Parenthood — and especially motherhood — is an immersive undertaking. The time commitment is 24/7; the emotional investment is immeasurable. Parents contend with sleep deprivation, feeding schedules, childcare concerns, school demands, infinite piles of laundry (so much laundry) …and that’s only the beginning. Add in work responsibilities, and it can seem impossible for working parents to find time to take care of themselves.
But self-care is critical. It’s the whole life equivalent of putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help those around you without, you know, passing out. In other words: Take care of yourself in order to effectively care for your kids, partner, aging parents, and so on.
Makes sense, right? Practicing self-care can ease feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed and maxed out, which means you’ll have extra energy for — and maybe find more joy in — all that parenting stuff. Here are five strategies to help you begin building self-care into your daily routine.
Prioritize the basics.
It’s 6 p.m., you’ve had a long day at work, the kids are hungry, and cooking dinner is the furthest thing from your mind, which means another night of mac and cheese. At least it’s not takeout, right? Post-bedtime, you’re finally sitting down to your dinner, which is (obviously) cold mac and cheese straight from the pan.
Sound a little too familiar?
If your focus on caring for others has totally eclipsed your needs, your first self-care priority should be establishing a routine that includes an adequate amount of sleep, healthy meals and exercise. Easier said than done, we know, but these basics will help keep you physically and mentally healthy and able to keep up with your kiddos. And, if improving all three isn’t realistic right now, start by focusing on how you can improve just one of those areas. Once you have one new habit going, try adding another.
Make the most of your mornings.
Alarms sound, babies cry, kids climb into your bed — whatever your wakeup call, the morning routine has begun. Getting the entire household out the door for work, daycare and school can be trying… to say the least. And when you start your day off anxious and frustrated, it can be a struggle to bounce back.
One solution? Wake up 30-60 minutes before your kids. Time alone in the morning to have a cup of coffee, get in a workout or shower in peace can change the a.m. dynamic for the whole family. No longer rushed or crazed, you might find that your renewed sense of calm makes everyone’s morning better.
Try mindfulness and meditation.
Working parents pride themselves on their ability to multitask. We’re responding to the boss’s email while bathing the kids, making doctor’s appointments on our lunch break, scrolling through social media posts during soccer practice. What we’re not doing is fully engaging with any one activity.
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness, according to mindfulness.org, is the “basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing…” This seemingly simple act has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety, boost focus and curb emotional reactiveness.
Meditation is one way to begin to cultivate mindfulness. Start by closing your eyes for a few minutes and focusing on your breath. When your brain starts bugging you about your to-do list or ruminating over coworker drama, gently bring your awareness back to your breath. Not sure how to begin? Check out apps like Headspace or 10% Happier for guided meditations and more information about the benefits of mindfulness.
You do you.
Self-care isn’t one-size-fits-all. A ruckus “mom’s night out” at the local bar may be billed as “self-care” for those who feel reinvigorated by high-energy social events. But for others, socializing won’t recharge the batteries.
Don’t be afraid to do what’s right for you. Your BFF or partner may need to cut loose with friends once a month while you crave an hour each week to curl up with a good book. Be honest with yourself about how you want to spend the precious hours you have to take care yourself, then set boundaries and say no to the activities that aren’t doing you any good.
Make self-care stick.
Adopting an all-or-nothing attitude toward self-care can sabotage your efforts. Beating yourself up over missing a workout, skipping a meditation session or sleeping through your alarm expends unnecessary energy and is decidedly not self-care. That said, be mindful of ditching self-care when life gets extra stressful. An illness or death in the family, a major move, an intense deadline at work — these are the times when taking care of yourself becomes even more important.
To make self-care stick, set up routines that support your new habits. Be flexible and remember that doing something for yourself, even for just a few minutes, is always better than nothing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re finding that your “me time” is continually cut short by the demands of parenting or work. Lean on your partner to pick up slack around the house. Hire a sitter who can give you the few hours you need to attend your favorite yoga class. Take a hard look at your calendar and make some cuts to the family schedule. Then, block off that time for you. It is possible and with a little practice, self-care will become second nature.