Parenting and Self Care: Meeting Our Own Needs

I find being a parent really hard. I have this conversation with other parents occasionally – the ‘parent chat’ – where we ‘confess’ this terrible thing to each other as if it is a source of shame to us. After admitting our feelings in these hushed, shame laden conversations catch ourselves and all rush in with “but I love my kids!” and “they’re so worth it!” and “mustn’t wish it away!” and all the other things that show that we think we shouldn’t find it hard at all. We feel that somehow we’re “doing it wrong” because other parents seem to love every second of it and find it all endlessly fun and thrilling and who are therefore “doing it right”.

Well sadly for me, I’m not one of these people. I adore my kids (there is it again) but I find being a parent really tough. I find it to be a job often filled with terror, boredom, fury, endless amounts of bodily fluids to be cleaned (mostly in the middle of the night), lots of trying not to shout (and a fair bit of actual shouting), soul-searingly gorgeous moments of wondrous love and total, complete and never ending exhaustion.

It’s filled with uniforms, birthday parties, play dates, a constant worry about quantities of sweets versus quantities of vegetables being eaten, and all consuming guilt about things that I don’t do enough of, things I do too much of and things that other parents do but I don’t because I’m too tired. I have a permanent gnawing sense of the ways in which I don’t measure up to the picture I’ve painted in my mind of ‘the perfect parent’.

The planets aligned for me recently and I was lucky enough to meet not one, but two parents who were willing to have the ‘parent chat’. Yes, it’s tough they agreed. Yes, it’s frightening. Yes, it’s so boring sometimes. Yes, sometimes we just want to be left alone. Yes, sometimes we do find the endless responsibility a terrible burden and sometimes fantasise about what our lives would be like if we hadn’t had children…  we looked at each other guiltily then and all rushed to say how much we love our children. But it brought home to me what outrageously high expectations we have of parenting if we even feel ashamed of admitting that we find it tough and might not find every single second fulfilling and might even (GASP) have needs of our own.

I have noticed that there are times that I start finding it even tougher then normal: when the worry and the guilt become overwhelming, when I shout more and laugh less, when everything feels like a burden and a catastrophe and when I feel like if I have to put on another load of washing I might start running and never stop.

These times usually correspond with times when I haven’t been treating myself well. We know exactly what our kids need and we drive ourselves to exhaustion to make sure they have it, and yet we think nothing of denying ourselves all these basic essentials.

There are thousands of articles out there telling us all the things we should be doing to be healthier, happier, thinner, more energetic and just ‘better’ people. But I think we know exactly what to do because we do it for our kids, we just don’t seem to realise we need to do the exact same things for ourselves. We’re not expected to look after ourselves the way we look after our kids – and that’s the real madness.

Here are the things we make sure our kids get every day:

  • Proper sleep
  • Decent food
  • Fresh air and sunlight
  • Exercise
  • Fun
  • Regular time with other people their age, where they get to talk about and do things that are important and interesting to them

Now I am guilty of allowing myself to go long periods of time without making sure I have all of these, (sometimes I’m not giving myself any of these) and I know a lot of other parents are the same. It’s no wonder we start feeling terrible and things start to feel really difficult.

Parenting wouldn’t be so hard if it didn’t go hand in hand with the idea that we must put our children’s needs and wants first at all times. Aside from setting our kids up for enormous disappointment later on in life when they enter the real world, we are a generation of exhausted, strung out adults putting ourselves under huge pressure to make things perfect for our children. We forget that if we push ourselves to unhappiness, collapse and illness, all the things we most fear will actually start to happen.

So we need to start doing things differently. We need to start putting ourselves first, and do it proudly. If we are not ok ourselves, then we are no use to anyone else, so we have a responsibility to treat ourselves better. We have a responsibility to treat ourselves as well as we treat our kids. And we have a responsibility to do things just for ourselves. Every. Single. Day.

So build in time each day in which you do the things for yourself that will give you the energy and enthusiasm to be one of those ‘other’ parents who find it all so endlessly thrilling. Maybe that’s why they do – because they are putting themselves first the rest of the time.

Karen Sugrue is a Psychotherapist, a Sociology lecturer and a parent to two fabulous kids. You can find her on Twitter at @irishlimericker. Check out Karen’s other Love Parenting article “Self Care for Heroes” by Clicking Here