Want to Be a Better Parent? Start by Taking Care of Yourself

These 6 self-care strategies will get you started

Father on walk with baby in stroller and young daughter

You’ve heard the analogy a hundred times: Put on your oxygen mask before helping others. But doing that with a baby in one arm and a hangry child dangling from the other? That ain’t easy.

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As a parent, practicing good self-care can feel about as likely as winning the lottery. But here’s the thing: Taking care of yourself makes you a better parent — and helps your children become better humans.

Psychiatrist Molly Wimbiscus, MD, shares six doable self-care strategies that benefit you and your family.

1. Go through the motions.

Our feelings, thoughts and behaviors are all connected. That means engaging in healthy behaviors can, in turn, start to change your emotions and beliefs. So take a shower or go for a walk (even if staying in sweatpants seems like the only desirable option). You might end up feeling a little happier. Those good feelings can lead to more healthy behavior. Consider it a feel-good feedback loop.

Kid perk: “When you’re happier, you’re less irritable and more patient,” says Dr. Wimbiscus. (And what parent doesn’t need more patience?)

2. Spend less time on social media.

When you stop comparing your parenting life to the (airbrushed, cherry-picked) lives of others, you’ll be happier with what you have. Plus, feed-surfing is a time suck that prevents you from doing things that are actually good for you.

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Kid perk: If you’re not zombified by your phone, you’ll be more emotionally present for your family — and better able to provide the true quality time that helps kids thrive.

3. Make time for yourself.

Dreaming of a solo vacation? That might not be realistic, but having even an hour to yourself can put some pep in your step. Make plans to get lunch with an actual adult, shoot some hoops, or spend time with yourself and a novel at the local café. A little “me time” can go a long way.

Kid perk: You want your kids to have meaningful friendships and hobbies, right? Making time for your friends and interests models healthy habits.

4. Call a babysitter. Yesterday.

You need a break, and it’s okay to take one. No, really. Even a few hours of adult time can restore your faith in the world. Go plan a date night or order some concert tickets. 

Kid perk: “It’s valuable for children to spend time with other caring adults,” Dr. Wimbiscus says. “Being exposed to different types of people —a grandparent or aunt or neighbor or babysitter — gives them new ways of thinking about and experiencing the world.”

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5. Go to bed already.

Lack of sleep leaves you sluggish, moody and more likely to get sick. Over time, sleep deprivation puts you at risk of problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression. Deep down you already know that — yet sleep still manages to get shoved to the bottom of the list. Time to push it back to the top.

Kid perk: Good sleep is essential if you’re trying to stay positive, patient and healthy when your kiddos are not.

6. Aim for good enough.

Being a good parent doesn’t mean being perfect. It’s okay to make a quick meal with frozen veggies or put off mopping for another week (or, ahem, month). Don’t have an hour to spend at the gym? Pull out the double stroller and take the kids for a quick spin around the block. “Sometimes the best thing you can do is to be good enough,” Dr. Wimbiscus says.

Kid perk: “When you’re good enough, you’ll have more downtime, which gives you more energy for dealing with your children’s needs,” Dr. Wimbiscus adds. “You don’t have to be superwoman.”

Because finding a life balance that keeps the whole family healthy and happy? That’s a true superpower.

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