You’ve got this parenting thing down — but have you forgotten yourself in the process?
As those early years go by and your little ones grow, it can get hard to remember who you were pre-K (pre-kids).
“Being a parent is both all-encompassing and often times unfamiliar,” says psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD. “It can be hard to figure out how to achieve balance.”
The first step is recognizing that taking time to take care of yourself does not make you selfish.
It’s like the flight attendant says before take-off: Place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping small children.
Dr. Borland recommends that you approach parent self-care without any sense of guilt.
“Remind yourself that you’re doing something to strengthen your family — if you’re happier and healthier, then you can be a happier, more attentive parent,” he says. “Instead of running on fumes and being easily frustrated, you’ll have more energy to take your kids on outings or coach their sports team.”
5 ways to practice self-care as a parent
Because taking care of yourself is key to rediscovering your sense of self, Dr. Borland recommends these five parent self-care tips:
- Celebrate Thanksgiving every day. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to think about the good things in your life. It may sound cliché, but practicing gratitude helps you focus on the present instead of on potential future anxieties, he says. “If things are spiraling out of control, focus on positive self-talk, such as, ‘I have these two healthy children who are excelling.’”
- Harness your inner yogi. Deep abdominal breathing creates a relaxation response throughout your body. “You don’t need any special equipment, and no one has to know you’re doing it,” Dr. Borland says. “You can do it whenever, wherever.” Like in the middle of a chaotic indoor playground, for example, or during a visit from your mother-in-law. Deep breathing helps take the edge off, which means less yelling and guilt and more feelings that you’re rocking parenting.
- Say yes to schedules. Carve out some “you” time, whether it’s for running or dinner with friends or simply sitting down to read. “If you have a partner, create a schedule together that involves alone time,” Dr. Borland suggests. “If you want to go to that Saturday morning yoga class, set that in stone so your partner knows they’ve got the kids then.”
- Double down on date nights. As parents, it’s easy to forget that your relationship needs some attention, too. “Get a babysitter and prioritize date nights or outings where it’s just you and your significant other,” he says. “It’s great for communication. It also helps re-establish what brought you together in the first place.”
- Diversify your life’s portfolio. Revisit the things you enjoyed before driving to soccer practice took over your life. Or discover a new hobby. You need an outlet to reset and reflect without the constant din of “mommy” or “daddy” in your ear. Socializing with friends or even exercise can do the trick. “Exercise benefits you physically and mentally – the release of the endorphins alone provides a boost,” Dr. Borland notes. “Exercise can also help you focus on personal achievements. For instance, if you set a goal of running a half mile and then you achieve it, it helps you feel good about yourself.”
If you’re having a hard time letting go
When you’re knee-deep in poopy diapers and pacis, it’s hard to envision the day when your child isn’t glued to your side. Starting school can mark a big — and jarring — change for you as a parent. If you’re having a hard time coping with your child’s growing independence and the sense of loss that comes with it, Dr. Borland suggests you:
- Face your feelings head-on: “Acknowledge that sense of loss. While a stage in your child’s life is over, it just means that they’re heading into a new chapter,” he explains. “You may feel a twinge of sadness, but focus on your child’s healthy development.”
- Create a new daily routine: “Celebrate having some time to yourself,” Dr. Borland says. “You can exercise. You can go back to work. You can volunteer or do whatever it is that you haven’t had time to do over the past few years.”