Ever have one of those moments when the sink is full, your phone is blowing up with texts, your child needs to get to her next lesson, and you can’t find someone’s shoes?! As a parent, we’ve all had one—or many—of those “Calgon take me awaaaaaaay!” moments. (I also know that I just dated myself with that ‘70’s commercial reference.) But somehow, you make it through those wild times practically unscathed…until the next time something similar happens. The one thing that can make those challenging moments a bit brighter is ensuring that you’re facing them in top shape—not on the outside, but on the inside. And what can facilitate that? Self-care.
Self-care for parents isn’t as easy as it sounds. And if you’re a parent, you already know this. It isn’t like you can just call up friends and say, “Meet me at the spa in half an hour. I’ve made all our massage appointments. And we’ll stay for a few thousand glasses of pinot grigio and dinner afterwards.” Self-care takes steady effort and, at times, planning.
As a parent, the prefix “Self” in self-care is almost misleading because no one lives in a vacuum. Your “self” really can’t be cared for until you know that your other limbs—your family members—are attended to also. This may sound odd, but families and forests act in similar ways. Dr. Suzanne Simard has spent much of her life studying the ways trees and plants interact with one another in a forest, and she discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest—even trees of different species. (Check out an amazing article about this symbiosis by Ferris Jabr in his New York Times article, “The Social Life of Forests.”) Why do I make this comparison? Because it’s important to realize that just as each tree in a forest is not a lone organism, a mother or father is not a lone player in a family. In both cases, the life forms are interdependent. What happens to one tree affects another even if you can’t see it on the outside. This is the same case when a parent is impacted by something that happens to another family member, even if that impact is only felt in the heart. Therefore, when you take care of yourself, you are also taking care of your family, and you cannot tend to yourself as a singular player. Self-care involves more than just “self.” There is always a beautiful interplay here that needs to be recognized.
Since you cannot foresee the next time your daughter will forget her homework or your son will lose his jacket or your car won’t start (or worse), you need to be prepared on the inside. You need to ready yourself for those moments when things go awry. Start by examining your schedule and finding a few moments each day to just sit. (I hear your mind exploding as you think, “Just sit?!” My immediate reply is, “Yes, just sit.”) This advice has been shared by wise beings from the East for centuries.
It’s extremely beneficial to spend quiet time by yourself without your phone or any fear of disturbance by others in order to close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. This is not a time to sleep; it’s a practice in meditation and mindfulness—being in the present moment fully with all your senses and, in this instance, focusing within. Try not to have any preconceptions or feel frustrated if your mind is not completely still. If you’re sitting, trying to focus, and your mind goes into overdrive (What are the kids doing? What was that sound? What am I making for dinner? Did so-and-so remember her snack?), bring your awareness back to your breath. Even if your mind is difficult to tame, you will still reap some benefits. This quiet space offers your inner guide a louder voice—which is what you need to connect with when your world spins. With practice and determination, your mind will begin to follow your lead.
It goes without saying, that those moments of peace will likely need to be planned if your children are young or if you want to make this a long-term priority. Your time is valuable and your choice to spend some of it in this way is one way to honor yourself—even if you can only afford 5 minutes a day. Self-care as a parent isn’t about the amount of time you spend on yourself; it’s about how you spend that time. And of course, hitting the spa and sipping some pinot grigio with friends is awesome too, but it nurtures something else within. Exercises that nourish your inner voice invite you to connect with something deeper and will often have a more lasting effect over time.
You are a special part of your family and our world. If you can make some time for yourself to embrace stillness and bring your attention within, both you and your family will benefit. Self-care for a parent truly is family-care, and when you practice it, all parties will end up smiling more. And how great would it be to find a little peace within and be able to smile the next time things go a little bonkers?