A parent once shared her experience of staying apart from 4-year-old for the first time when she was asked to attend a two-day long conference in another town for work. She definitely missed her child and thought about her a lot, but she also realised how much she was enjoying this time for herself. Getting sound sleep, being able to read or take long showers, interacting with other professionals, being in a different environment- all of it made her feel calm and fresh. However, several others around her remarked how it must be terrible for her to be away/how she must be missing the family and constantly thinking about them. This made her feel slightly guilty because she felt that she was supposed to not enjoy this time to herself and maybe she is a bad parent for doing this.
Does that sound relatable? As parents, there are numerous responsibilities that we are constantly juggling. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or a working parent, chores, work, family responsibilities and children often tend to take centre stage while focusing on our self or even on the marital relationship becomes the last thing on our list. As in the example above, parents tend to also feel guilty and selfish when they choose to focus on their own needs.
There’s no denying that as parents, we will want to prioritize our children and it genuinely may be tough for us to devote a lot of time to self-care. However, it is equally true that making some time for ourselves is absolutely necessary if we want to:
- Reduce our stress and stay physically and mentally healthy
- Enhance our focus and energy levels so that tasks can be completed faster and more easily
- Improve our interactions with our children. A parent who has had no time to rejuvenate and rest is more likely to get easily annoyed, lose their temper or feel like they are not doing a good job
- Model healthy behaviour for our children. Looking at us, they may learn how to be independent, how to draw boundaries and say no, and how to look after themselves.
Making time to care for ourselves, therefore, has a lot of merit to it. But how can you do it? Here are some ways you can consider.
- Take tiny breaks whenever you can- It doesn’t matter if you can manage only 15 minutes or an hour, but ensure that you are spending some time by yourself in a day. This could mean having a nice cup of tea in peace, taking a walk outside, reading, going for a quick run etc.
- Make parenting tasks fun or do self-care activities with your child if you feel that it won’t be possible at all to get time away just for yourself. For example, when your child is reading or even colouring, sit down with them and read your own book or colour/paint. Or maybe while cooking or bathing the child, put on some nice music and dance to it/sing along.
- Make conscious choices about how to spend your free/alone time- If your child is napping or playing with friends, don’t always use that time only to finish chores. That might be your only chance to either rest or pursue a hobby or do something fun for yourself. Try to also minimize activities that involve screen time. Using social media or watching videos may not necessarily help you feel refreshed and other offline options could be more effective choices.
- Schedule some time alone with your partner- As the parenting role takes more importance, couples often don’t get to spend enough time together away from the child. Ensure that you consciously find time for this at least once a week. Do something fun/relaxing and avoid discussing parenting related or other responsibilities during this time. This is the time for you to reconnect as a couple!
- Practice mindfulness and self-compassion- Spending even 2-5 minutes practising mindful breathing can help you find some calm amidst all the chaos. Move to a quiet corner, take in deep breaths, and focus only on your breathing for the time being. Tell yourself that you are doing the best you can; we often are too harsh on ourselves and that further adds to the pressure and distress we feel. You are already doing a lot and you need to pat yourself on the back each time you finish a chore, care for yourself, care for someone else!
- Ask for help- None of us can do it all and it’s okay to get help and support from friends and family members when we need it. Leave the child in the care of the other parent/other family members/a friend or neighbour who also has children, so that you get some breathing space for yourself. Draw boundaries and say no to tasks that you know you cannot comfortably manage.
These are just some examples. Ultimately, how you choose to make time for yourself, how much time you can manage and what you do in that time will depend on your individual circumstances. What’s important is to know that it’s okay and essential for us to do this!