5 steps to self-care for parents in the New Year

Self-care reminder written on an isolated sticky note. (Photo Courtesy BigStock)

Self-care reminder written on an isolated sticky note. (Photo Courtesy BigStock)

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Are you working towards specific goals this year?

I have a number of new goals for 2018 related to my work, my family and relationships and to my personal/spiritual growth. My most important resolution for the New Year, though, will hopefully frame the way that I work towards my other goals: I am setting an intention to integrate more self-care through the way that I balance my life demands.

As busy parents, it’s easy to put ourselves on the bottom of our to–do lists. I remember getting the first cavity in my life when my son was two because in the haze of sleepless early mom days, I neglected to brush my teeth as frequently as I needed to and I didn’t get myself to the dentist at all during those first two years. The cavity was easy enough to fill but left me with a stinging awareness that I needed to make a change.

A year later, my son was diagnosed with autism and my husband and I were totally overwhelmed with processing what this diagnosis meant and trying to get him the therapeutic services that he needed from early intervention services. We also had a year-old baby daughter, by that time. Parenting kids with any kind of special needs adds an incredible level of responsibility to an already consuming responsibility. There are many other examples of parenting circumstances that call for an ongoing level of extra intensity—single parents who don’t have a community of support; parents who are taking care of their aging parents; parents who are working several jobs and struggling financially. Given all of the responsibility that we hold, it may seem like self-care is a pipe dream from a more carefree time in our lives.

The self-care that I’m working towards isn’t about escape from what I’m holding—it’s not about heading off to a spa or indulging myself in excess of food or drink. It’s about making space in my daily life to check in and see how I’m feeling, to re-connect with my spirit, to appreciate the experience of parenting, even when it’s really hard. It’s also about noticing when I’m feeling depleted so that I can give myself the opportunity to recharge—rather than withdraw or explode in frustration.

Here are five ways that I’ll be working towards self-care this year—I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences in the comments below!

  1. Do Less, Invite Help: As Super-Moms and Dads, we try to do it all—and that can lead to a sense of exhaustion and burn out. For women, especially, balancing work and care of home/kids can be challenging. A recent study showed that women still do more chores at home than men. If that’s true in your home, break that pattern and ask for help. Get your kids—even young kids—involved in doing chores and taking responsibility for what they can do to help out that’s developmentally appropriate, such as putting away toys.
  2. Time for Reflection: So many days, we are the engines that keep everyone moving to from home to school or work and off to various activities and back. In the daily grind, it may not feel like there’s time to reflect on our feelings, dreams, fears and hopes. It’s helped me a lot to keep a notebook or journal with me that I can grab and write in when I have a few minutes waiting in a carpool line. (I’ve recently published a reflection journal for parents). Whether it’s journaling, prayer, meditation or a conversation with a trusted friend, we can give ourselves permission to stop being busy all of the time and to make room to notice what we’re feeling.
  3. Get Moving: Exercise is essential to physical fitness—but also to keeping stress at bay. I know it’s hard to make time to get to the gym and keep up a fitness routine. In my life, movement has to fit into my day—I look forward to taking my dog on a 30-minute walk before heading to work, I park far away from the grocery store entrance and I ride an exercise bike in my living room while I catch up on my favorite shows.
  4. Laugh: “Adulting” is serious business—but we don’t need to be serious all of the time. We now know that laughter has health benefits—and just makes us feel good. Catch a comedy podcast while you’re doing your share of the household chores or get together with that friend who makes you giggle. Telling jokes and laughing with your kids brings everyone’s stress levels down.
  5. Be Kind…to Yourself: With all goals that we set, we know we’ll go off track—it’s natural. There will be days—and sometimes weeks—when you’re just not able to integrate self-care into your life. You may get burnt out, stressed and overwhelmed. When that happens, don’t beat yourself up…be kind, just as you would be to the people you love. With practice, self-care will become habit.

Wishing you a very happy New Year!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.