How to Take Care of Yourself First When You’re a Parent

You hear it all the time: Take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved ones. You need to apply the oxygen mask to yourself before you can save your kids. You can’t pour from an empty cup… so many clever statements to support us supporting ourselves first. And it’s great. I really think there is so much truth in all of those statements. 

But how? HOW?

When my to do list longer than both my arms and I’m already stretched to the limits of my capacity. When a family holiday seems a complete oxymoron because my already ridiculous to do list just doubled. When every which way I turn something else is demanding my urgent attention? Where is the opportunity to put myself first?

Without a practical plan, putting ourselves first as mothers sounds as hollow as “sleep when the baby sleeps”  – and we all know how that one turned out.

So here’s the practical plan.

What fills your cup?

What makes my soul sing? The things that make me truly happy, that leave me feeling inspired and refreshed, include: being by the beach, exercising, camping, reading, writing, sewing, a good chat with a good friend, listening to music (live preferably), going to markets, a long nap, time alone, time with energising people, new experiences with my kids and learning new things. I think it’s helpful to take some time and think about what will actually refresh you. Include the little things as well as the big things.

How can you incorporate those things into your everyday?

There a few things on my happy list that can easily be a part of my everyday. I have stopped listening to the radio in the car and instead started listening to my old CDs. Some old-school, cruisy tunes are immediately relaxing. There are (free!) exercise classes in my local area that welcome kids. I work out while my youngest plays with the other kids. We only need to be ready a few minutes earlier to walk to school – which seems a better way for everyone to start the day. There are dozens of ways to make the mundane more enjoyable. Sometimes “me” time can include your kids.

Do your current “solutions” really work?

Here’s what I do when I am feeling all stressy and over it – I check my damn phone. As if Facebook is going to calm me down. It never, ever does. If I am feeling completely fed up, I reach for chocolate or coffee or wine. Sometimes all three.They are not the best self-medication options, even if they are immediately effective. I think the trick is to be mindful of our coping mechanisms and to expand them beyond the quick fixes. 

How do you make time for yourself?

Where, in the busy social and family landscape, does spare time appear? If I look at my life and my to do list objectively there are things that can immediately be struck off my list. These are things that I waste my time on (see ‘Facebook’ above) and the things that I can and should say no to.

If I am serious about making my mental health a priority – and realistically that’s what we are talking about here – then I need to revise my habit of saying yes to everything. I need to allocate specific times to specific tasks. If you are busy mother (and I have never met any other kind) you need to create time for yourself. I find it needs to be a very purposeful carving out of time. Time that must be scheduled and respected, just as we respect appointments made with other people.

A few weekends ago I went on a girls weekend away with some friends. We had a ball. If you had asked me if I really had time to go, I would have said no. But somehow, it was in my calendar, it happened, I caught up on everything else eventually and I felt so much better for the experience.

How do you make time for yourself?

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Image: Getty