As a parent, you probably have an idea in mind of what it means to be a good parent. You strive to be patient, thoughtful, attuned and responsive to your childrenReality is often different. When you’re drained it’s easy for anyone to become irritable, frustrated, impatient, and even resentful of the people we love.
To see how managing your energy impacts your parenting ability, I invite you to do a quick exercise:
1.Imagine how you felt at maximum energy during the past month, when you were energised, confident and enthused.
2.Imagine how you felt during the past month when you were running on empty, burnt out, and exhausted.
3.Were your emotions, behaviours, thoughts and relationships different at your highest and lowest? How so?
Being a parent is challenging at the best of times, let alone when our ability to feel empathy, regulate our emotions or think clearly is compromised. We can become reactive, angry and ultimately damage our most important relationships.
That takes us to the final question: Have you engaged in any activity in the past week that refuelled your tank?
If you are like most other parents, you probably haven’t. When we don’t look after ourselves, we don’t have the energy in the tank to be the parents we want to be. We feel worse – stressed, anxious, more irritable, easily frustrated, impatient – and there are even physical effects, like lowered immunity, high blood pressure, and increased stress hormones.
Self-care and why your children need you to do it
Self-care can simply be defined as any activity or thing you do that refuels your tank. The activity should make you feel more energised, rejuvenated or renewed. I can’t stress enough that taking the time to nurture yourself is not selfish. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family.
One key reason is that your children learn how to manage themselves through modelling. We want our children to become resilient and to be able to independently look after themselves and manage their emotions. By focusing on yourself, particularly nurturing yourself when you are stressed or burnt out, you teach your children these vital life skills.
Some tips to get started
We are all different. What may work for you may not work for your sister or friend. It’s important to trial different ways of caring for yourself to get a sense of what makes you feel renewed or rejuvenated and by how much. That is, reading a book at the end of the day will definitely help, but going for a run in nature on a Saturday morning may be even more rejuvenating. Trialling different things will help you build a list of tried and tested activities that you can call upon when needed.
Start small and realistic. Choose one activity you enjoy and work it into your schedule. When developing these new habits, think about who could support you with these changes, it will help you maintain them over time – remember asking for help is in and of itself self-care.
Stuck for ideas? Is ‘getting your hair done’ not cutting it? Here are some lesser known self-care strategies:
- Trial saying “no” – e.g., the next time someone asks you for help when you’re already feeling overextended, diplomatically say no.
- Schedule “alone time” each day – e.g., 10 mins before anyone wakes up and do something you enjoy.
- Practice being kind to yourself – e.g., when self-criticism comes knocking, try saying something kind to yourself instead
- Take note of the small “wins” – e.g., you got your 9 month old to eat a few blueberries before deciding to throw the rest on the clean floor
- Reconnect – e.g., organise a babysitter and spend some quality time with your partner or friend.
- Calm your body – e.g., take 10 minutes before bed to check-in with your body, notice any areas that feel tense, actively tighten that muscle group and then relax it.
- Focus on self-growth – e.g., start making your morning commute about you, listen to a podcast about something that interests you but you haven’t explored yet
- Disconnect – e.g., turn your phone on aeroplane mode 30 minutes before bed and choose when to turn it back on in the morning (I promise, nothing bad will happen!)
Sometimes we need a little more than self-care to get back on track. Whether you feel guilty about taking time out for yourself, don’t know where to start or just feel you need extra assistance – you’re not alone, so don’t be afraid to connect with a clinical psychologist who could support you through the process.
It won’t take you long to notice and appreciate the benefits once you start and that a little can go a long way.
Talia Wahnon is an experienced child, adolescent and family clinical psychologist. To book in with her, click here!