The daily life of a parent: wake-up, get everyone ready (sometimes in more of a rush than we’d like), plan your own day, take care of the little “fun unknowns” that often seem to pop up, worry about our kids, provide support to family members, be the “Master Scheduler”, get everyone ready for bed (sometimes with hesitation from our little ones, sometimes not), fall into bed, try to get 8 hours of sleep…And….Repeat!
The life of a parent is so very rewarding but intense! There is the added stressor of when we know that our child is having a difficult time. Whether this is with a friend, with schoolwork, with a difficult transition, or with anxiety, we still worry and spend time and energy thinking about how to help our child overcome the current situation.
Your role as an advocate for them may also need to be as a listener. As in most personal relationships in our life, we want to fix the problem for our child but what they really want is a good listener. This will also add to your stress because whether your child wants to talk to you or not, you take in and hold some of that pain for them and you will experience stress. It’s important to explore your own emotions and find an outlet for them and have your own support. Being aware and really present with your feelings and reactions can help you cope with stress and be as healthy as you can be as an individual. Not only is this beneficial to your own health but will help you be the best parent, spouse, friend, etc.
So how can you best take care of yourself?
Set aside time for relaxation. Try not to allow other things to cause you to not take this scheduled time. If you do miss your relaxation time, schedule another time within the next 24-48 hours. Relaxation includes finding the most quiet spot, not being interrupted, and taking some deep, relaxing breaths. Dr. Andrew Weil promotes the 4-7-8 exercise for relaxation breathing, my favorite. This can be found at www.drweil.com. It includes inhaling for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. It has been suggested to help when you are trying to fall asleep as well. Meditation is often one of my recommendations as well and can be found on apps such as Headspace and Insight Timer which are the best ones that I have found.
Time for self-prioritization
More often than we realize as parents, we need to put ourselves first! I know – unbelievable for some of us – or goes against what we have been taught or embraced – that our children, partner, and family should come first. As I mentioned before, you need to take care of yourself first in order to be the best parent or the best to others. So do what you need to do – say No to a commitment, accept someone else’s offer to help, or just plan something for you (even if it’s a time-out!).
Yoga and gentle stretching
Your body needs to be shown care also and yoga is a calm and gentle way to do so. You are also building muscle! There are many yoga studios and usually classes range from beginner to more intermediate students. If you can not get out of the house or have an extremely busy schedule, there are many that you can find online and do on your own time. You can find these through yoga studios, yoga websites, or on YouTube. If you don’t want to do yoga, finding some gentle stretches that work for your body or that are suggested by your doctor, release tension in our bodies and in our minds. This will also feel like a great way to take care of yourself and send the message “I am important”.
Trying to keep in a routine (even on the weekends) is so good for many of us and what is better than having relaxation, self-prioritization, and yoga or gentle stretching as part of that routine! When our minds can predict what we do next or what needs to be accomplished that day, we feel more secure and experience less anxiety or stress. I suggest setting up a daily or weekly schedule that you can follow and giving yourself a goal of one month to really implement it. Then assess how you feel. It’s likely that you will feel more secure and in control of your day. Do not over schedule though or set too many goals – this will have the opposite effect. If you do not accomplish something that was needed in one day or one week, look a few days out and find another place to schedule it. Be realistic about the time that it will take.
I have seen time and time again and have clients report to me how much exercise helps them with stress. The positive view of self that it provides also has benefits. Exercise can help with anxiety and depression also. This should be the first step in combatting unhealthy feelings or habits. The key is to finding what type of exercise works for you – walking, running, going to the gym, strength training, yoga, Zumba class, aerobics, swimming, or whatever feels good to you and keeps you motivated. For some, trying several kinds of exercise or doing new things is the key to motivation. This works too – just keep moving!
Almost as important as exercise is sleep maintenance. This includes making sure that you are getting the recommended amount of sleep and the amount that feels most energizing and recuperative to you. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours per night for adults aged 26 to 64. It is important to maintain a comfortable sleep environment including being cool and dark. You can adjust this based on what feels best to you. The deep, recuperative sleep that we need – REM sleep- occurs after the first couple of hours and should continue for several hours until the early morning. This REM sleep is sometimes interrupted by the need to use the bathroom or brief periods of wakefulness which decreases the quality of our sleep. Having a clear and calm mind at bedtime helps your sleep be more peaceful and deep. You may want to journal or meditate before bed or make a list for the next day to really clear your thoughts.
As mentioned when talking about self-prioritization, saying No is so important to our self-care. This is one part of boundary-setting. Other parts including setting boundaries in relationships also. Making sure that the people that you surround yourself with are healthy and supportive is a big part of self-care. Negative or toxic people should be kept out of your life or at least at a distance to optimize feeling well. Other boundaries may include what you are able to do for others. Do you have a friend that often needs you, leaving you feeling drained? Set a boundary of once per week communication or responding to texts prior to 7pm at night only. Are others often asking you to do things for them or do you give yourself the message that you should be doing certain events or tasks? Let go. Choose a couple that seem most important to you and set a clear boundary of declining the others.
In the midst of parenting, our quality of life and joy remain important. Remind yourself of that and this can help prevent you from feeling burnt out also. You can not be “everything to everyone”. You need to care for yourself as you do your child, partner, family, and others. Remember, you deserve that and your happiness and decreased stress will spread to your loved ones around you. Caring for others is hard work, especially in difficult times, but you can emerge from this time in your life healthier and happier.
Katie Wenger, LCSW, is a psychotherapist based in North Wales, PA but also travels to homes in the area for sessions. She specializes in anxiety and how anxiety affects relationships. You can find her at katiewengerlcsw.com or reach out directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 267-304-4442.