As parents, we strive to look after our children’s needs, but it is just as important to look after your own mental and physical health. The demands of parenting vary; caring for young children can be physically demanding as they are so dependent, while caring for teenagers can be emotionally and mentally challenging as you deal with the many changes of adolescence.
Parents who take the time to look after themselves and take time out for themselves are often in a better position to care for their children. Parents who are relaxed and less stressed can respond more appropriately to their children’s needs.
But what does looking after you mean? It means that as a parent you care for yourself to the same extent that you care for the rest of your family. This does not mean that you are being selfish! If you have ever been on a plane and listened to the safety announcement, you will have heard the advice to attend to you own oxygen mask first before assisting a child or other passenger. This advice is also true when parenting children. You need to look after yourself so you have the physical and mental strength to look after your children.
It is essential that the things parents focus on for their child’s wellbeing should also be the focus of their own wellbeing. As with children, parents need to:
- Eat well
- Get some exercise
- Have some rest
- Have personal interests and hobbies
- Have positive relationships with family and friends.
Taking time for a breakfast, a 10 minute walk in the fresh air, a bath or simply sitting down and having a cup of tea when the baby is asleep is essential for you to re-charge your battery. You will feel better for it.
Parents need to maintain and develop their own personal interests and friendships. Perhaps you like to read, watch a movie, do crosswords. These hobbies offer the opportunity to relax and have some time for you. The result is a happier, less stressed parent that is ultimately positive for children
Parents need positive relationships with other adults. Consider it an investment. These adult relationships provide social opportunities; they can also become a trusted listening ear and support. Maintaining and developing positive relationships takes time and effort so it is vital for parents to give themselves permission to have this adult time. Positive relationships can result in parents feeling more confident in their parenting role and ultimately more equipped to deal with conflict or stressful situations.
Some other tips on self care include:
- Share the load of household responsibilities. Children can help with household chores. You might also try to think about just what really needs to be done!
- Plan ahead of time: Take time to make a family schedule or list of what needs to happen for the next week and who is responsible for each activity (for example,. your teenager can put out the bin; younger children can tidy up their toys).
- Access support networks: Ask for and accept offers of help. Family members such as grandparents may wish to spend time with your children giving you a small window of time for you. Identify new supports. Consider joining a parent and toddler group, take an evening class or join a parenting chat room. These are valuable ways of expanding your support network.
- Stay positive and keep things in perspective: Look for a positive in each day and try not to focus on the negatives. Have a positive chat with yourself; praise the effort you make as a parent.
- Find your sense of humour! Share a joke with someone – when you laugh the smile will linger.
Written By Sue Mc Glone & Alice Riddler – Tusla