by John Holt and Alfie Kohn, poetry by Carol Ann Duffy, anything by Bill Bryson). I think reading for pleasure sets a great example for our kids and it’s another physical signal that you are taking time for you. I know a few mums who have ‘quiet hour’ over lunch, where they essentially have lunch break from parenting. Their kids go to their rooms and play or chill, and they have lunch and read. One day, I’ll make that work. That day is not today- I’ll take a flick through a few pages with a toddler sliding down my legs for now.
4. Exercise (hear me out!!). This doesn’t have to be a workout, it doesn’t need to be for very long. Just move, a bit, more than you were before. Walk to a park, go up and down the stairs a few times, get the kids involved in some stretching on the living room floor. If you do one sit up, and yesterday you did none, you’ve made a step forward! I have personally found exercise to be one of the most (if not the most) impactful things for my mental health- it gives you a rush of those endorphins, is a great stress-buster and helps you sleep better at night. Tick, tick, tick!
5. Eat your greens (again, hear me out). Even if you’re snacking on the kids’ leftover nuggets and chips, add some broccoli, sugar snap peas or baby gem lettuce. Focus on adding more nutritious foods to your diet, not cutting anything out- this will naturally happen as your body readjusts to a more vitamin-rich diet. Feeding your body properly can make a huge difference to your mood and how you feel about yourself.
6. Eat your chocolate, too. Keep some of your favourite treats for when you want to indulge (for me I love a bit of chocolate with a cup of tea and a book). Go for high quality rather than quantity; this makes it way more of a nice treat and you’re less likely to feel ‘bleh’ with small amounts of high-quality chocolate, crisps or whatever it is you love.
7. Leave the house. I mean, without your kids. It doesn’t really matter if you’re going to do the weekly shop, or meeting friends for a drink, or helping out at a project. I help one evening a week with a youth group and it’s just so nice to look forward to spending time doing something other than parenting for a couple of hours. Doing something on your own is a great way to remember that you are a whole person, not ‘just’ a parent- and it gives you a chance to miss your family and look forward to seeing them.
8. Invest in your relationships. Everyone- everyone- needs friends, and many of us have spouses or partners. These relationships need nurturing, and filling all your time with meeting your kids’ needs means that the other relationships in your life get neglected. Text or- shock horror- call, friends to catch up; have people over for dinner even if the kids will be around (make it super casual, get a takeaway or do something super-simple, it’s not about the food), leave the kids with your partner and meet your friends for last-minute drinks, get out on a date night, lock your bedroom door early and spend longer than usual on sex- just do things that remind those people around you that they are special to you. Everyone gets the same amount of time in a day; choose to invest a good amount of that in your relationships.
9. Book a beauty or hair treatment. This often feels incredibly indulgent- but parents spend most of their lives investing in other people, and sometimes a treat is just what’s needed. I feel loads better when I’ve just had my hair highlighted and I’ve spent a bit of time grooming- although appearance isn’t nearly the most important thing, it does go a way towards reflecting how we feel about ourselves.
10. Track your moon (menstrual) cycle. This might sound mad, but as women we have very definite mood shifts according to where we are in our cycle (surprised, anyone?) and knowing what we are probably going to feel like in advance is incredibly helpful for planning what to do throughout the month. Planning social events for when we’re feeling more outgoing, date nights for the more ‘confident and attractive’ days and movie nights for when we’re feeling ‘bleh’ can help our self care routine work better for us than randomly booking in events that we won’t feel up for.
11. Volunteer. By this I just mean give your resources (time, money, energy) to someone else, not in your immediate family. Whether this is helping at a food bank, or running a local club or youth group, or making meals for people you know are dealing with a lot in their lives, volunteering to help others is a great way to get some perspective, a new focus and new relationships.
12. Manage time on your phone. Whether it’s news articles, Netflix, social media or email/chat notifications, most of us get distracted by our phones. Take some time, whether daily or weekly, to turn it off and put it somewhere like a wardrobe where it’s not at the front of your mind. It’s amazing how the world keeps turning without your phone at your fingertips- I frequently go days without posting on Instagram, even though it’s part of my business- simply because I refuse to be held to ransom by FOMO that’s perpetuated in the digital world.
13. Cook something. Not a normal meal, not something you have to cook- choose a recipe you’ve wanted to try out for ages, or your favourite cake, get yourself the ingredients, and do it. This week I’ve made a gorgeous creamy mushroom sauce with butternut squash over pasta, and it was just really nice to both have it come out successfully, and have something different to our usual meals.
14. Get a plant. Some tomato seeds, a Bonsai tree, an orchid, a cactus (these are currently the only plants I have in my house because right now I refuse to add anything to my life that demands anything from me- I’ve had them since Christmas and watered them twice). Just get something green and alive in your home (or garden). It adds joy, it’s a bit of fun, it looks good- and if you grow edible stuff, you can eat it! What’s not to like?
15. Ask for help. I am soooo bad at this. So bad. Someone recently asked me, as we were waiting for our kids to finish a class, what I do for me-time, “as you always look so well rested and calm.” I kid you not I physically turned and looked behind me as I was sure this lady wasn’t talking to me (she was, and I was almost speechless). I homeschool the kids, I ferry them to and from groups and playdates and parks and libraries and shops and appointments, I attempt to make boring admin phone calls among the chaos, and keep the house tidyish, and feed them decent food, I try to be a good friend, I do my best to work hard, to be a good wife, to not let people down. I fail all the time, every day. So do most other people. This whole life thing would be so much easier if we lived in community with each other instead of this kind of individualised competition. Ask for help if you need it, and what you’ll probably find is a whole lot of people saying “oh you’ve got too much on too? I get this!”, or parents who’ve been doing this for longer and know what to chuck in the sod-it bucket, or people without kids who can watch yours while you take some time.
I’m sure there are a gazillion more ways to practise self-care; these are the top 15 that I would recommend to friends, which I why I shared them with you. I’d love to hear you self-care tips; pop them in the comments below!