Self-care seems to be the buzz word these days. A quick internet search can populate thousands of different articles, research posts, personal blogs, and videos that debate what self care is and isn’t, how often we should be engaging in it, and the appropriate ratios and formulas to achieving it. Many of these even appear to be in contrast with one another, with one trend suggesting daily intensive exercise and the other suggesting limiting it entirely. In short, it can all be super confusing.
A generally accepted definition of self care is “providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness” (Beauchamp & Childress, 2001).
However, this still leaves most of us wondering what on Earth counts as “adequate,” and what this “attention” should look like? Does it mean daily green smoothies, lunch time yoga, obnoxious levels of hydration and a near constant state of channeling “Zen-like vibes?” Or is it more like scheduling pedicures with besties, holding boundaries with overzealous bosses or in-laws, or savoring the Starbucks latte while you do your weekly Target grocery run?
For many, the concept of self-care gets even more complex when they become parents. Self-care seems like a luxury that only the single or child-free are afforded. In fact, many parents have shared that self-care feels selfish after becoming a parent. With a limited number of hours in the day, and more and more expectations and responsibilities associated with modern parenting, it can feel nearly impossible to fit all the “regular stuff” in, let alone anything that feels extra or frivolous. Parents with younger children are particularly vulnerable to feeling the need to lower the self-care bar dramatically. Actually making lunch for ourselves, versus just surviving off the scraps from our toddler’s chicken nugget lunch becomes a huge win.
Modern parents are maxed out and forever scrambling to keep up with seemingly impossible standards. We tell them to ensure their kids are adequately socialized, but also being mindful of physical safety amidst a pandemic. We tell them to be diligent about their children meeting important developmental milestones, but those standards change sporadically. We tell them to ensure their kids are not too engrossed in screen time but also exposed enough to stay fluent in a tech savvy world. We throw well-meaning commentary like “enjoy this because the time flies and they’re only little once” at them, instilling a sense of pressure to enjoy every moment of parenting, even the not so great ones. It’s no wonder most parents are overwhelmed, exhausted, and more in need of self-care than ever before, but much less likely to actively engage in it.
So, what’s a modern parent to do?
The answer most come to is to avoid self-care practices all together. However, this kind of self-sacrifice, though well-intended, can actually be detrimental to parents and families alike. It can facilitate parental burnout, physical and mental fatigue, stress, irritability, and anxiety and depression symptoms. Instead, we suggest a graduated approach to implementing self-care to ensure parents have an opportunity to recharge, recenter, and refocus on themselves. Much like the old adage, we cannot pour from an empty cup. We have to work to actively refill it, a little at a time.
These are our top tips for implementing self-care, even when it feels nearly impossible to do so:
1) Look at your foundation.
There are a few pillars of wellness that are pretty darn important. We call these your foundation. We want to assess the foundation for cracks before we start building too much on it. Start by rating your sleep, your nutrition, and your physical activity level 0-10. These help charge your battery to give you the energy necessary to tackle other areas in your life too.
2) Start small.
We do not have to revamp your lifestyle overnight! That would be exhausting, and not sustainable. Start by making a list of a few areas you want to make changes in, and pick 1-2 to focus on to start.
3) Get help
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly wasn’t built alone. Reach out to a local therapy practice like Ohana Counseling & Wellness, that is specialized in parent wellness, so they can help support and guide you on the path to achieving your self-care goals.
4) Stay Accountable
Tell a friend, family member, or health provider about your self-care goals and any way that they can help support you in meeting them. Do weekly self check-ins to assess which areas still have room for growth and which ones are doing awesome.
While self-care may take many forms, the most important takeaway is that it is not selfish, nor a luxury, but rather an absolute imperative to overall parent and family wellness.
Written By: Amanda Metcalf, LMHC, IBCLC
Owner of Ohana Counseling & Wellness
Ref.: Beauchamp, T. L., & Childress, J. F. (2001). Principles of biomedical ethics (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.