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Can we parent and still engage in self-care?

Self-care (noun): literally taking care of oneself!!!


Unfortunately, self-care sometimes seems unimportant, or even selfish…


I know that, for me, it’s a constant struggle to navigate parenting and self-care. This is a balancing act that I consciously work at, and it has been a journey to get to the point where I can say - out loud - that I feel this is a strength of mine.


Prior to becoming a parent, I worked for a decade as a parent coach. I certainly benefitted from watching other parents, and noting the things that I wanted to emulate when I became a parent. I also learned what I wanted to avoid, which was equally (if not more) helpful in shaping the parent that I work at being today.


In my mind there are two major components of self-care as a parent:

· Needing time way from my children

· Finding small feasible ways to make “deposits” into my “emotional bank account” daily.


I’m the mother of a five-year-old boy and an infant. I am lucky to have family members and friends who are willing to help in so many ways. I have worked through the shame of accepting help (even when it is offered). I have even learned to routinely ask for help with childcare so that I can spend time by myself, with my partner, or with my friends doing things that I enjoy (and which do not involve Paw Patrol or Peppa Pig in any way!).


Initially, when I got breaks away from my children (whom I love with all my heart) the majority of the time I had to myself was tainted with feelings of guilt. It was a guilt I could feel physically like a rock in the pit of my stomach. I had thoughts about being a bad mother, or feelings of guilt that I was taking advantage of the people offering to help me. THEN… I would be upset with myself for wasting the precious alone-time I have craved and looked forward to all week.


Now? Well, I am not immune to these intrusive thoughts and feelings, but I have found some ways to call a cease-fire to the not-so-helpful battle going on in my brain during these times. One of the most helpful things I do is talk to myself out loud. Yes, it may seem a little strange, but I find that when I put my thoughts into words that I can hear (which don’t need to be eloquent or even coherent), I’m better able to gain perspective and challenge my own thoughts as though my best friend was there offering her input. This “third party” perspective is always MUCH kinder and more rational than my automatic internal self-talk.


For example, if I’m feeling guilty for letting my older kiddo play Nintendo or watch TV Saturday morning while I put away the laundry, I acknowledge that I’m feeling guilty then say to myself:

“Well, it’s happening and if I’m honest with myself I know that I have no notion of abandoning that plan. I am consciously choosing not to spend the mental calories beating myself up while doing things for me and instead enjoy this time! I will then make the effort to engage with him in a meaningful way once I have had a little break.”


Some of the tiny things that I do daily to take care of myself and make deposits to my emotional bank account include self-high-fives and being mindful during mundane daily tasks.

To balance out the many times a day I subconsciously tell myself I am a disaster, I’m irresponsible, and question how I have survived to adulthood, I make outward gestures to praise myself when I have done something that I am proud of. Just yesterday I gave myself a subtle self high five when I was on the verge of snapping at my son who would not stop touching something I had asked to him leave alone. Instead, I took a deep breath, remembered it was late and he was tired, and playfully redirected him. When I take a second to acknowledge and enjoy feeling good about doing something that aligns with the person/parent I want to be, I avoid getting weighed down by the negative.


I am a converted skeptic and a true believer in Mindfulness. Once I got past the idea that this was not something I had to carve time out to do (excuse me, breathe and pay attention??) I was open to testing out ways to embed “being in the moment” in what I was already doing. Now, when I shower, I take the first 30 seconds to a minute to pay attention to how the water feels. Same with when I’m washing my face, instead of fiercely scrubbing my face to hustle and be done i take the first 10 seconds to gently massage and actually pay attention to the feel of my fingers, the beads in the scrub, and the bubbles.


When driving I will leave the music off for first few kilometres and take in what I’m seeing, hearing, feeling, and how I’m breathing. Then the tunes come on! Since much of my time is with my son, we do a lot of these mini rituals together. I have taught him the kid versions of whatever I am learning, and he is one of my biggest supporters (since he is a creature of habit). He definitely uses his voice if I skip the routine.


While doing your own simple self-care activities, and as you go about your daily tasks, I encourage you to work towards curiosity rather than judgment of the things that enter your awareness. What you notice is not good or bad, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong. This is likely to be difficult to do at first since it is something we tend to do all day long without even recognizing it. During these “mindful” times, start by simply noticing if/when you are adding judgment and being gentle with yourself… That is a skill that deserves a whole blog of its own!


Self-care is act of love and well-being towards ourselves – like putting an oxygen mask on first: When we are on a plane, during the safety briefing, we are told to put the air mask on ourselves first, before putting it on our dependants or other travellers. As a parent, that sounds so counter-intuitive!! But it is the only way to be helpful!


Sometimes, we live our lives like we are running around the plane, making sure everyone else's air mask is on first, and neglecting ourselves.


Take some time for you, because you aren't useful to anyone if you can't breathe....


The main thing I hope may come from sharing my experience is that parents recognize this s(tuff) is hard. But, by prioritizing your well-being, advocating for what you need, and making regular deposits into your emotional bank account (in other words - putting on your air mask!) your energy for parenting, and life in general, will increase. Don’t be a martyr - instead use that energy to model that you believe you are worth investing in and watch how your family grows because of it.


Nothing changes if we change nothing.


Cheers,


Kelly Pilkie


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